Is organic food really safer and healthier?

Americans spent $10.4 billion on organic foods last year, but several studies are questioning the assumption that organic foods are safer and healthier than conventional foods.

A recent survey indicated that two out of three consumers choose organic foods because they support "better health," but two recent symposia (the American Chemical Society and the First World Congress on Organic Food) have concluded that evidence is lacking to support the claimed superior benefits of organic foods. Furthermore,

  • A report by the Texas Department of Agriculture indicates that conventional produce was eight times more likely to have pesticide residue than organic, but of the few samples in which a residue was found, the amount was negligible (between 1 and 5 percent of government standards).

  • Because organic farmers rely on cow and pig manure for fertiliser, organic foods are vulnerable to bacterial contamination - two recent outbreaks of E-coli in the United States involved organic strawberries and lettuce.

  • Free-range birds (organic poultry) have higher rates of bacterial contamination than conventional poultry due to their higher exposure to wild bird droppings.

    Moreover, a study by the American Council on Science and Health reveals that organic produce does not have significantly higher vitamin contents than conventional produce. A comparison of organically and conventionally grown vegetables revealed a higher vitamin C content for the organic vegetables, but only by about 10 percent of the recommended daily intake, which can be compensated for when adding fruits.

    What is important, say observers, is that consumers make fruits, vegetables and dairy products a part of their diet, and they should not feel guilty if they can't afford more expensive organic foods.

    Source: Melissa Healy, Behind the Organic Label, Los Angeles Times, September 6, 2004; Nancy McGuire, Assessing Organic Food, American Chemical Society, August 30, 2004; and Mary Wilson, First World Congress on Organic Food: Meeting the Challenges of Safety and Quality for Fruits, Vegetables and Grains, Michigan State University, National Food Safety and Toxology Centre, March 29-31, 2004.

    For LA Times text (subscription required),1,7058760,print.story

    For ACS report:

    For WCOF report:

    For more on Agriculture: Pesticides

    FMF Policy Bulletin/12 October 2004
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