Jury Is Still Out On Whether Organic Foods Are Better
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Proper nutrition is an important issue for many parents looking to ensure their kids are eating healthy, with many digging deeper into their pockets to go organic. However, it is likely parents are paying more and getting less. That´s the general consensus of a group of expert pediatric doctors with the American Academy of Pediatrics, who conducted an extensive analysis of scientific evidence surrounding organic foods.
While organic foods have an equal amount of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and other nutrients that are found in conventional foods, these naturally-produced foods have lower pesticide levels and are less likely to be contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria. Other than that, there really isn´t any additional benefit in eating organically-produced foods.
“Current evidence does not support any meaningful nutritional benefits or deficits from eating organic compared with conventionally grown foods, and there are no well-powered human studies that directly demonstrate health benefits or disease protection as a result of consuming an organic diet,” according to the study, published in November´s issue of the journal Pediatrics.
“Certainly, organic foods don´t appear to be more nutritious,” said report coauthor Dr. Janet Silverstein, a professor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Florida. “Whether or not it´s safer, I think the jury is still out on that.”
But this doesn´t mean that organic food is bad for your health. Silverstein said the goal of the study was not to give organic food a “bad rap.” However, there is room for further research to find out what all the pros and cons of eating organic food are.
A study released in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine in September concluded that organic products have no significant nutritional advantage over conventional foods, even though they are usually pricier.
The AAP report, released at a news conference on Monday, Oct. 22 at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition in New Orleans, outlines the research that has been conducted on organic foods, including convincing evidence of lower exposure to pesticides and less contamination of livestock with drug-resistant bacteria.
“At this point, we simply do not have the scientific evidence to know whether the difference in pesticide levels will impact a person´s health over a lifetime, though we do know that children — especially young children whose brains are developing — are uniquely vulnerable to chemical exposures,” said report coauthor Joel Forman, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP Council on Environmental Health.
In response to the cost factor, most people may be paying more than necessary. Many conventional foods are now also grown with lower levels of pesticides, according to Forman. There are guides out there that provide invaluable references to consumers, such as Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group.
For some foods, like milk, there are no individual health benefits. All milk, organic or not, should be pasteurized to reduce the risk of bacterial infections. Raw milk increases the risk of serious infection with bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, Campylobacter and Brucella.
As with meat, purchasing from organic farms that do not use antibiotics for nontherapeutic uses has the potential to reduce antibiotic resistance in bacteria that infect people. More studies are needed directly measure exposures such as estrogen at low levels to understand the impact of hormonal exposure of children through milk and meat.
The AAP report also notes that the motivation to choose organic produce, meat and dairy products may be reasonably based on larger environmental issues, as well as human health impacts like pollution and global climate change.
“Pediatricians want families to have the information they need to make wise food choices,” said Forman. “We hope that additional research will improve our understanding of these issues, including large studies that measure environmental exposures and neurodevelopment.”
The Annals of Internal Medicine study concluded, based on a summary of 237 past studies, that conventional foods are just as healthy as organically-produced foods.
Studies and reports like these are leading to a backlash against the organic industry´s claims that its food is healthier than conventional foods.
This is just a “fad,” according to Brian Dunning, a science writer for Skeptoid.com “It´s basically just a marketing term to sell food that appears to be better for you,” he said. “It´s a label that tries to make it sound fancy and special.”
He also argued that organic food is not without its own problems. “Organic foods have organic pesticides“¦so it´s not like you´re getting less pesticides with your food,” he told Tim Devaney at Washington Times.
But Kaare Melby, a campaign coordinator at the Organic Consumers Association, argued that just because researchers and pediatricians “can´t prove organic food is better” doesn´t mean it doesn´t offer real health advantages.
Dr. David Wallinga, senior adviser for science, food and health at the Institute for Agriculture Trade Policy, said conventional foods are more immune to antibiotics. “When it does cause an infection, it´s more likely the infection will be harder to treat with antibiotics,” he said. “It´s carrying bacteria on it that are more likely to be resistant to antibiotics.”
Wallinga said there are more benefits to eating organic food than just nutritional content.
“People buy organic not just because the nutritional value is better, but also because the farm and the community where it is raised will have safer water, safer conditions for farmers, more wildlife, more diversity,” he told Washington Times. “For the people who work and live on the farms, organic foods are definitely safer, because it means they´re not being exposed to pesticides and other chemicals that are used in conventional production.”
Silverstein said families should buy fruits and vegetables they can afford, whether or not they are organic, because it is more important to worry about a well-balanced diet than it is to worry whether or not it has been produced organically.
“I think the message we´re trying to put out is that a healthy diet is the most important thing, and for people with limited means, if buying organic foods means they won´t have enough money left over to feed their children all the fruits and vegetables necessary for a healthy diet, then they should choose a good healthy diet over organic.”