Little evidence of health benefits from organic foods, Stanford study finds – Office of Communications & Public Affairs – Stanford University School of Medicine

There is a great deal of misunderstanding of organic food production in Georgia. The urban myth that most Georgian food is “organic by default” is repeated ad nauseum, but it does not take into account contamination of many sites in the region with heavy metals and pollutant chemicals, for which nobody in the country tests before planting crops.

News media, the Church and many foreign funded NGO’s tend to promote organic production as a sustainable competitive advantage for Georgia’s food producers. They neglect to consider that organic food is generally twice the price of conventionally produced foods (due to much lower yields) and in a poor country this restricts domestic distribution to a tiny affluent niche market. Exports of food products from Georgia are still in their infancy and are generally restricted to hazelnuts and mandarins. By all means, if Georgian producers can secure superior net income by switching to organic production, they should do so, but wholesaling and distribution, as well as certification, is still very primitive here.

Arguments that organic crop production is better for the environment are also subject to challenge; instead of using herbicides and zero-till crop planters, organic farmers must use repeated cultivation to control weeds by physically disturbing soil, with annual diesel consumption up to three times that of zero-till, and soil compaction inevitably resulting over time due to over-tilling. The layer of crop residue mulch on top of a conventional zero till field is no less rich an environment for soil microflora and fauna than a harrowed organic field, in some cases more so.

The main argument put to affluent consumers over the years is that organic produce is better for human health than conventionally produced foods. Stanford University analysed many past papers on this subject in 2012, and came to the conclusion that there is no significant difference in human health between consumers of organic food, compared to consumers of conventionally produced food.

Granted, meta-analysis of other people’s past papers is not the most rigourous epidemiological technique available; a prospective cohort study would be more enlightening. It would be fair to say that there is no clear association between human health and consumption of organic foods, and that more studies are warranted if the price premium is to be justified.

A team led by Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy, and Crystal Smith-Spangler, MD, MS, an instructor in the school’s Division of General Medical Disciplines and a physician-investigator at VA Palo Alto Health Care System, did the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date of existing studies comparing organic and conventional foods. They did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives, though consumption of organic foods can reduce the risk of pesticide exposure.

Read the full press release here via Little evidence of health benefits from organic foods, Stanford study finds – Office of Communications & Public Affairs – Stanford University School of Medicine.


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