August 27, 2009

Organic food: just as nutritious with pesticides?

Studies suggest... you should avoid grapefruit.

Sometimes I wonder about people.

Journalists, for example.

Researchers published a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which found that "found no differences in most nutrients in organically or conventionally grown crops, including in vitamin C, calcium, and iron. The same was true for studies looking at meat, dairy and eggs."

The BBC ran an article about this report. It was titled "Organic Has No Health Benefits."

Excuse me? WTF?

In what universe is food that has been grown with pesticides considered the same as food that's grown without pesticides?

Look, journalists. "Organic" fruit and vegetables are grown with a minimal amount of pesticides. Pesticides are bad.

Pesticides can be endocrine disruptors. These are linked to reproductive cancers.

The New York Times ran an article on a common weed killer, atrazine. "Recent studies suggest that, even at concentrations meeting current federal standards, the chemical may be associated with birth defects, low birth weights and menstrual problems." [The link may require you to login. But it's free, and they don't send you spam -- at least, they don't send it to me. Maybe they just like me.]

So how can these journalists say organic food doesn't have any benefit?

I figure this calls for a graph.

Yes, I am taking the argument to an extreme by suggestion people who ingest potassium cyanide might just possibly not be doing a healthy thing. But it's no more absurd than judging organic food by the extremely narrow criterion of whether its nutritional value is vastly higher than regularly grown foods -- and completely ignoring the wee bit about pesticides being Not Nice.

I'd started this post awhile ago, then set it aside so it could 'mature.' (Unlike moi, who just gets older.) Thanks to reader versweet for reminding Crabby and me of how absurd these news articles can be!

Am I being too cranky here? Should I just shrug and go back to worrying about Global Warming or Scrabble or something like that?


  1. Isn't that the whole idea of organic produce? Avoiding pesticides? Isn't that kinda the reason for growing organically?!?! Haven't there been numerous studies showing how dangerous pesticides are?
    I guess some folks just don't get it. Like some of these journalists.

  2. Oh, I'm glad there's someone else who thinks this is nuts!

  3. Truth be told, my understanding of organic produce is that they still use pesticides when needed. Plus, the definition of 'needed' is fairly open to interpretation and generally results in a lowered - but not eliminated - use of such chemicals. I'm not suggesting we turn our back on organic foods; I'm sure they still hold some health benefits over foods grown with fewer ristrictions. I just wish that the term 'organic' was synonymous with 'back-yard garden' which is my favorite kind of fruits and vegetables.

  4. The problem with the British study is that it wasn't actually a study - they just collated evidence from a few studies, but they ignored all the studies that found significant differences in nutritional content. There are numerous studies that have found that organic food have contain more phyto-nutrients, minerals and vitamins.

    I have heard of so many instances where an institution would conduct a "study" to disprove another study that may not be to their own economic advantage. I think that the organic movement is starting to worry Big Ag its cohorts and that is why this "study" was conducted. We must always remember that these companies don't actually have to prove anything, they just have to cause confusion in the public mind. People read one thing in the media today, and tomorrow another thing that says exactly the opposite, and instead of following the money, most people just throw their hands up in the air and follow the path of least resistance. Which happens to most often favor Big Business.

    Then of course you have the media sensationalizing certain findings and distorting others.

    I get so angry about this!

  5. Thank you for sharing...very good topic, Good to know Im not alone and others think this is stupid too!!

  6. Im with 266 in the desire that we could simply assume ORGANIC meant as fresh as if it were grown in our own backyards (insert joke here about "you know NOT MY YUCKY YARD but someone elses") as it was only recently that I learned organic was NOT pesticide free.

    Im a famers market gurl for now.
    At least Im buying from people I "know" there...

  7. I they're confusing the idea of the fruit not losing its integrity with they're the same. No, just because the vitamin C is still there doesn't mean the pestacide is also good for you! Grrr. Reporters find every way to spin stuff so that the truth couldn't be found with a magnifine glass. It's so irritating!

  8. And the article completely misses the point that fewer pesticides are better for the environment, and this effects people in the long term.

    It's not only on the immediate foods we eat that we have to worry about things like pesticides. If I'm remembering right, isn't industrial farming one of the biggest sources of water pollution?

  9. I just learned too that organic doesn't mean pesticide free, but that doesn't mean I don't buy it when I can.

    I usually frequent the farmer's market for produce during the season. It's not organic, but at least it's locally grown.

  10. Anything that puts fewer toxic substances into your body is better for you.

    So, since organic has fewer toxins, and you ingest fewer toxins by eating it, it is better for you.

    That has nothing to do with nutritional differences. This has to do with what you are not getting, not what you are getting.

    The media love sensation, and will watch out for those with ad dollars -- meaning big business.

    All that to say, I agree with this post.

  11. Thanks for covering this Merry... what idiocy!

    And I'm concerned about the "organic with pesticides" thing people are bringing up in these comments. I had no idea! I thought that was the whole point of organic.

    Any chance that organic requires only natural, non-harmful pesticides? Or can they use the same nasty stuff as non-organic? Killing pests doesn't seem like a bad thing in itself if it's done without harmful chemicals.

  12. Well sure, if you chop up an organic orange it may very well have as much Vit C as a non-organic, but that really really isn't the entire point of organic.
    IMO, it isn't that the pesticides reduce the Vit C, etc... it is more about what the pesticides bring to the party that concerns me.

    I do agree that I probably have a more lofty idea of organic than what it is in reality (aka closer to my tomatoes in the yard) but I've gotta think the less pesticides the better. I just wish I could afford more organics.

  13. you're making me wonder about grapefruit too now!

  14. Responsible journalism is dying. It's all about grabbing attention. Never mind who sponsored the study or how the study was conducted - just grab a headline and throw it out there.

    Now it's up to us to do the research ourselves and figure out what's true or untrue; relevant or irrelevant.

    I'm going to go with "things fabricated from petroleum that kill insects and fungus and 'weeds'" don't belong on my food.

    Thanks, Merry

  15. I think people tend to misinterpret tasting better with more nutrition.

    The scientist who did this research, in my opinion, did not have an agenda, but was just reporting the data, as Rick said, the media did the rest.

    If our system for growing food were to make the important healthy changes needed, half the people on the planet would die waiting for the crops to come in. People can't even change the "qwerty" system, or go metric, knowing it would be better, for goodness sakes.

  16. When you consider that non-organic produce is also genetically modified to grow twice the size as organic, normal foods, it's hardly surprising.

    I find it peculiar that this "study" came out the same time as that ridiculous Time article that said exercising can be detrimental to weight loss.

    I smell a conspiracy.

  17. Nothing to be concerned about, Crabby - it's probably just another sign of the Apocalypse: dogs sleeping with cats, night is day, up is down, everything bad for you is good again - or just not as bad as they thought.

  18. For the love . . .

    Yeah, that's ridiculous. And yes, it's true that organic produce can still be covered in pesticides, but generally those pesticides are not QUITE as nasty as the conventional ones. (That is a sweeping generalization, and not ALWAYS true, but often true.) I'll take not quite as nasty over super-nasty any day of the week.

    And Miz's point about farmers' markets is a good one. A lot of times people there will tell you EXACTLY what pesticides they do (or don't) use. The really amazing thing to me is that a lot of farmers' market farmers are actually growing organic food, but aren't "certified" organic, simply because it costs a lot of money to jump through the government hoops to get certified.

    Man, I just really need a garden.

  19. I second Crabby - I wanna know what the deal is with "oh organice produce isn't really organic." Then why the heck do I pay almost double for it?!

    Does anyone have any links to verify this? Or is it just something "everybody knows?"


  20. Christin, here's a link to the official definition of what exactly 'organic' means:

    This might be a starting place.

  21. To set your mind at ease, if a product is "certified organic" they can't use petroleum or the traditional chemical based (ie Monsanto) pesticides or fertilizers. Of course this means Monsanto is now looking at "natural, organic" pesticides and fertilizers.

    Research has shown that as much as 25% of organic produce may be contaminated by regular old pesticides. It's typically the mega-farms where organic is grown just across the road and you get over spray. Depressing, eh? And all the more reason to know and love your local farmers and farmer's market.

    Did anybody watch the Penn & Teller BullSh!t episode on organic food? Ugh. They took this "not better for you" approach to the extreme. I say Bullsh!t to them. It's not more nutrients, it's less foreign chems in my system I want.

    And I don't care if the FDA approves it. Anybody remember thalidomide?

  22. I agree with Hanlie - Agri business is Big Business. And our food industry is as well. They're all here to make profit....loading our food up with chemicals and addictive levels of sugar, fat and salt to decrease cost and increases sales. For a real eye opener read the section of the food industry in former head of FDA Dr Kessler's book "End to Overeating" I'm reading Pollans "In Defence of Food" next. Oh and I agree with Rick - our so called journalists with the 24 hour news cycle are really entertainers and/or puppets of big business. Sorry to spout off but you really hit a nerve.

  23. Yeah, I remember reading this and thinking they missed the whole point - I don't think a lot of people are saying that organic food has more vitamins or nutrients, per se, just a lot less of those tasty chemicals.

    As an aside, for articles that require registration, may I recommend Bug Me Not? I use it more because it's quicker than registering for sites than because of the spam worry.

  24. Der, they missed the point entirely, its like comparing apples to oranges. Oh.

  25. I don't bother buying organic produce very often - I am so cynical, I highly doubt that it is really organic. Real "Back yard" organic food can't survive being shipped 1500 miles and still look fresh, or even edible, when it is three weeks old. And it has lost a lot of nutrition by then. That's why we grow as much of our own produce as we can...I know it is organic and I know it is fresh.

  26. This "no better than" claim is blowing my mind. WTF?

    Anyway, I always thought organic had to do as much with the process as the end result. Farming organically is just more sustainable, isn't it? Recycle the garbage, don't poison the groundwater, sell local, save energy, etc. etc.

    And you can't tell me it doesn't matter what you put on a plant. We had too many gardens when I was growing up. We composted. We weeded. The better we fed our tomatoes the better they fed us.

  27. I would have to agree with DownsizingDoc. There is a lot of money in organic business because of how much it's boasted in the media.

    Charging a premium on the same fruit with a slight adjustment in the production process = 200% increase in profit margins for the farmers.

    Even though local farmers may not have the most natural products, their shelf life is much higher.

    Running Workouts

  28. Although I always believed that people who say there's no difference between organic and non organic food are full of s**t, the cynic in me always asked the question if it was all just good marketing. I'm glad you posted this because now I feel better about what I said over at my blog.

  29. I've also read studies that show that children who consumed organic food over conventionally grown food had significantly lower amounts of pesticides and chemicals in their system. And, as we know, chemicals and pesticides aren't very good for humans.

    Good lord, does this require a study? Let's review common sense:
    Chemicals bad, no chemicals good. Anyone saying differently is either a dickhead or selling something.

  30. HMM, have they ever heard of ENDOCRINE DISRUPTION by pesticides? i live in one of the worst states for pesticide residue in water, and my son paid the price. he was born with hypospadias, from pesticide poisoning. Hypospadias has gone from 1 in 100,000 births in 1900 to 1 in 100 today. And the severity is WORSE. they aren't finding milder cases. pesticides are evil. i apologize for the rant, but this is something i feel quite strongly about.

  31. xkcd + Merry graphs = total post awesomeness!

    PS> I don't buy the whole organic-doesn't-matter thing either

  32. I think "healthy" is what throws people off. some people think healthy means more nutrients and thats it, and some people think healthy means not putting chemicals into your body. I think its both, but whatevski.

  33. Yeah, I'm sure certain companies sponsored the research. Ha.

  34. There is really nothing else to say. Let's face many "studies" are so myopic in their focus that they either miss the point, don't consider the whole picture and/or are "proving" or "disproving" things many either already know or are just so obvious that why conduct a study in the first place?
    It's one reason I don't read too many newspapers, magazines etc. Sometimes I read the stuff and just shake my head.

    PS - You are not being cranky...just stating the obvious.

  35. I'd love to play some scrabble later...but I still love me my organic foods! And the ones spilling out all over the back yard just now? Oh yeah, even better!

  36. Thanks for this. I saw an article about the study and thought it was nuts but you have done a terrific job at pointing that out.


  37. This article just made me simultaneously angry and incredulous at the same time. It never ceases to amaze me that some journalists will twist words around in a way that intentionally misleads readers. Pesticide food is just as healthy? Okay, if you are saying it has the same nutrients, great...but that isn't the idea that the article gives people! They have the same nutrition value at its base, but what about all the added toxins and poisons? Nutrion is = to nutrition, Healthy is not = to toxic chemicals.

  38. That's what made me mad too.
    I mean, the original study was rather narrowly focused, but it wasn't trying to twist facts. The news articles that came out afterward invariably tried to corrupt the study into something Shocking and Sensational. Even the BBC, which is the article I linked to. The BBC used to have a reputation for being stodgy. Sigh.

  39. guys.

    a lack of pesticides puts no more nutrients into food.

    using pesticides takes no nutrients out.

    pesticides, by themselves, do not control the amount of fibre, vitamin C, protein blah blah blah in food.

    it's not a contradiction.

  40. Using pesticides does not subtract fiber or vitamins from food. It does add potentially harmful chemicals /to/ the food. Which is not good.

  41. I do agree with this…very resourceful and helpful topic

  42. To the people who pointed out that what you don't get (pesticides, irregular growth, unnatural fertilizer) is better than the nutritional equivalent:

    I read another article on this same thing, and it posed another study which found that after just five days of eating organic the amount of chemicals found in the urine decreased dramatically.

    Except that urine means water soluble, and so if those same people had fasted on water for five days the same would have happened.

    I found it interesting (and concerning) that there was no mention of the fat soluble chemicals. These don't get washed out of our systems and stay with our bodies for a long period of time (DDT is a famous example).

    Does anyone know of a study done on the pesticide/hormone/yuckyness content of the fat of organic eating people versus regular?

    oh, and XKCD=heart.


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