Natural health guru Andrew Weil has many eco-foodie fans — myself among them, especially because of the tasty Chocolada Walnut Pure Fruit & Nut Bar from Weil by Nature’s Path Organic. And last weekend, I had a lucky opportunity to hear Andrew Weil speak at The Organic Center’s 7th annual V.I.P. Dinner in Anaheim, Calif., sharing his thoughts on what people who care about organic agriculture should focus on to push the movement forward.

MNN readers already know many of the benefits of organic food — both for human health and the environment. Behind a lot of the scientific research that establishes the many scientific benefits of organics is The Organic Center, a nonprofit that works on peer-reviewed scientific studies on the benefits of organic farming. Because of its valuable work, The Organic Center has many, many fans among eco-luminaries and green businesses — which is why everyone from Ken Cook, head of Environmental Working Group, to Margaret Wittenberg, global vice president of quality standards and public affairs at Whole Foods, to Gary Hirshberg, CE-Yo of Stonyfield Organic, came to the dinner to celebrate — and raise money for — the center’s work.

Weil was the keynote speaker, and he talked about how to address some of the misinformation and bad studies about organic farming that have been reported on the media — like a study that claimed organic foods aren’t any more nutritious than conventional foods:

I do in fact believe that plants grown organically do produce higher levels of key antioxidants and other phytonutrients. But the most important fact about organic food which was not addressed in that British medical journal article is what it’s not giving you. It’s not giving you toxic agrochemicals. And that’s what to focus on.

When you show a slide to the general audience showing the list of toxins found in the umbilical cord blood of average babies, that makes a strong impression on everyone. And when you can show research that, if you put babies and infants on organic foods, those levels come down in the tissues and the blood, that is very dramatic and powerful…. That’s what we should focus on….

So I would urge the people who are doing the scientific research in this area to work on documenting those differences rather than trying to focus on nutritional advantages of organic products at this stage of things …. That’s what will advance this movement at the present time.

Not everyone at the dinner agreed with Andrew Weil’s perspective. In fact, Charles Benbrook, chief scientist for The Organic Center (below) spoke later in the evening defending the Center’s scientific research into the nutritional benefits of organic food.

Charles Benbrook, chief scientistfor The Organic Center

Of course, Weil did make it clear that he was talking about what types of research might be most beneficial for the organic movement at this moment. While there’s certainly room for research in all aspects of organic farming, I tend to agree that right now, those who haven’t yet embraced organic foods will be more likely to be convinced to do so by learning about the perils of pesticides than the pleasures of phytonutrients — making scientific research on the former a quicker and more effective way of getting people to switch to organic foods.

But perhaps some people are indeed more convinced by nutrition research than pesticide research. What made you decide to eat organic?

Andrew Weil: Focus organic research on pesticides, not phytonutrients
Natural health guru Andrew Weil believes more people will be convinced to go organic if they learn about pesticides in food.