In a recent post from the NY Times, (clicking the picture will get you there), the author discussed a study from Stanford University researchers that concluded that there was not a significant difference between the nutritional content of organic and conventionally grown produce and animals “nor were they any less likely to be contaminated by dangerous bacteria like E.coli.” The rest of the article discusses the reasons why so many people by organic and why we should continue to buy organic or why it might be a moot point or something with little value beyond the images of animals frolicking in nature or friendly faces pulling out food from the soil that make us feel good when we buy organic over conventional. A few other criteria other than nutrition and pesticide residue were mentioned but nutrition was the main thing that he study focused on and I wish it had gone into more depth about other factors that are involved when it comes to organic vs. conventional farming.
For starters, nowhere did it say which farms were a part of the study. Were they all industrial sized organic farms (yes, you can do large scale organic)? Or small scale operations? Size does matter because even a large scale organic farm isn’t great given that it is a monoculture, which depletes the soil of the same nutrients for hundreds of acres and also creates a dead zone for pollinators, which results in bees being trucked in to do the pollinating that can’t happen naturally. Almonds are a great example of this. In California during the almond tree flowering season, millions of bees are brought in to pollinate. They have to be brought in because almond trees only flower for a limited time (two weeks or something) and so once they’re done, the bees run out of a food source. So they get drugged while in the hive and then whisked away to another monoculture area to do their duty again so we can have food in spite of a very unnatural way of growing it (check out the film: Queen of the Sun).
Back to my questions…Were they farms in the U.S.? Abroad? Both? How many were tested? These questions are important because a lot of food that gets imported to the U.S., especially during the winter months, is from Central and South America, Mexico, and China, which all have different standards and regulations when it comes to pesticide use, labor conditions, and the like. So even though the nutrients might be similar, buying organic can mean a lot when it comes to social justice and overall environmental stewardship.
For example, GMO (genetically modified organisms) can’t be organic since GMO’s are made to be grown with the use of a variety of chemicals and organics are chemical free (some naturally derived pesticides and such can be used). So, buying organic also means buying Non-GMO, which is very worthwhile for both peace of mind and health..not to mention keeping money out of the pockets of bodies like Monsanto, the giant chemical turned seed company. Buying organic also often means that farms limit their impact on the surrounding environment. Some of these might include fertilizer runoff that pollutes waterways, monocultures instead of diversified farms that practice crop rotation, pesticides as opposed to integrated pest management, the list goes on. Buying organic has come to mean so much and very often, represents what we think it does.
However, the term organic itself doesn’t ensure that those things are true, happening, or exist, which is why this article and the benefits of “organic” should be considered. So many large scale organic farms are profit driven, not planet driven, they’re run by corporations and investors, not farmers and stewards of the land, and even though they might not be farmed with certain chemicals, they aren’t doing a whole lot for the land or our bodies even though they might be slightly higher in nutrients.
At the end of the day, in order to feel really good about what you put into your body, you should do your best to know where exactly your food comes from and who grew it. Many small scale farmers who farm organically or pretty darn close to it can’t afford organic certification or just choose to not get it because they can rely on the trust they’ve established with their customers. They also tend to do many of the things I mentioned above that are essentials for sustainable farming (crop rotation, soil health management, high levels of biodiversity, appreciation for wildlife, use of antibiotics only when animals are sick and need them, etc.) even if within conventional systems.
Obviously to some degree, farmers farm to make money and maintain a certain way of life, but many of them also farm because they love it. They love the soil, being outside, growing food, feeding people, enhancing community, and living in harmony with nature. It’s these things that are of most value when it comes to making food choices. Buying organic is usually a good rule of thumb and the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen” guide is a wonderful resource, but the best thing is to buy from someone you trust, whether it’s the farmer or a shop owner who knows the farmers.
The more the organic sector grows and has the potential for profits, the more it will be corrupted, and the more studies like the one will become moot points. We can’t just go by “organic” any more as the test of what is good and what is right.