“To Buy Organic or To Not To Buy Organic?” by MDC

So the verdict is in and here’s the deal! If you buy exclusively organic food believing that it is definitely more nutritious than other conventionally raised products, then you might be alarmed to find out that organic food actually has no nutritional advantage over conventionally grown food. Really? But wait, can this be true?

While there is much evidence to support this finding, not everyone agrees. It figures, due to the fact that not all tomatoes look or taste the same.  Naturally grown products vary in taste, texture, color, and nutritional content. This variance depends largely on the soil types, the growing conditions, the seasonal fluctuations, the varying farming practices and other factors effecting the handling and storage of each product. Many scientific authors account for these influences, but ultimately say that the differences in the nutrients found in organic food versus those in conventional food are not large enough to have a significant effect on public health.

Alan D. Dangour, PhD and a public health nutritionist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine says that, “Organic food is not nutritionally superior to conventional food.” Dangour’s conclusions were recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and are being widely disputed from U.S. food researchers.

Globally the organic food market reports an estimated $48 billion in sales annually. The draw for the consumer is that these organic foods are monitored under strict standards that control the use of pesticides on fruit and vegetable crops, as well as the medications used in raising farm animals.

Recently, Dangour and some colleagues used articles from January 1958 to February 2008 for a study that compared organic and conventionally grown food. They found 55 studies of satisfactory quality to include in their review and evaluated several nutrient categories, including:

•         Nitrogen

•         Vitamin C

•         Polyphenols

•         Magnesium

•         Calcium

•         Phosphorous

•         Potassium

•         Zinc

•         Soluble Solids

•         Copper

•         Acidity content

Their findings were that conventionally produced fruit/vegetable crops had a higher content of nitrogen and the organically produced crops were richer in phosphorous and had a greater acidity content.  Dangour reported that there was no difference in the other crop nutrients and animal food products had no significant difference in their nutrient content either.

Officials from the U.S. organic food industry and many other industry experts have taken strong defense against the new review. Ronnie Cummins, National Director of the Organ Consumers’ Association says, “Our stand is it’s a beyond scientific doubt that organic foods are higher in vitamins and important trace minerals, as well as containing far fewer toxic residues. That’s the reason that millions of American consumers are paying a premium price for organic production.”

The major problem with the new review is the use of old studies, including some from 1958.  Michael Hansen, PhD, a senior scientist at Consumers Union and a food safety expert in a WebMD interview tells that, “Newer studies have clearly shown significant differences between organic and nonorganic when it comes to nutrient content.” Hansen says that, “Most of the studies published before 1980 are flawed for a number of reasons. Nutrients as a whole in the food supply are declining which is another reason not to lump 1958 studies with more current ones.”

Dangour and company refute the criticism saying that, “The majority of studies they used were published since 2000.” However, Charles Benbrook, PhD, Chief Scientist for The Organic Center says, “The more contemporary studies and higher quality ones do clearly support nutritional benefit for organically grown foods compared to conventionally grown foods.” Benbrook says that, “Dangour’s major mistake is the lack of focus on polyphenols and antioxidants, which are recently showing up at about 25% higher in organically grown foods.”

No matter what you believe or where you choose to buy your food, everyone should be conscious of the freshness and overall quality of the products. Organic or not, the bottom line is that all the products that we consume should be treated as sacred from farm to table as they will be sacrificed to sustain our lives. A noble cause indeed! 


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