Just What Are the Benefits of Eating Organic?

A common assumption among those that buy and consume organic food is that its higher cost is ultimately offset by all sorts of positive benefits; to the environment, the local economy and, especially, to overall health.  A recent study from Stanford University, however, draws the unexpected conclusion that the assumed health benefit organic foods provide might not be as substantial as commonly thought.

“I was absolutely surprised.” This was the quote by Dr. Dena Bravata, one of the leading researchers on the Stanford project, which looked at 237 studies that compared all sorts of differences between organic and non-organic foods. The focus of the various studies run the gamut; not all of them had to do with dietary differences between organic and conventional. That number was a paltry 17, but those studies, small sample size though they may be, suggested to the Stanford researchers that “there isn’t much difference” in choosing organic over conventional agriculture, health wise.

Dr. Bravata and the Stanford team concluded that though eating organic typically  lowers an individuals exposure to chemicals and pesticides, especially children, those levels were well within USDA and FDA regulated safety limits. However, the researchers did find much less occurrences of drug-resistant bacteria in organic consumers, who largely avoided antibiotics-laden meat found in much conventionally-raised livestock. However, the researchers also note that concentrated levels of pesticides and chemicals, legal as they may be, can seriously damage a growing and developing child.

When looking at the results of the Stanford study, some conclusions can be reached and questions raised. It should be duly noted that health benefits are one, but not the only, reason many go organic. That is not to deflect or diminish the results of the study, but merely stating a fact; just as many buy organic due to environmental and economic concerns as due those seeking health benefits.

We must also consider that these results were not the result of a long-term health   study, which would be the most concrete way of determining a link between organic food and overall health. The Stanford team did no research of their own, they instead relied upon the research of others, whose methodology and thoroughness cannot be confirmed.

So, in closing, we should not dismiss reports like the one Stanford released this week. We should merely not accept it blindly as fact, and question the implications it brings up, as we should with every piece of information we receive.