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Study Questions Comparable Safety and Nutritional Values of Organic Foods

doi: 10.1097/NNE.0b013e318276e03e
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The idea that “organic foods equal healthier foods” has been challenged by a systematic review published in the September 2012 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. Dr Crystal Smith-Spangler and colleagues of Stanford University examined data from 17 human studies and 223 nonhuman studies that evaluated nutrient and contamination levels in fruits, vegetables, grains, milk, eggs, chicken, pork, and red meat. Only minor differences were noted between organic foods and conventionally raised counterparts.

However, the study did note that eating organic produce may reduce exposure to pesticides by 30%. Even so, the pesticide levels in both organic foods and conventionally grown foods were within limits determined as safe by the Food and Drug Administration. Phosphorous levels were higher in organic produce. Organic produce contained slightly higher levels of phenols. More omega-3 fatty acids were measured in organic milk and chicken. The risk of the presence of bacteria that are resistant to 3 or more antibiotics was higher in conventional meats than in organically produced chicken and pork, but the difference was not statistically significant. Spangler emphasizes that data gathered from this systematic review do not provide support for the consumer to choose to purchase organic foods for nutritional or food-safety reasons.

Dr Ruth Kaba of the American Council of Science and Health (ACSH) expresses concerns that the label “organic” is simply a marketing device instituted by the US Department of Agriculture, providing no information for the consumer related to food nutritional values or safety. Dr Elizabeth Whelan, also of ACSH, adds that discussions related to organic foods can be emotionally charged. The choice to purchase organic foods is often based on concern for animal welfare, the environment, or taste preferences. Whelan notes that, in the absence of empirical evidence supporting “organic” choices, the consumer then purchases organic foods based on ideological choices, political choices, or on marketing campaigns.

Source: American Council on Science and Health. Organic foods offer no health bonus. ACSH Dispatch: Nutrition & Lifestyle. September 4, 2012. Available at Accessed October 1, 2012.

Additional Reading: Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter G, et al. Are organic foods safer or healthier: a systematic review. Ann Intern Med. 2012;157(5):348-366. Posted September 4, 2012. Available at Accessed October 1, 2012.

Submitted by: Robin E. Pattillo, PhD, RN, CNL, News Editor at [email protected].

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