A lot of parents I know have strong feelings about buying organic produce for their families. For those who understand that organic farming is kinder to the soil, the air, drinking water, and to those who actually do the farming (and are therefore being exposed to fewer pesticides), a recent article in Pediatrics settles very little. Linda Carroll at NBC News summarizes:
If you’re buying organic foods for your kids because you think they’re more nutritious, you might want to think again. The nation’s pediatricians have weighed in on the issue for the first time, and they say that when it comes to nutritional value, organics are virtually indistinguishable from conventionally produced foods.
“Pretty much every study shows no nutritional difference,” said Dr. Janet Silverstein, a professor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Florida. She’s a co-author of the report published Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
So, there is no nutritional difference between foods grown conventionally and organically. I don’t think that will change anybody’s mind. People buy organic for other reasons:
- Organic produce is grown without the use of chemical pesticides. The data is clear that organic produce contains much less pesticide residue than conventional produce. The fact that organic produce has any pesticide residue at all is because organic farmers use land that was previously exposed to pesticides (that are now banned in the U.S.) that take decades to break down. Recently, there have been significant concerns about arsenic being found in foods such as apple juice and rice for this very reason.
- Organic farmers do not use conventional fertilizers. The benefits include less chemicals in the food and (much) less nitrogen run-off into our rivers and streams (a major environmental plus).
- Organically-raised livestock do not receive non-therapeutic antibiotics or hormones (which are both used in conventional farming to increase yield). This is perhaps the biggest reason parents cite for buying organic.
- Organic farming is MUCH less energy intensive. The production and administration of fertilizer requires a lot of petroleum, which increases the release of greenhouse gases and contributes to anthropomorphic climate change.
While there appears to be no nutritional advantage in buying organic, the jury is still out on whether organic food is healthier. According to the authors of the Pediatrics study, more studies are needed to assess the potential dangers of measurable pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics in conventionally produced food. For now, there are no studies that say that eating organic foods results in a healthier outcome.
The PediaBlog covered a Stanford study last month. In that post, the following points were made:
What is clearly healthier for people AND the environment is to buy produce as close to home as possible. This means buying fruits and vegetables when they are fresh and in season locally and not transported when they are in season half a world away. When there is less distance from tree or plant to market, fruit and vegetables should be riper and tastier. Buying your meats locally means less handling and less chance of spoiling and bacterial contamination.
Here’s a question we should all be asking ourselves: Do we even know where our food comes from? I think the answers might be surprising and would be a good starting point when discussing the origins of many human diseases, including those caused by obesity.
Conventional vs. organic. This is a great discussion to have. To be able to have a conversation about the food we eat — where it comes from, how it’s grown, how much of it should we eat (and how much are we wasting) — is an important step toward the goal of better health.
Very interesting study from Pediatrics here:
NBC News article here: