4 Roads to Ruin: Eat Organic, Become Sick and Penniless

Organic food production has been hailed as a healthful alternative to the highly commercialized modern factory farm.

The lure of organic food is difficult to resist. It promises a more transparent view of food production in terms of pesticides, fertilizers, and horticultural methods. It’s obvious that organically raised food is safer, more healthful, and more nutritious than foods raised on modern megafarms.

Obvious, yes. But incorrect.

Stanford University’s Center for Health Policy recently reviewed 237 studies from around the world related to organic foods. The studies compared nutrient levels and contaminants as well as the health effects of eating organically raised foods versus food cultivated using conventional modern methods.

The results, which were published in the September 4, 2012 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, surprised a lot of people. The researchers concluded that organic foods are neither more nutritious nor healthier. Organic foods don’t have more vitamins or minerals. Eating organic foods doesn’t make people healthier.

In the US, foods are officially designated “Certified Organic” by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.

This certification allows producers and marketers to advertise foods that meet certain standards as organic. It doesn’t require them to carry a warning label – but perhaps it should. The use of pesticides on organic food is severely limited by government regulations. The USDA sampled a variety of organic produce from domestic and foreign sources.

They reported in their 2011 “Pesticide Residue Testing of Organic Produce” study that 43 percent of all organic produce was contaminated with non-organic pesticide residue. Nine percent of the produce was so contaminated that it violated the USDA’s regulations for organic certification.

This contamination is usually attributed to accidental pesticide drift from non-organic farms or contamination in sorting facilities, though it’s possible that some could be from unscrupulous farmers trying to pass off conventional food as organic food.

Organic produce is often fertilized with composted manure.

The University of Minnesota has studied the prevalence of E. coli bacteria on samples of organic food. E. coli contamination indicates fecal contamination.

While most E. coli strains are harmless, some can be deadly. University researchers found that 9.7 percent of organic produce contained E. coli, compared to just 1.6 percent of conventionally grown produce.

This could be because organic fertilizer has fewer nutrients, so farmers must use a larger overall amount of fertilizer. Interestingly, the level of contamination was less in “Certified Organic” produce compared to uncertified organic produce.

This suggests that the USDA’s Organic Certification program has some effectiveness in regulating the safety of organic foods. However, all tested organic foods contained more E. coli contamination than produce grown using modern methods.

A little pesticide contamination or some (usually harmless) E. coli residue might seem a minor matter if organic foods provided counterbalancing nutritional benefits. However, the Stanford study demonstrates that there is no health benefit to eating organic foods.

Being better informed will allow you to make better decisions. Organic foods generally use fewer pesticides, but they are certainly not guaranteed to be pesticide-free. Fertilizer is used on all food. The U.S. food supply is amazingly safe, but you must always wash your produce, no matter where it came from.

Organic produce is not more healthful, but it is certainly not less healthful. Considering all of this, is it worth the higher price? Are there other factors that you take into consideration, such as sustainability or even political reasons?

The bottom line is that deciding what you eat is a personal choice for you alone. It would be wise to take some time to do your research.


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