A new study from Stanford University being touted by the media says organic food isn't worth the higher price because organic foods are not nutritionally better. I don’t agree. Here are five reasons to support local organic farmers.
1. Common pesticides linked to birth defects
There are many studies demonstrating a link between pesticides used in agriculture (or in the home or home garden) and miscarriages, birth defects and pregnancy complications. While these are especially true for those who work in fields sprayed with pesticides, other studies are starting to link problems with those pregnant who live near agriculture sections of the country. In fact, the American Pregnancy Association goes so far as to recommend relocating for the early part of your pregnancy if you live near an agricultural area. Even if you don’t live close to conventional farming areas, you are helping protect other mothers and newborns by supporting farmers who choose not to use pesticides.
2. Organic foods aren’t genetically modified
There has been a lot of debate about GM foods. I am definitely in the place of feeling extreme caution towards GM foods. After all, if I were against spraying pesticides on plants, why would I want to eat foods modified to produce their own pesticides? And I find much of the research on genetically modified foods alarming. I am happy to avoid GM foods by buying organic foods. (If you want to read more about the dangers of genetically modified foods, start here.)
3. Pesticides may block male hormones
With lower sperm counts, male infertility, and testicular cancer on the rise, pesticides could be partially or fully to blame. Nursing male infants could be especially sensitive to pesticides known to pass through breast milk as hormones control masculinization of the reproductive tract. Plus, there are a lot of unknowns to the effects of pesticides on the endocrine system for both males and females.
4. Cancer and pesticides
While there is many who strongly believe that even trace amounts of pesticides could raise cancer risks of all individuals, it’s not a secret that field workers who have more contact with pesticides have higher risks of many different cancers. One example is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, melanoma. Farm workers are twice as likely to get melanoma.
Once again, choosing organic produce may not only protect you, but also those whose jobs bring them directly in contact with conventional farming practices.
5. Stanford University study was too limited
The study was dealing with just one aspect of organic food, specifically whether or not organic food was more nutritious. It’s important to remember that this was just one part of the question of whether organic is worth the price or not. But looking at it from the nutrition angle, I think that the study was too limited in even that aspect.
For example, I see no comparison of omega 3 fatty-acids to omega 6 fatty-acids in grass-fed beef versus grain finished, or on nutrients like CLA in grass-fed beef. (If they did, they would have found that grass-fed beef has a much higher amount of omega 3 fatty acids than its conventional counterpart, and contained the cancer- and fat-fighting nutrient CLA.). Not only do organic meats and dairy contain no antibiotics or rBGH, but if you look beyond simply organic to farmers who raise their animals on the food they were created for, there are many advantages nutritionally. Eggs from chickens who are truly “pasture raised” — that is, get a lot of their food from pecking, scratching and enjoying the outdoors — have a very different nutritional value than even the so called “free range” or organic eggs bought at the store. (They are often "free ranging" in dusty enclosures, with no or little access to a real pasture).
Along that same line, a lot of organic produce comes from far away. While my zucchini from Mexico might not have more nutritional value than local conventionally grown zucchini, I’d love to see a study comparing a farm that uses the best ecologically sensible practices and invests in the soil health, vs. a typical conventional farmer in the same area. I suspect that you would find a nutritional difference that could be significant.
I did appreciate that this study tried to keep itself free from any influences by not accepting outside funding. It looked at a specific aspect of organic food and came to certain conclusions about that. I think that there could be better studies in the future that directly compare produce (or dairy or meat) that came from the same area, at the same time, and see what difference there is nutritionally, if any.
But regardless, there are many other reasons to avoid conventional produce, dairy and meat. These are just a few of them.
Related on MNN: Our lifestyles blogger weighs in on the organic produce study