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March 13th, 2013

Are organic foods really any healthier for us?



Some studies show organic foods to be no healthier and only marginally safer with regard to individual exposure to pesticides than non-organic foods. Nonetheless, choosing organic is still a wise strategy. Photo: Polka Dot/Thinkstock

Dear EarthTalk: There’s been a lot of coverage on the topic of organic foods and how they aren’t actually any healthier than conventional foods. Is this true?

- Gina Thompson, Salem

There is no doubt that organic foods are healthier - for our bodies individually as well as for the environment - than their conventionally produced counterparts. The question is how much healthier and does the difference warrant spending more on your grocery bill.

Conventional food is produced using synthetic chemical inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics to repel pests, boost growth and improve the yield of marketable product. It stands to reason that trace amounts of these chemicals are likely to get ingested.

Before such chemicals became widely available, most food was produced organically. Recent awareness about the dangers of synthetic chemicals and antibiotic resistance has triggered a renewed interest in organic food.

But after surveying over 200 other studies comparing organic and conventional foods and in some cases their effects on the body, Stanford medical researchers found that, while eating organic produce can lower exposure to pesticides, the amount measured from conventionally grown produce was also well within safety limits. They also found that organic foods were not particularly more nutritious than non-organic foods.

The one area where the team found a divergence was regarding antibiotic-resistant germs in meats. While the chances of bacterial contamination are the same for organic and non-organic meats, germs in conventionally raised chicken and pork had a 33 percent higher risk of being resistant to multiple antibiotics.


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