Lifestyle, Our Farm   //  09/05/12
Let’s Discuss: Organic vs. Not Food Health Claims

You may have seen or heard on the news recently about the statement that came from Stanford University scientists which posits that, after looking at four decades worth of research on the matter, “fruits and vegetables labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts, which tend to be far less expensive. Nor were they any less likely to be contaminated by dangerous bacteria like E. coli.” (You can read the full New York Times article discussing the news here) Further, however, the meta-analysis (which is when scientists draw conclusions by looking at a broad range of studies and analyzing the collective results instead of conducting a new study) acknowledges that conventionally grown fruits and veggies were more likely to be contaminated by agricultural chemicals – pesticides, herbicides and fungicides (38% of conventional produce tested had chemical residue compared to 7% of organic produce). These chemical levels however have been deemed below “safe levels” for human consumption by the FDA.

We think that this study raises some interesting discussion points that are relevant for all of us, considering that the Organic segment of the fruit and veggie market has been growing rapidly in recent years, and considering the reputation that Organic produce has for simply being healthier than conventionally grown produce. Does this mean that we’ve all been duped by crafty marketing schemes that have convinced us that Organic food is better for us and our families? Or does this mean that there is still lots of research and learning to be done before we should change our lifestyle and buying habits?

We thought we would lay down our thoughts about the matter here, and then open it up for discussion. Firstly, we feel that it’s important not to jump to the conclusion that this automatically means there’s really no difference between Organic and conventional, primarily because doing so would ignore the fundamentally different concepts between these two types of agriculture: one is committed to producing food without the use of any chemicals with both the health of our bodies and the health of the land and ecosystem in mind, while the other is committed to producing the maximum quantity of food possible by canceling out potentially damaging environmental factors like pests and weeds. So determining whether or not this Stanford conclusion means anything to your buying habits depends on many other factors: environmental factors, social factors (higher Organic prices often reflect higher wages of agricultural workers), economic factors (supporting the new and growing Organic industry as opposed to industrial ag) as well as health reasons.

For example, we practice Organic, chemical-free agricultural methods on our farm because we believe that manmade chemicals disrupt the harmony in an agricultural ecosystem with unpredictable side effects (like killing all bugs instead of the 1 target pest, or chemicals leaching into the groundwater), as well as because we believe that if we are cultivating edible plants like fruits and vegetables as well as botanicals used in our products’ formulas, we want them to be 100% chemical-free so that we can feel good about sharing them with everybody.

Additionally, we’re not sure how we feel about the FDA’s approval of “safe levels” for human chemical consumption. What is a safe level, and how is it determined? Have we tested those chemical levels for long enough to be absolutely sure that safe means totally harmless? We feel that the toxicity argument has been sidestepped by Stanford’s meta-analysis, but that that is a fundamentally important one. If they are making claims about the “healthiness” of Organic vs. conventional food, then toxins should definitely be part of the discussion.

What do you think about Stanford’s meta-analysis conclusions? Does the nutritional content of an organic vs. a conventional strawberry or bunch of kale matter to you, and if not, what does? What are the reasons you choose to buy conventional or organic, and how much of a factor is price?

These kinds of debates are great for how they inspire us to continue learning about our economy’s agricultural system and what the choices made at the top (by big Ag companies) mean for our health and bodies. Plus they’re a great chance for us to continue to share our mission and beliefs as a company with you, and learn about yours!


  1. I recently began buying organic foods and natural products for my home and skin care. My sister and I have been having many debates on “organic” because her husband is a crop duster who sprays the chemicals on these fruit/veggie crops. She claims he uses the same chemicals as organic farms and that “organic” is all a bunch of “hokey”. I don’t want to believe her and I want to stand strong on the pro-organic side but I don’t know enough about it to argue a firm point.

    Is what she tells me true?

    Comment by Jenna V. — 09/05/2012 @ 3:17 pm
  2. Yes, I totally agree that the entire toxicity issue for us as well as the environment has not been considered in the Stanford study. We live in the whole not in isolated segments and the benefits of organic choices address the whole.
    I choose to buy organic products, sustainably produced whenever I can and for me, the extra expense is so worth it and is my way of “paying it forward”.

    Comment by Penelope Rudder — 09/05/2012 @ 4:59 pm
  3. Hi Jenna, first of all, congratulations on making the switch to natural products and organic food as it is a big and often expensive step to take, but one we believe will really help you and your families’ health in the long run, not to mention how important it is to vote with your $$ and support the industries you believe in. As for your sister’s argument, it’s true that big, industrial Organic agriculture may not be as totally chemical-free as we would hope it would be, mainly because it is controlled by huge corporations that have a lot of lobbying power in their government, and since it is our government (the FDA) that has determined the standards for what an Organic certification means, they have a huge ability to sway what those rules are, and how strict they are. So yes, sometimes large-scale certified Organic farms are sprayed, but it is definitely not with the same chemicals as Conventional ag, which are truly toxic. They’re usually milder alternatives made with ingredients that aren’t on the FDA’s no-no list.

    Still, unless you know a ton about agricultural chemicals vs. natural alternatives, the whole discussion can be really confusing. I don’t think Organic is a bunch of hokey, though. There is room for the industry to grow towards being more trustworthy and truly committed to sustainable agriculture, but for now it’s a good start. Buying local organic food is often the best option, because you can find out yourself from the farmer how they grow their food – I’m sure they’d be really happy to tell you all about it!

    Thanks for sharing your opinion Jenna!

    Comment by adminblog — 09/06/2012 @ 12:27 pm
  4. [...] Great article to read on the Tata Harper blog about organic vs. non-organic food – [...]

  5. Everything is made with chemicals, wehhter it is certified organic or not. Plants are amazing chemical factories, from the chemical process called photosynthesis to the chemical processes that make viable seeds, sap, colour pigments in the flowers everything on earth is made of chemicals. You are filled with chemicals and many are quite toxic. Fortunately our bodies have ways of handling toxic chemicals through the liver and kidneys. You 100% certified organic botanicals are the same chemicals as non certified and non botanical. When you break things down to the molecules, there’s no difference between organic botanical or anything it’s all the same. certified organic botanical is more about marketing and playing on the fears of gullible consumers.In cosmetics I prefer products whose ingredients are carefully tested for effacity and safety. I have sensitive skin and many plant compounds are highly irritating to my skin. look at poison ivy, nettles, and belladonna. they may be certified organic all they want, but that doesn’t make any of them harmless or safe. There’s a mushroom called Gyromitra esculenta, the false morel -that produces monmethylhydrazine (a chemical also found in rocket fuel). Is certified organic botanical rocket fuel any safer than synthesized rocket fuel?It’s all hype, there’s nothing wrong with chemicals, if anything some are more harmless than untested unstandardized unknowns from plants sources. Some plants are highly toxic and cause severe dermatitis reactions. Some chemicals have been purified and tested as harmless and very effective. Chemical doesn’t always equal bad and botanic organic does not always equal good.

    Comment by Marcelo — 11/08/2012 @ 2:51 am

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