Among the notable reasons for supporting organic food—fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers, more sustainable management of resources, decreased risk of antibiotic resistant pathogens—there has also been a frequent discussion on the superior nutritional content of foods grown and raised organically. Pro-organic advocates have long pointed to an increased bioavailability of important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in organic foods, but new research coming out of Stanford University is sparking a controversial discussion by suggesting that may not actually be the case.
The New York Times reported that the Stanford researchers found, on average, fruits and vegetables labeled organic showed no nutritional superiority to their non-organic counterparts despite being lower in pesticides, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria common in animal products were significantly decreased in organic options.
The study combined data from more than 200 existing studies examining a variety of organic and conventional fruits, vegetables and animal products, and found that 38 percent of conventional produce had detectable pesticide residue versus just seven percent of organic produce. While the researchers did note an increased presence of phosphorous and some plant phenols known to help prevent cancer in the organic fruit and vegetable samples, the study also noted there was no nutritionally superior benefit to consuming excessive phosphorous, a mineral already common in our diet.
Eating organic animal products instead of conventionally-raised options may not provide a significant nutritional boost either, cited the study, a point that the Organic Trade Association has taken issue with: "because organic livestock practices forbid the use of antibiotics, including the routine use of low level antibiotics for growth, organic meat contains less antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” said Christine Bushway, OTA’s Executive Director and CEO in a statement released by the organization.
“Consumers seeking to minimize their exposure to pesticide residues will find that foods bearing the USDA Organic label are the gold standard. This is because organic foods have the least chemicals applied in their production and the least residues in the final products," added Bushway, touching on points left out of the study. In addition to being free from pesticides and chemicals, organically grown and raised foods are also free of GMOs and the companion pesticides and growth hormones including the controversial rGBH given to dairy cows.
The OTA and other organic advocacy organizations including the Environmental Working Group suggest that avoiding pesticides in food that have been linked to developmental, reproductive, neurological and metabolic disorders as well as certain types of cancer is as important as making sure adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals are present in the diet.
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