The organic nutrition kerfuffle

Photo by M. V. Jantzen via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

You may have caught wind of a research review released Tuesday about how organic foods are reportedly not nutritionally superior to conventionally grown ones. Given the desire for controversy-generating stories in today’s media outlets, it’s no wonder this made headlines, including some sensational and misleading ones.

The whole story seems a bit absurd to me. After all, who really thought the main reason to buy organic was because the nutrient content was necessarily better? As Daniel Finney reported for the Des Moines Register, “Iowans who grow, sell and buy organic foods say nutrition is only part of the reason they choose organic. ‘It’s about flavor, freshness and taste,’ said Ron Rosmann, an organic farmer near Harlan. ‘It’s about being chemically free and supporting small farmers. Even if the vitamins are the same, I say, “So what?” There’s a lot more to the story than that.'”

As Brian Fung writes for The Atlantic,

For all the attention devoted to the ways organic is better for you, we should remember that organic began chiefly as an argument about the environment…. [T]o buy organic is to respect the land your food came from. It means taking pains to ensure that your farms remain bountiful and productive, even decades from now. The case is one part self-interest over the long term, and one part a statement of ethics….

Buying organic is also a statement about public health. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of antibiotics. Conventional farms have been putting the stuff in animal feed for decades — even though we’ve known since the 1970s about the health hazards that the animal use of antibiotics poses for humans. Reducing society’s chances of inadvertently creating a superbug is a good reason to purchase organic foods.

There are the more immediate health benefits of buying organic: you’ll avoid the chemicals, preservatives, and hormones that conventional farms often use to treat their foods….

And then there’s the reason many people find most compelling of all: the health of workers in the field.

It’s a nice piece, so I encourage you to read Fung’s full article. Then, for a refutation of the some of problems with the study, check out Tom Philpott’s great post (the first of two that Philpott says he’ll be posting) at Mother Jones.

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