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!