Organic food market not all it is criticized to be

The thriving organic food market is about to get a little less popular. Recently, Stanford University published a study finding that organic foods – specifically, produce and meats – are not any healthier than conventional foods. In other words, the nutrient levels in organic and conventional foods are basically comparable, and eating organic food does not provide any clear health advantages.

The study was immediately met with strong responses from both sides of the organic versus conventional debate. Organic supporters claimed that the field of study was too narrow and that the findings were inconclusive, while detractors – including Roger Cohen in a scathing Op-Ed for the New York Times – gloated that they had been right to remain skeptical of the craze, knowing all along that the higher prices of organic foods had not been warranted. While Stanford’s study does have merit, there is no reason to give up on organic foods just yet – there are numerous benefits to eating organic that are related to more than just nutrition.

First and foremost in people’s minds, however, is the existence of potential health benefits gained by eating organic produce, on which lower traces of pesticides are generally found. While the Environmental Protection Agency EPA assures us that the levels of pesticides on conventional produce are under the regular safety limits, concern about the connection between levels of pesticides found on produce and the risk of developing cancer still exist. Stanford’s study found that only seven percent of tested organic produce held traces of pesticides compared to 38 percent of tested conventional foods. While both levels are relatively low, the percentage of organic produce carrying pesticides is significantly lower than the percentage of contaminated conventional produce. Further, studies by scientists at Washington State University, UC-Berkeley, Columbia University and New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital found that pregnant women exposed to higher levels of pesticides gave birth to children whose I.Q. test results in elementary school were generally lower than the test scores of those who had not previously been exposed to the same pesticides.

Unsurprisingly, the lower levels of pesticides used in growing organic food are healthier for both human consumers and the environment. An analysis completed by the Journal of Environmental Impact found that organic farming results in less of an environmental impact than does conventional farming. However, this could have more to do with the fact that organic farming results in smaller yields than does conventional farming – their scale is smaller, therefore more harvests ultimately need to take place. That being said, it is hard to ignore the fact that organic farmers use fewer chemicals and fertilizers in their work, and as a result, grow their produce more naturally and remain more environmentally conscious.

Lastly, going organic does more than just benefit the consumer – it also benefits the farmers who bring their produce to their local farmers’ market or grocery store every week to sell. Eating locally-grown, organic food both ensures that the food has not travelled far, thereby exposing the environment to fewer damaging exhaust fumes, and that it has been grown by neighbors, who need local support to have the success they deserve in their work. Another benefit to eating local, organic produce – because it came from close by, the produce is fresher and, therefore, naturally tastes better.

The results of Stanford’s study can’t exactly argue with that.

Nina Hagen ’15 hagen@stolaf.edu is from St. Paul, Minn. Her major is currently undecided.

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