GREENFIELD, Mass. (July 31, 2009)—In response to recent publicity concerning an article in-press for the next issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) reminds consumers that organic has a great story to tell.
“The broader question is about what is health and what is nutrition, and isn’t it more than just nutrient density,” said Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, in reference to recent buzz about the article, “Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review.” “Doesn’t a food system that avoids the use of pesticides, synthetic growth hormones and antibiotics while building healthy soil and protecting natural resources promote health and nutrition? I certainly think so.”
I see plenty of good reasons to buy organic foods, and this study does not even begin to address them
She added, “I’m surprised that investigators of this caliber would focus so narrowly on nutrient content. There is no reason to think that organic foods would have fewer nutrients than industrially produced foods, and there are many reasons to think that organic foods have greater benefits for the environment, for pesticide reduction, and for taste, all of which affect human health at least as much — or more — than minor differences in nutritional content. I buy organic products because I want foods to be produced more naturally, more humanely, and more sustainable. I see plenty of good reasons to buy organic foods, and this study does not even begin to address them.”
Surveys of U.S. households show that one of the top reasons cited for purchasing organic is that the products are “healthier for me and my family,” but it is important to examine what consumers mean by this. As shown by findings from the 2009 U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes & Beliefs Study, consumers say they choose organic products due to their concerns about possible effects of toxic and synthetic pesticides, synthetic growth hormones and antibiotics used in non-organic agriculture. They also want to avoid highly processed food produced without any restrictions on additives.
According to OTA’s Executive Director Christine Bushway, “Any time a consumer buys an organic product, whether food or non-food, he or she is supporting a system of sustainable agricultural management that promotes soil health and fertility, fosters species diversity, helps combat climate change, prevents damage to valuable water resources, and protects farmers and farmers’ families from exposure to harmful chemicals. In turn, this benefits the health of our planet in general, and ultimately, those who live on that planet.”
The in-press study reveals the lack of good quality research for comparing the nutritional aspects of organic and conventional agriculture. There are few studies that have been conducted with the scientific rigor required to definitively show any differences. Although this article did not see documented significant nutrient differences between organic and conventional food, it did not necessarily rule out that possibility. There is a need for much further research to see if this is the case.
This is due, in part, to the fact that very few resources over the years have been dedicated to research concerning organic agriculture and products. Fortunately, this may be changing, with the 2008 Farm Bill increasing funding for organic research five-fold over previous levels.
The Organic Center’s chief scientist Chuck Benbrook conducted a similar review of the literature and found different results. For a discussion of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition report and the Center’s work on the subject, contact The Organic Center at http://www.organic-center.org/science.nutri.php?action=view&report_id=157, or Katy Sager at firstname.lastname@example.org.