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An Answer to the Stanford Research Study on Organic Food

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If many of you are like me, you were furious when you read about the Stanford research study that claimed eating organic foods is not any better for you than consuming conventional foods.

I knew this study had to be flawed, and many people were asking me about it, but I needed the time to put all the pieces together.

Then I received an email from Danielle Nierenberg of the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project, and she did the gathering of info for me!

The one thing I also came upon, that she did not mention, was that the funding for the study had big agribusiness behind it. As the saying goes, follow the money and you’ll get to the truth!

Check out Danielle’s email to me below! Also be sure to check out the Nourishing the Planet blog for more great articles!

From: Danielle Nierenberg
Date: September 19, 2012 10:02:51 AM EDT
To: Bhavani Jaroff
Subject: Is Organic Healthier?

Dear Bhavani,

For the last two weeks, foodies, farmers, and scientists have been debating the validity of a study released by Stanford University about the nutritional quality of organic produce. The analysis concludes that organic foods—foods grown without pesticides and other agro-chemicals—are not superior in quality to conventionally produced varieties. According to the study, the risk of exposure to pesticides and other harsh chemicals is only negligibly higher in conventional foods. In other words, the study argues that consumers who pay higher prices for the supposed health benefits of organic foods have been wasting their money. But our friends Chuck Benbrook, Dawn Undurraga, and Francis Moore Lappe disagree.

Although the Stanford study claims that there is a 30 percent “risk difference” between organic and conventional foods, Chuck Benbrook,  a scientist and former Executive Director of the Board on Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences, finds, “an overall 81 percent lower risk or incidence of one or more pesticide residues in the organic samples compared to the conventional samples”—using Stanford’s data. This discrepancy is the result of the Stanford researchers’ decision to omit certain criterion from their system of analysis, such as the difference between single and multiple pesticide traces (i.e. the difference between an organic apple containing a trace amount of one pesticide, and a conventional apple lathered in a highly-concentrated assortment of different pesticides).

Even if the Stanford analysis were accurate, it wouldn’t warrant the “breaking news” media attention it has received. Dawn Undurraga of the Environmental Working Group notes that as a new mom, even a 31 percent difference in pesticide residue is enough to reinforce her preference for organic foods. She reminds us that even using the low Stanford figures, a consumer is five times more likely to ingest pesticides with conventional than with organic varieties—a fact that the mainstream media has completely overlooked.

And Francis Moore Lappe, in a Huffington Post article, reprehends the Stanford scientists for not considering long term studies of organic versus conventional consumption in their analysis (the studies they used ranged from two days to two years). Ms. Lappe notes that the short-term studies used in the research are inadequate for determining the health impacts of pesticide consumption–she says “it is well established that chemical exposure often takes decades to show up, for example, in cancer or neurological disorders.”

And the Stanford study didn’t consider the environmental impacts of organic versus conventional food production. Organic food procurement has a host of benefits, none of which are acknowledged in the report: it contributes to increased biodiversity in the field—more birds and beneficial insects, better soil biota—and to decreased pollution associated with the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. And American farm workers, who have an  average lifespan of 49 years, will likely benefit from a decrease in the application of pesticides.

What do you think about the Stanford study and the media attention is has received? Do you think that organic food is healthier? Email me with your thoughts!

All the best,
Danielle Nierenberg
Nourishing the Planet Project Director
Worldwatch Institute


About Bhavani Jaroff

Bhavani Jaroff is a Natural Foods Chef, Educator, Radio Host, and Food Activist. She has over thirty years experience cooking healthy, fresh organic food. Read More

One Response to An Answer to the Stanford Research Study on Organic Food

  1. Pingback: In the News: Organics Study, BPA and Obesity, Occupy Anniversary, Arsenic in Rice, Healthy Cleaning Guide | iEatGreen

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