Yesterday several television newscasts reported the findings of a Stanford University study on organic foods. The study, “[a]re Organic Foods Safer or Healthier than Conventional Alternatives? A Systematic Review,” was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on September 4, 2012. The researchers concluded, “[t]he published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria”.
Personally, I find the media reaction amusing and a clear example of the lack of understanding of the principal goals of the green movement. Conversely, maybe I have it all wrong. All this time, I believed that a berry was a berry with certain vitamins in it, and the point of being produced organically was to avoid the introduction of pesticides to it in the growing process. In my mind, the same thing applied to the production of meat for human consumption. Organically raised meat and poultry does not contain harmful drug-resistant bacteria. However, these news reports seem to indicate that organic foods were somehow super foods that contain added ingredients that promote good health.
Informed buyers of organic food know that what makes the products better are the substances that are missing from them—pesticides and drug-resistant bacteria. Also they know that the missing pesticides are not around to run off of the fields to pollute the water supply. The pesticides are not around to negatively impact the health of the people working in the fields to produce the crops. Finally, the pesticides are not around to kill the honeybees that pollinate the crops.
After garnering viewers’ attention with their misleading headlines, some of the news reporters mentioned as an aside that the study results did show that organic fruits and vegetables contain about a 30% lower level of pesticides than conventional fruits and vegetables and that the concentration of drug-resistant bacteria in organic poultry and pork is about 60% less than the amount in their conventional counterparts. To this viewer, that is significant and is a step in the right direction. Of course organic products cost more, but if organic foods were the rule rather than the exception, the cost differential would narrow. Also, it is expected that the positive impact of a healthier diet would be realized in reduced illnesses and their accompanying medical costs.
Of note, it was pointed out that organic foods are a great choice for pregnant women. Well—should we only maintain a healthy diet if we are reproducing, or should we eat healthy foods always? It seems from the newscasts that the millennial generation understands what is going on because they were reported as the group most likely to eat organic foods. Obviously, priorities are a matter of choice because compared with many older people, this group is just starting out in the workforce and generally have lower incomes and fewer assets. Yet they put healthy food high on their priority list.
There is so much information out there on green initiatives. It is so important that we carefully study the information fed to us and separate fact from fiction. Let’s think green, educate green, live green, be green.