After further review we’re sticking with organic

fruit stand with papaya, avocados, oranges, mango, pineapple
The debate over organic food reached a crescendo last month when a “meta-analysis” issued by Stanford University scientists concluded that organic foods were neither more safe nor more healthy than conventional alternatives. The study raised eyebrows with our team at Farmanac because one of the core principals of our app is to help shoppers make safe and healthy choices when purchasing fruits and vegetables.

An assumption we made while developing Farmanac was that organic fruits and vegetables were superior to non-organic produce. This led us to encourage those who use our app to buy organic whenever possible.1 But with the release of the Stanford University study we felt it was only prudent we question this original assumption and re-evaluate whether we should still encourage the purchase of organics.

In explaining our original support of organics fruits and vegetables within Farmanac, we sighted four points. Of those, three remain unaffected by the Stanford study:

  • The health of farm workers:

    Exposure to pesticides in the fields causes short and long term illnesses among farm workers.

  • The environment:
    Pesticides not only end up on the produce they target but they also quickly seep into the ground water and degrade the surrounding air quality.
  • The taste of the product:
    A healthy debate currently exists on the subject and a number of studies have attempted to quantify the taste difference between organic and non-organic with no conclusion. We’ll dive deeper into this point in a future post.

That leaves the benefits to your personal health, which the Stanford study and subsequent media coverage did call into question. In concluding, the authors of the study claim:

 The 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.

Broken down to their nutritional molecules the study would indicate that an apple is an apple whether organic or non-organic. The suggestion is our bodies gain no additional benefit from eating organic but our wallets take a hit. But within this same study comes an acknowledgement that eating organic does reduce exposure to pesticides. Pesticide levels were found to be 5x more prevalent on non-organic food vs organic. While this was still in the range permitted by the EPA’s threshold, those levels have been questioned both as they relate to pregnant woman and the so called “cocktail effect”2.Our take is the jury is still out on the safe levels of pesticide exposure. At this point we’d rather error on the side of caution.

But by far the most significant element that is keeping us committed to organics, and this is not addressed by the study, is that our health is more complex than simply the nutritional makeup of the food we consume. As Michael Pollan wonderfully argues in his book In Defense of Food “our personal health cannot be divorced from the health of the food chains of which we are part.” As we’ve seen, the increased use of pesticides affects everything from our bodies, the health of the farmers growing our crops, and the even the water around us. Our food contains a story made up of the soil and minerals it grew in, the farmer who cultivated it, and even the chef who prepares it. Those elements, as much as any nutritional molecules, affect the health benefits we derive upon eating it, when it finally arrives at our table.

So this new study adds another data point to an already complex subject, but for our team at Farmanac we found nothing that changes our outlook on organics. Our app will continue to encourage organics in our effort to ensure you end up with produce that’s fresh, in season, and healthy for you and your family.

  1. Specifically we recommend buying organic whenever a fruit or vegetable receives a high or medium pesticide scores based on testing and analysis done by the FDA, USDA, and Environmental Working Group.
  2. The EPA regulates pesticides on an individual basis but produce is often sprayed with multiple different pesticides and the interactions between these chemicals are not tested.
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One Response to After further review we’re sticking with organic

  1. formingfully says:

    Here is an interesting study conducted in India concerning the nutritive value of organic crops vs. conventional agriculture. While I would argue that more work ought to be done to analyze these findings, it does present a new platform for the debate on organic food: should we measure yield per acre in agricultural policy, or health per acre? http://www.navdanya.org/attachments/Health%20Per%20Acre.pdf

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