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Organic vs. non-organic foods: Why I'm still going to buy organic

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John Nordell/The Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) Swiss chard, carrots, kale and beets are displayed in the produce section at a Whole Foods Market in Boston. All the produce is organic.

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A study just released by Stanford University scientists has found that organic foods – produce, meat and dairy – are no more nutritious than non-organic or conventional foods. The study also reports that they are no less likely to be contaminated. They’re probably right. They examined more than 40 years worth of research on the topic; the study used no outside funding to avoid any “perception of bias”; and, well, they’re scientists.

The problem with their research, as I see it, is that they asked the wrong question. No one has really seriously claimed that organic foods are more nutritious. And earlier studies on this very subject have already stated what the Stanford researchers were “surprised” to discover. To me, they missed the point. Their central question was kind of like asking if LED light bulbs are any quieter than conventional ones, or if fuel-efficient vehicles are any shinier than gas guzzlers. 

Because while organic foods may not be more nutritional than conventional foods, they are definitely healthier. First, there are the pesticides applied to conventional produce. The study recognized this, but said that pesticide levels were all within safety guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, an impressive number of studies question whether the EPA’s levels are strict enough.

Organic foods are healthier for the people who grow them, too. Exposure to pesticides is a constant threat to the well-being of farm workers. Animals raised organically for food also generally lead healthier, happier lives. And finally, there’s the planet itself. Chemical run-off, waste production, and depletion of the soil from the monoculture approach of industrial farming all place a huge burden on the environment.

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