Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?

A recent study1 by Stanford University scientists suggests that “the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods”, however it fails to address the beneficial aspects of the organic movement and provides a one-sided argument against organic. There are many valid reasons to buy organic that this study does not address, including supporting local farmers, reducing the use and intake of pesticides and organic’s role in sustainable farming.

The study implies that the only reason that people eat or buy organic is because it is nutritionally better than non-organic and that this ‘discovery’ that there is no nutritional evidence to support buying organic trumps all other reasons for supporting organic movement. It neglects the 36% of people who buy organic to support local farmers and 34% of people who buy organic because they are concerned about pesticides and toxins in non-organic food.2 It also fails to mention the negative impacts on health by pesticide intake from non-organic produce. A 2007 study3 showed an increased risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders in children born to mothers who were in close proximity to organochlorine pesticides during pregnancy. The nutritional benefits of organic food go beyond the basic nutritional composition of the produce itself, but to the pesticides the food is subjected to before it is consumed. The study undercuts the importance of the process by which organic produce is grown and the benefits associated with food that contains little pesticide.

The study also sells short the environmental benefits of organic farming. The USDA states that any product that is labeled organic must be “produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.” There is an implication here for the holistic practices associated with the organic movement. This study does a disservice to those people who buy organic because they are concerned about the environmental impacts of organic farming and who support the sustainability aspect of the movement.

The study dismisses organic food and disregards the fact that there are other criteria that give organic value. The organic movement should not be tossed aside simply because no literature has been produced that demonstrates organic food to be significantly more nutritious than non-organic food. The environmental and social benefits of organic farming should not be overlooked when debating organic v. non-organic. The fact is that organic is not a black and white issue. We cannot possible make a well-informed judgement of the entire organic movement based one small issue.

1 “Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review” published in Annals of Internal Medicine (2012)

2 NPR: “Organic Foods Have Broad Appeal, But Costs Temper Demand.”

3 “Maternal Residence Near Agricultural Pesticide Applications and Autism Spectrum Disorders among Children in the California Central Valley” published in Environmental Health Perspectives (2007)