Several people have asked me about the Stanford University study findings released earlier this month that said there isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based on your health.
However, the website Remapping Debate points out that the paper itself, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, included the significant finding that eating organic foods reduces exposure to pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Also important, Remapping Debate said, is what the study left out: key issues relating to the safety of organic versus non-organic foods weren’t examined.
The report’s purpose was to study the published literature on the health, nutritional, and safety characteristics of organic and conventional foods.”
Remapping Debate spoke with Crystal Smith-Spangler, M.D., an internist and research instructor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, one of the lead authors of the study.
the study looked for evidence of direct impacts on consumers of organic and
non-organic food, it didn’t appear to consider the environmental impact of
non-organic farming, Remapping Debate said in a statement. How does the heavy
use of agrochemicals that remain in soil and might leech into groundwater
affect human health? What about the health and safety impacts of pesticides on
Smith-Spangler told Remapping Data that the study didn’t address these questions. Also beyond the scope of the study were the risks of non-organic farms serving as laboratories for the breeding of more and more dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Less contaminants in organic food
On the level of pesticide residue and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the study did say that levels are significantly higher in the non-organic products that people eat, but took the position that such levels aren’t grounds for concern.
As for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the study said that cooking food would kill all bacteria, although it didn’t address the question of eating foods cooked at temperatures insufficient to kill bacteria or whether super-bacteria is killed by cooking food.
On pesticide limits, the study said that the levels found are within the safety limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. However, Smith-Spangler acknowledged that there is a debate about the pesticide safety limits set by the federal government, but didn’t see that point as relevant to her report.
“It’s beyond the scope of our paper to discuss the federal limits,” she said. “A study that would examine the question, ‘Is the amount of pesticides in our food safe?’ would include a lot more data on dose response and maybe some animal data. And there are lots of experts out there who can weigh in on that issue.”
Although many health and safety issues weren’t addressed by the study, Smith-Spangler said in her interview with Remapping Debate that her team’s findings were developed to provide evidence consumers could base their decisions on.
“Our goal was to present the evidence and try to help people understand the evidence,” Smith-Spangler said. “But our goal was not to tell people what or what not to do.”
My opinion on organic food
The people I talked to about the study certainly were made skeptical about organic food. The findings that pesticide residues are 30 percent higher in non-organic products should have been the emphasis of the Stanford University’s press release.
For the researchers to decide that this amount of pesticide exposure doesn’t make any difference to health, in my opinion, was beyond the scope of their study.
I’m gong to continue eating organic food that I buy from local co-ops and farmers’ markets. My dad, Minor H. Slingsby, was an apple farmer who died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is linked to pesticide exposure.
I suggest that you buy as much local, organic meat, fruits, and vegetables as you can.