A review of existing research on the purported health benefits of organic foods confirms that organic food is no better for you than “conventional” food. From Reuters:
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said consumers were paying higher prices for organic food because of its perceived health benefits, creating a global organic market worth an estimated $48 billion in 2007.
A systematic review of 162 scientific papers published in the scientific literature over the last 50 years, however, found there was no significant difference.
“A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance,” said Alan Dangour, one of the report’s authors.
“Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority.”
The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The abstract is here.
This finding is no surprise. As I posted years ago, the organic food industry has never had any scientific evidence to support the widespread belief that eating organic is better for you.
It’s also doubtful that organic farming has any clear environmental benefits over conventional agriculture. A major 2002 study (which I noted at the time), suggested that organic agriculture could be less energy-intensive, but some dispute this claim. State-of-the-art conventional techniques are far more energy efficient than they used to be. In other respects, organic agriculture appears to be environmentally inferior to conventional farming techniques. In particular, organic agriculture tends to be less productive than contemporary conventional farming, yielding less per acre. For those of us concerned about protecting species habitat and reducing agriculture’s “footprint,” this is a big deal.
But is organic food better in some other way? After all, haven’t you ever had a meal featuring local, organically grown produce that was over the top? I sure have. But I doubt that the organic nature of production is the relevant variable. Rather, fresh, locally-grown produce will often taste fresher because it is fresher. Having grown up in Philadelphia, I can tell you that nothing beats some of the fresh produce we could buy along the roadside in south Jersey. Nothing — and I mean nothing — beats a fresh south Jersey tomato — [Okay, I really meant “no tomato”] but this is true whether or not organic techniques are used.
So, as I’ve said before (and will probably say again), eat organics if you want, but don’t think you’re doing yourself or the planet any favors. To the contrary, there are many good reasons not to be a food elitist.