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Should You Eat Organic?
Only a few decades ago, organic farming was associated with the hippie movement and often dismissed as countercultural and radical. In fact, the phrase “organic farming” was coined in the 1930s, when the concept of farming without chemical fertilizers and synthetic pest control was first proposed. In the 21st century, organic farming has become big business, with big-box stores like Wal-Mart getting in on the action. Farmers who opt to go organic must follow a strict set of rules, overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in order to sell their products as such. People choose organic for many reasons, but the most common is that food produced this way is considered to be healthier and safer.
Dr. Crystal Smith-Spangler and colleagues from Stanford University recently published a comprehensive review of research on organic foods in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Nearly 6000 studies were identified, but only 200 met the pre-defined criteria for relevance and scientific validity. After very sophisticated statistical analysis, the researchers came to the following conclusions:
- Vitamin and nutrient content was similar between organic foods and conventionally grown foods.
- Organic milk and organic chicken may provide more of the healthy omega-3 fats.
- Pesticide residue was found in 38 percent of conventionally grown produce, but in only 7 percent of organic produce.
- Bacterial contamination of produce with E. coli was similar in both groups (6 to 7 percent), although perhaps a little higher in the organic food.
- Contamination of chicken products with bacteria (including E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria) was extremely common in both groups.
- The likelihood of antibiotic-resistant bacteria was 33 percent higher in conventional chicken and pork. (Beef products were not tested in the studies reviewed.)
Should you eat organic? If your goal is to improve the nutritional quality of your diet, then it may not be worth spending 10 to 40 percent more on organic foods. But if you want to limit your exposure to pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, while supporting environmentally cleaner farming practices, then organic foods may be right for you.