Is Organic Better Than Conventional Produce?

I promised a loyal reader I would tackle the topic of GMOs, but then another loyal reader asked me to weigh in on the findings of a new study from Stanford about organics. Both issues are complicated, with experts on both sides playing fast and loose with the facts…kind of like politicians on different ends of the spectrum as election day approaches.

Since the organics study was just been released yesterday, I’ll address that first. GMOs soon, I promise.

After examining some 250 studies worldwide comparing organic versus conventional foods, researchers at Stanford University found very little difference in vitamin and mineral content between the two. They also found that although the pesticides in non-organic produce were significantly higher than organic, the levels remained largely within federal safety guidelines.

What does this mean?

To me, very little.

Does it change my stance that organic is preferable?

No.

Vitamins and minerals aren’t why most of us buy organic in the first place, it’s concern over pesticides and chemical fertilizers used to grow non-organics. And although the study found pesticides fall within government standards, plenty of folks consider those standards, well, substandard, particularly for pregnant women and childen.

And there are other issues at hand, such as the impact of chemicals on water runoff and how that affects fish and wildlife. And how about the people who live and work in farming communities exposed to pesticides on a daily basis? I do wonder about the health implications for them.

Does that mean I buy all organic all the time?

No.

Do I recognize organic produce is out of reach for some families?

Absolutely.

In a perfect world we’d all have access to affordable, farmer’s market-fresh organics, but non-organic fruits and veggies are not the root of American dietary ills. It’s misguided to malign the likes of a conventionally grown eggplant or non-organic head of lettuce, especially in light of all the junk food filling the interiors of our supermarkets.

And while I do worry about the impact of chemicals on farming communities, I also wonder what it’s like to make a living running a farm. I sat in on a talk by a very earnest strawberry farmer just last week who grows both conventional and organic berries. He said much of his land isn’t conducive to growing organics and that turning a profit isn’t so easy. At the same time, he’s come to apply some of his know-how from growing berries organically to his conventional crops. That’s good news since it may ultimately mean less pesticides for conventional produce.

My takeaway from all of this continues to be twofold: 1) Eat lots of fruits and vegetables 2) Make them organic as much as you can. When you can’t, be vigilant about cleaning your produce since a thorough washing can decrease pesticide residues significantly. Peeling your fruits and vegetables can help too.

Beyond that, I find the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15, which have become a permanent fixture on the homepage of my blog, to be useful when it comes to making decisions about whether or not to shell out the big bucks for organic. It’s not a perfect tool, but it’s the best we’ve got.

Comments

09.06.2012 at 11:00 AM #

Paula @ Vintage Kitchen

This is a good post Katie. I agree with your view about organics. I wonder what are government safety standards based on? I think that´s a key point in this kind of debate. In the end I feel that the less un-natural stuff you add to produce the better.

09.06.2012 at 11:00 AM #

katiemorford

Agreed. We can look at all the studies and all the science…and then there’s common sense.

09.06.2012 at 11:14 AM #

Pam H

You’re so right to remind us the focus should be on getting more veggies and fruits first, geting rid of the junk. Thanks!

09.06.2012 at 11:14 AM #

katiemorford

Yes, we’re all better off shopping largely in the perimeter of the market…most of the junkie stuff lives in the middle aisles.

09.06.2012 at 3:44 PM #

Betsy P

I have never understood the basis by which people think that organic is more nutritious than non-organic. The produce is, after all, just produce. The only difference is the way that it is grown. I am not surprised at all at the findings of the Stanford researchers. We have got to stop advertising false “truths” The only reason that organic is better for you is the lack of pesticides and chemicals. Simple as that!

09.06.2012 at 4:38 PM #

cheryl

Katie,

I think you did an admirable and measured job noting the complexities of this issue while still holding true to your commitment to feeding your family organic produce whenever possible.

The best thing about the Stanford study may be that it raised this issue back to the fore of the nation’s consciousness. The rebuttals and the criticisms of how the study was conducted, and what it may or may not reveal, will all serve to get us closer to the truth, wherever indeed it may lie. More research, more studies, more discussion –> it’s all good.

09.06.2012 at 4:38 PM #

katiemorford

I agree, dialogue is a good thing. What’s unfortunate is that often the media picks up the flashiest headlines without giving the whole story.

09.06.2012 at 6:12 PM #

Sally Kuzemchak

Good post! I agree that nutrition is not the reason most people buy organics–it’s the synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, etc. Thank you for acknowledging the fact that a lot of people can’t afford to buy all organic–I feel like that is missing from a lot of the debate on this.

09.06.2012 at 6:12 PM #

katiemorford

Thanks Sally. And indeed….not everyone has the means to buy organic. Living in California we are sometimes in a bit of a bubble since we get so much good, local, organic produce year round, and often cheaper than you might find elsewhere.

09.10.2012 at 7:32 PM #

kim brady

I look forward to the GMO posting but this was interesting in the interim đŸ™‚

09.10.2012 at 7:32 PM #

katiemorford

Thanks Kim!

09.14.2012 at 3:29 PM #

Heather

I couldn’t have said any of this better than you just did. Perfectly put!

09.14.2012 at 3:29 PM #

Heather

I couldn’t have said any of this better than you just did. Perfectly put!

01.30.2016 at 11:42 AM #

Deanna

Hello- hey thanks for all the great info! I am wondering if you would address the issue of minerally depleted soil and how that may or may not impact the vitamins and nutrients available in our produce. I have heard so many conflicting reports it is confusing.

I have a hard time swallowing the notion that eating fruit and vegetables laiden with pesticides is better than not eating them at all. The toxic burden has a huge impact on our immune system. Again, my lack of knowledge I suppose. I am trying to educate myself.

I would appreciate any input you have.

Thanks so much,

Deanna

01.30.2016 at 11:42 AM #

katiemorford

Hi Deanna,

This is such a complicated topic, as I note in the post. To be honest, I’m not up to date on the latest research on nutrient content of organic versus conventional soil. Perhaps another reader can chime in with some insight. Thanks for the comment.

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