When I woke up yesterday and saw the headline, “Organic produce is no healthier or nutritious, finds study,” I was very curious. What exactly did this study look at and how did they come up with their conclusion? Turns out I wasn’t the only one who was interested. Our twitter page blew up with comments and articles on what the study missed. Mark Bittman showed a wee bit of frustration in his tweet:

Ridiculous Study Claims Organic Same as Conventional, irritates anyone capable of thought: http://buff.ly/NaNeKI

The Standford Study, as it is being referred, is a “meta-analysis” of a few hundred previously published research papers on the topic. The researchers reviewed the studies and and summarized the results in the journal, The Annals of Internal Medicine.

The Purpose: To review evidence comparing the health effects of organic and conventional foods.

The Conclusion: The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

While this sounds compelling, there was a whole lot left out. For example, two glasses of milk might be identical when it comes to the amount of vitamin D or calcium, but vastly difference when you start comparing added hormone or antibiotic levels. Also, nutrition is not the only reason why people choose organic. In the last day, I’ve read numerous articles about the Standford Study. To further understand what the study actually did and did not include, I urge you to read these three compelling articles.

5 Ways the Stanford Study Sells Organics Short
by Tom Philpott of Mother Jones

As an investigative journalist, Tom takes a deep dive on the study and points out the multitude of risks that pesticides both alone and especially in combination with one another can pose.  The study states that, “The risk for contamination with detectable pesticide residues was lower among organic than conventional produce (risk difference, 30%).” Tom points out how this 30% number is misleading and makes things look a whole lot rosier than they really are.

“The authors—like the EPA itself—ignore the “cocktail effect” of exposure to several pesticides, say, from a single apple. As Environmental Working Group’s analysis of USDA data shows, conventional produce like apples, blueberries, and bell peppers often carry traces of many pesticides. The EPA regulates pesticide traces only on an individual basis, disregarding possible synergistic effects. The European Commission is starting to take them more seriously.” Click here to read the full story

Organic Food vs. Conventional: What the Stanford Study Missed
by Robyn O’Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth

Robyn’s main point in her review is that the study failed to look at added growth hormones, antibiotics, and insecticidal toxins. The reduction in consumption and exposure to chemicals is a huge health advantage to organics.

“Food is not just a delivery device for vitamins and minerals, as measured in the study, but it is also used as a delivery device for these substances that drive profitability for the food industry.  To fail to measure these added ingredients, while suggesting that there is essentially no difference, is incomplete at best.  Some might even go so far as to suggest that it is irresponsible in light of the fact that we are seeing such a dramatic increase in diet-related disease.” Click here to read the full story

Is Organic Food Really The Same As Conventional?
by Darya Pino of Summer Tomato

Darya is a scientist and her review was slightly different than most of the articles I read. First, she does a good job of pointing out that not all organic farming is created equal and therefore cannot be measured accurately against “conventional.” In addition, she points out all the benefits (phenol content, increased levels of omega-3 fatty acids, less antibiotic resistant bacteria) of organic that the Stanford study did find but were grossly under-reported by the media. A must read for anyone who wants a better understanding of what the study actually found.

“One problem is that the word “organic” is a huge umbrella that includes sustainable, biodynamic farming practices as well as huge-scale industrial operations that barely squeeze under the “certified organic” labeling standards. As a result there is a tremendous amount of heterogeneity (a scientific word for a wide range of differences) between the organic foods being tested, as well as the types of studies that are performed. As a result, it is difficult to measure consistent differences (aka statistical significance) between organic and conventional foods in this kind of study.” Click here to read the full story

Related: 6 Reasons to Always Choose Organic

The reality is that there are many grounds for choosing organic. For me it is about the reduction in pesticides, chemicals and hormones to both my body and the planet. It’s about the farm workers, the soil and the water. Though not addressed in this study, certified organic is also, currently, the only way to know something does not contain genetically modified organisms. While today’s organics, especially large-scale industrial organic operations, may not be the panacea, it’s often the best choice when taking all points into consideration. Special thanks to Darya, Robyn and Tom for their in-depth look at this study.

Photo by: Bludgeoner86 via Flickr