It’s all over the news, “ORGANIC FOODS NO HEALTHIER, SAYS REPORT,” according to ingredientsnetwork.com. Hundreds of other online sites have picked up a news release with a similar headline and similar copy. It’s all over the morning news programs. Most appear to be straight press release reprints. Is it the whitewashing of organics? Bleach-washing? Glyphosate-washing? The actual report stems from a presentation done in 2010 by a team at Stanford. The actual report is, so far, unavailable online. The study is reportedly a “meta-analysis” of existing studies. No actual new research is conducted. There are no long term studies contained in the analysis, only studies that span two days to two years. Stanford’s own news report is titled, “Stanford study shows little evidence of health benefits from organic foods.” The nature of the extensive public relations outreach should indicate that it’s a WASH of some kind. Is it an effort mounted to aid opponents of Prop 37? Or just another generic attack on organics?
While it would appear that the report speaks to minimal differences in nutritional content between organic and conventionally grown foods, the emphasis in the report appears to be more on the “health” differences. Again, from the ingredientsnetwork.com story, “The researchers undertook what they described as the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date of existing studies comparing organic and conventional foods. They did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives, though consumption of organic foods can reduce the risk of pesticide exposure.” Same nutrition, same health risks, except if you consider the risk of pesticide exposure in conventional foods. An odd logic to conclude equal health risks in organic and conventional, except when you consider how much pesticide exposure one risks through conventional foods?
More from ingredientsnetwork.com: ”After analyzsng (sic) the data, the researchers found little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods. No consistent differences were seen in the vitamin content of organic products, and only one nutrient — phosphorus — was significantly higher in organic versus conventionally grown produce (and the researchers note that because few people have phosphorous deficiency, this has little clinical significance).” Another skewed logical conclusion. Conventional is just as nutritious because the nutrients that were found to be in higher quantity in organics aren’t that important, in the clinical significance picture? Phosphorous is one of those nutrients that has poor uptake in conventional, herbicide-heavy farming. A fair amount of it winds up polluting streams and rivers and oceans. The long term health benefits from lower phosphorus pollution are immaterial? That might be possible if nutrition and health meant the same thing. But they don’t.
The New York Times picks up the press release and then examines it with some modicum of journalistic responsibility. They start by placing the “news” story in their Environment section. But the real news here is Organics Under Attack. The news is not that conventional foods can be as nutritious as organic foods. The news is that there is a concerted effort underway to equate nutritional equivalency with health equivalency. Calling it a manure-washing might be closer to the truth and appropriately ironic.