For instance, there’s been a lot of convoluted arguing over organic farming since the Stanford University study was published (September 2012), which found amongst many other things that organic food may not be more nutritious. Here’s the NYT‘s take on the story.
The study findings were weird to us because we don’t know anyone amongst our sustainability clients who claims that organic produce is more nutritious.
What we do know is that certified organic produce in Australia is synthetic-chemical-free (pesticides, hormones, antibiotics), and this may help reduce the likelihood of cancer and a variety of other complaints. We also know that organic produce is farmed on soils that are also synthetic-chemicals-free and so better in terms of environmental sustainability, possibly leading to better health for us albeit by a longer route (cleaner air, clearer water, etc.). And we know this is government regulated (in Australia).
So, here’s a conundrum. There are people who insure their house against fire because it may burn down; the same people might also self-compost because it may contribute to a cleaner environment, and in a teeny way to preventing climate change. If these same people don’t eat organic food knowing it may be healthier, then there is a disconnect. Each is a form of insurance against a risk that something bad might happen. The only difference to argue about is the probability (and who knows the probability of their house burning down?).
A common argument against organic is that there is scientific evidence that pesticides, hormones, etc., in non-organic foods are at safe levels by the time it is sold to you. Argument accepted. But here is another disconnect, scientists also can’t explain a host of society illnesses such as increased rates of cancer, and more.
Another reason that people didn’t buy organic is that the food used to look sickly: blotchy, poorly coloured, small; or quite clearly past its used by date; or sold by people with dirty finger nails. But no more, just look in the organic section of any major supermarket, or any large farmers’ market.
Other reasons are cost and access. Point taken.
There is a good article that sets all this out here, in the Huffington Post (see also an extract below).
So why the lack of PR promoting organic produce? Well, we know of one company that says it’s just not a priority – the company is already working flat-out to cater for growing demand.
Posted: 09/10/2012 3:59 pm
Last week, a controversial study concluding that organic food has no real health benefit over conventionally grown food received a great deal of media attention. But there was also a wave of backlash.
On the Huffington Post alone, bloggers sounded the alarm, with headlines like, “Stanford Scientists Shockingly Reckless on Health Risk And Organics,” “Media Coverage of Stanford’s Organic Foods Study is Half Baked,” and “Organic Food vs. Conventional: What the Stanford Study Missed.”
So what exactly was the problem? Some argued that the study’s conclusions were being oversimplified and some pointed out that even if its media-grabbing assessment was true, that hosts of other reasons why organic farming and produce might be preferable were being overlooked.
- NYU professor Marion Nestle pointed out that the study did in fact confirm that organic food reduces exposure to pesticides and antibiotics. Nestle writes that the authors found organic food was “doing exactly what it is supposed to.” Nestle also explains how focusing on nutrient content alone misses the point, since “additional nutrients do not make healthy people healthier.”
- Michael Pollan agreed, saying that this is not new research and he’s seen “exact same data analyzed in a very different direction.” He said, “we’re kind of erecting a straw man and then knocking it down, the straw man being that the whole point of organic food is that it’s more nutritious. The whole point of organic food is that it’s more environmentally sustainable. That’s the stronger and easier case to make.”
- Bloomberg restaurant critic Ryan Sutton argued that headlines about organic food not being healthier misses the point of the study altogether. “We pay more for organic or free range products because we believe it’s the right thing to do,” he wrote. “We want to support the farmers and growers who treat their animals, their crops and mother nature’s land with respect and dignity.”
- Tom Philpott of Mother Jones writes that “the study in some places makes a strong case for organic—though you’d barely know it from the language the authors use.” He names five reasons the study sells organics short, including an oversimplification of pesticide exposure. He writes, ” the study seriously underplays the benefit of going organic to avoid pesticide traces, especially for vulnerable populations like pregnant women and kids.”
Now it turns out that one of the lead authors of the study acknowledges some of these shortcomings of their “meta-analysis” (the study was a comprehensive review of previous organic food studies). <more>