Michael Pollan Responds to Study Finding ‘No Significant Health Benefit’ to Organic Food

Photo: KQED QUEST

You may have heard the NPR story this morning about the meta-study from Stanford University, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which  found “no significant health benefit” to organic food. As physician R Dena Bravata, the study’s co-author, told KQED Science’s Amy Standen today, when it comes to healthfulness, “there is, in general, not a robust evidence base for the difference between organic and conventional foods.”

Huh.

A 2010 Nielsen study found 76 percent of respondents bought organic because they thought it was healthier. So this seemed to merit a call to the person who convinced me in the first place that it was okay to pay $4.00 for a head of cauliflower: local journalist, professor, and food advocate Michael Pollan, whose book The Omnivore’s Dilemma was a major influence in popularizing organic and locally produced food.

Edited transcript…

JON BROOKS: So is this meta-study a big deal?

MICHAEL POLLAN: I’m not sure it’s a big deal. The media’s playing it as if there were something new here, but this is not new research, it’s a meta-study [a review of previously conducted research], and I’ve seen the exact same data analyzed in a very different direction. A lot of it depends on how you manage your assumptions and statistical method.

I think we’re kind of erecting a straw man and then knocking it down, the straw man being that the whole point of organic food is that it’s more nutritious. The whole point of organic food is that it’s more environmentally sustainable. That’s the stronger and easier case to make.

It’s true the body of research around nutrition is really equivocal, and we need to do more studies on that. But the success of organic doesn’t stand or fall on that question. This study disputes how significant the differences in antioxidant and nutrient levels are between organic and conventional food. But that’s not central to the discussion of why organic is important, which has a lot more to do with how the soil is managed and the exposure to pesticides, not just in the eater’s diet but to the farmworker.

JON BROOKS: The meta study did find that 38 percent of conventional produce tested contained pesticide residues, compared to just 7 percent for organic produce. How important is that in and of itself?

MICHAEL POLLAN: It’s very important. If you’re concerned about pesticide residues in your food, you’re much better off buying organic. The study said all these pesticide residues in conventional produce are permissible under EPA rules. They may be, but there’s a question of how adequate those rules are. Because there are questions about whether those levels are okay for children and for pregnant women.

There was a very important study, which was mentioned in the meta study, about organophosphates and the link to various cognitive difficulties in children. This is epidemiological, and it’s very hard to prove cause and effect, but caution would argue for keeping those chemicals out of your body, and organic produce is one way to do this.

JON BROOKS: Do you think the food industry will consider this meta study a club to hit organic over the head with, or are they participating in organic now to the point where that wouldn’t be productive?

MICHAEL POLLAN: Most of the big food companies are now in both businesses, and I don’t know that they want to talk too much about pesticides and remind people that this is an active debate, and that there is a lot of pesticide residue in conventional foods. There are various critics of the food movement that will seize on this, and some of those people are backed by agri-business in various ways.

It’s great media fodder and it’s terrific that people are looking at the issue and debating it. But people should take a hard look. So much of the story depends on what do you mean by “significant health benefit?” The meta study found less pesticide residue, higher levels of anti-oxidants – plant phytochemicals thought to be important to human health; and less antibiotic-resistant microbes in organic meat. But then they say it might not be significant. I don’t think they defined signficant.

JON BROOKS: Let’s say you’re a consumer standing there at your grocery store and you have a choice between an organically grown piece of produce grown far away and a conventionally grown piece grown locally. All things considered, which is the best choice?

MICHAEL POLLAN: It depends on your values. If you’re concerned about nutritional value and taste, you might find that the local food, which is more likely to have been picked when it was ripe, is better. Because any food that’s traveled a few days to get to you or been refrigerated for a long time is going to have diminished nutritional value. That argues for fresh being more important than organic.

But if you’re concerned about pesticides – let’s say you’re pregnant or have young kids you’re feeding – then you might choose organic, because it will have on balance fewer pesticide residues. You may also be concerned with the welfare of the people picking and the farmers growing your produce, or you may be concerned about soil health — that would argue for organic too.

I tend to favor local food, whether it’s certified organic or not. Most of the local food available to us in the Bay Area, though, tends to be grown organically, even if it’s not certified. So it is possible to have it both ways. If you’re shopping at your farmers’ market, you’re getting food that’s very fresh, probably very nutritious, and probably grown without synthethic pesticides.

JON BROOKS: Anything else?

MICHAEL POLLAN: I would just encourage people to educate themselves and not take headlines at face value. It’s a complicated question, and we need to a do a lot more science. The absence of proof means that we either haven’t studied it or we haven’t found it yet, it doesn’t mean we won’t. In the meantime, there’s a precautionary principle: even though the case isn’t closed on low levels of pesticides in our diet, there are very good reasons to minimize them.

  • http://twitter.com/debbieduncan Debbie Duncan

    This is such a helpful interview. Thanks! I’m also in the local-is-better camp. I hope Michael Pollan is one of the guests on Forum tomorrow.

  • http://profiles.google.com/pgleick Peter Gleick

    Yes, I heard the original NPR story and it was terrible. Ignoring (until the end, and then doing a bad job) the broader issue of environmental sustainability and the benefits of organic methods. Moreover, it glossed over the limited statistical significance of many of the smaller studies; their limited focus and extent. Pollan raises many of these points (thank you), but I’m sure most listeners won’t hear the full story.

  • Mark Mazer

    This is the same Michael Pollan that had a huge fir log shipped across the country in order to construct a studio in the woods of NW Connecticut, Yes? Hilarious.

    • hatersgonhate

      what does that have to do with organic foods? Hater.

      • Mark Mazer

        You +1’d this publicly. UndoPollan’s hypocrisy insults my intelligence.

        • JC

          What intelligence…?

  • Tamela Rich

    I just got out of the car listening to this story. I don’t care if there is no nutritional difference between the two…I want fewer carcinogens in my food, thus in my body. THAT’s the reason I buy organic whenever possible and affordable.

    Another thing: why do we call pesticide-drenched products “conventionally-grown”? Organic is conventional — it’s been around for centuries.

    Agree with Pollan, this is a straw man argument. Who paid for it, Monsanto?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=667626830 Kyrila Scully

      So, I’m not the only person who believes Monsanto paid for the outcome of this study. Now that I know it’s a meta-study, my opinion hasn’t changed. If anything, I think the study should be current and current produce be examined because certainly treated produce is more saturated now with chemicals than they were when this study first took place.

      • Shasha Andrews

        Nope Kyrila, you’re not the only one.

    • Hill Walker

      It’s hard to say who paid for it. But when you actually dig just a little bit, it turns pretty quickly that, well, it could have been Monsanto, or any one of a number of, or a cabal of biotech interests. Stanford does a very good job of hiding from where their funding comes.

  • allenallen

    What about minerals? “They” choose what they measure as ‘nutrition.’ Vitamins, fat, or protein content are not all there is to it. Plus the type of fat is important.

    They tried this a couple years ago and when I looked at the underlying studies, it was fuzzy and looked like cherry picking of data to me… and (as I said) mineral content was higher in organic vegetables but the news outlets just took the summary and ran with the misleading headline. Minerals are nutrition too and some, such as magnesium, is especially difficult to get in our food these days.

    This smacks of some interested party creating a press release and feeding a slant to reporters who don’t have the time or means to look at the underlying (lying!) info.

    • BryanCooper

      One point I recently read stated that ‘vitamins’ are simply a class of flavornoids that were easily found in the 1930s. That food has many many more but we have this limited list. Hence fresh organic food DOES taste better because it hasn’t lost these other flavornoids through cold storage. I for one am very interested in the difference in nutrition based upon distance to market. Much organic produce is shipped and stored thousands of miles in near freezing temps. I for one will not buy products from another hemisphere! Shouldn’t even be an issue but those out of season produce and fruits really have no flavor (or taste and smell like a refrigerator). The big organic chains is not buying local foods because it is cheaper to bring it from several states away and keep it near freezing. Blah – no flavor!

      • allenallen

        Yes. That and variety.

        If you go for yield, the root stock can only support so much nutrition-filled fruit. Great wine comes from fields with low yield, for example. I think I recall that is due to mineral uptake but I could be wrong.

        That is–on a side note–sort of why I didn’t like the milk hormone milk. It wasn’t that I was worried about a hormone (which for that didn’t transfer to the milk) or because it was artificial, it was because I felt they were watering down the milk while still in the cow–which would have been illegal if they had done that during bottling.

  • Nafiss

    What else but junk science again. First what heavy weights are behind the research? Is not California the bread basket of the U.S.? In what conditions of selecting samples and lab procedures did the experiment happen? How long and often the testing lasted? What criteria were selected to compare the organic v. non organic? How about a blind pick of an organic nectarine from a supermarket and one from an organic farmers market like the one in the Ferry Building? Just the taste is amazingly different. I refer the reader to a study done in France few years ago to stem off the rise of organic demand. The taste was done by the mega Agro-business. What do you expect? Pascal said that a brain of geometry is limping without finesse. For finesse sake let consider all the variables and trajectories of organic agriculture v. Monsanto nightmare.
    Did the researchers also consider the laws and customs that surround our agro-business? The growers literally have carte blanche to do what ever they wish with the written laws. Any federal limit of pesticide use is a laugh, since the crew to monitor the abuses is skeletal and if they find an infraction they have no teeth to act. This is said we need a robust laws also to monitor the growth of organic food.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sara.bruene Sara Bruene

    Anyone that actually read the research can see the holes in it. They fed organic food to pregnant mothers to see if their children wouldn’t be afflicted with eczema and other illnesses. The studies showed that there were too many variables and that more research was needed. – But the media contorts it as usual. Do your own homework people!

  • BandwagonFrenzy

    Stanford University physicians (medical doctors) state factual findings. But we prefer to believe the wishful opinion of Michael ‘food is too cheap’ Pollan (not a medical doctor, merely a pop science writer). God help all deluded Pollan sycophants. Pollan won’t.

    • http://www.facebook.com/iakenn Ken Kailing

      “God help” the people who believe the paid “bean counters” and ignore the millions of years of evolution placing humans and how they eat in the context of all life on earth. Food is money. And in today’s society, the supposed experts will define, and structure, and collect data, and analyze it, and report the findings to satisfy the predetermined objectives they are being paid to support. “Factual findings” are whatever you can get a gullible public to buy. There simply isn’t any unbiased reporting…

      • Ari

        Sure, except hundreds of studies were reviewed for the meta analysis, many of them from some years ago. That would be a lot of payola to get every one of them synchronized to defraud, no? How would you even do that retroactively? Obviously you are not thinking clearly.

        There’s only one of Michael Pollan to spin to the talking points. And he has science fiction books to sell from all the voodoo hype. And speaking honorariums to pocket. And maybe a few other discrete perks from the organic lobby? The man is peddling fear, he’s not exactly altruistic.

        Pretty obvious who’s motivated toward bias and who isn’t.

        • http://www.facebook.com/kripa.davis Kripa Nat Davis

          How easy it is to take data from “hundreds of studies” and compile it in a way that gives your cause favorable statistics. It’s called the Dr. Ingram Olkin multivariate logistic risk formula, and it’s the same thing that was used in the 60’s by big tobacco to smear any real information related to the risk of using cigarettes. Oh and did I mention that the guy who invented it, Dr. Ingram Olkin was a co-author of this Organic Vs. Conventional Meta Study.http://naturalsociety.com/stanford-organic-study-big-tobaccos-anti-science-propaganda/

    • http://www.facebook.com/kripa.davis Kripa Nat Davis

      This study was authored by known disinformation specialists such as Dr. Ingram Olkin and Dr. Marvin Kastenbaum. Both of whom were heavily involved in a massive deception campaign intended to smear any real information related to serious risks of cigarette smoking in the 60’s and 70’s. Ingram Olkin invented a Method called the “Dr Ingram Olkin multivariate risk formula, which is essentially a way to lie with statistics. If one chooses convenient mathematical functions, the result might not conform to reality.

  • GRD

    Organic is mostly about avoiding pesticides, in bodies first and planet second.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1326090053 Evan Girard

      In reality, they don’t go bodies first, then plant second. They go into bodies of farmworkers and into the soil and watershed first, then consumer’s bodies second. So, if we advocate for the labor and the environment, which aren’t just ‘washed off,’ but rather breathed in, pesticides won’t make it to consumers unless there becomes 100% effectiveness in the cleaning methods. Advanced cleaning methods will be developed, then at the point after studies prove that there aren’t residues due to their effectiveness, we have no choice but to argue for social and environmental justice. That is where our focus should be—long-term food security.

    • Margaret Smith

      Organic is mostly about soil building—fertility, quality and resilience. Secondarily it is about avoiding pesticides. Avoiding pesticides is to support #1—–the soil.

  • Chris Paterson

    Pollan wrongly assumes “organic” is more environmentally sustainable. A lot of the concepts work great in the backyard, or on a very small farm with access to lots of manure, assuming there are no insects or diseases that invade. But trying to grow wheat/corn/canola/barley/potatoes on large fields (the type of production that feeds the worlds population and not just the wealthy organophobia niche) by just taking and never giving back …. is not sustainable. If you continuously remove grain from the fields, they eventually run out of nutrition. Nutrients must somehow be replaced to complete the cycle of life. Very simple logic, but it doesn’t support book sales and sales of overpriced groceries. The “organic” niche will always exist but it will never feed the world.

    • Margaret Smith

      To date, neither has on-organic agriculture fed the world to adequate levels. Why do you think that it can in the future?

      • Chris Paterson

        I’m not sure what you are referring to. There are people starving in this world, but there are also huge surpluses of food, that’s due to politics. The world has never yet run out of food, not once, farmers and technology have always kept pace with population growth, and always will. However, if you suggest that 100 bushel per acre wheat fields should now only grow 20 bushel per acre “organic” yields, yes you would still be able to afford it, but you would definitely be starving someone somewhere. 1930 production methods can not feed 7 billion people, only the rich ones. And 1930 production methods would ruin our soils as hey did in the Dirty Thirty’s.

        • Margaret Smith

          I hear your argument. The question remains, Why do you think that non-orgnanic agriculture will ‘feed the world adequately? We have no evidence that this can or will happen. As you point out, political issues determines much about access to food. As big a factor is income distribution across the world. People with very little money can’t buy enough food to feed their families. And, you point out that there are surpluses of food. Where should the focus be on feeding the world? On yields? I think not. It’s not the weak link in this systems. Where should the focus be on maintaining our productive resource base? How can we really feed people and continue to do so in perpetuity?

          I am interested in agricultural systems that have long-term ability to produce at some (as yet undetermined) level that allows us to do so in the long, long term. Forever, we may hope.

          The difference in organic and non-organic agriculture may be compared to a racehorse (non-organic agriculture) putting out a lot of top speed (yields) for a very short time. But when the racehorse runs out of glycogen (or soil quality is eroded), it must slow to a walk. A work horse (organic agriculture) can maintain a slower speed for a much longer time. No type of horse can run or work indefinitely, and perhaps agriculture has a finite life, too. We just don’t know.

          It would be very interesting to phrase a question of, What could we achieve with organaic agriculture if we put the best minds and similar financial inputs in to R & D that we have put into developing non-organic ag. for the last 60 years.

        • Erica Thibodeaux

          Chris, have you lived oversees? Do you
          know about the farming practices in sustainable African villages that
          are producing enough food to feed everyone in the village? Those
          methods are organic AND conventional, in regard to their convention.
          In these naturally sustainable environments, everyone has enough food.
          Food scarcity is most commonly the result of war and/ or large conglomerates
          taking resources from one place and bringing them to another for
          manufacture. Such as Coca Cola’s stealing of water around the globe,
          pumping out 1.5 million litters a day, per village, and leaving local
          people with no water in their wells to farm, feed or cook. Map it out,
          do some research. I watched food that was sent to Ghana from American relief organizations never end up the hands of the people it was meant for.
          It was intercepted by government officials and sold illegally. Don’t be
          fooled that conventional Western farming is feeding the world or that it is the
          answer to global food shortages. Invasion, war, and destruction of cities’ resources is the main cause of food shortages. Sustainable, diverse farming without the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides is the answer. You mention the 1930’s production methods. Why not try reading up on methods that go back several hundred years, you may find a better answer to the predicament we find ourselves in. I think it might help you to do a bit of study in this area.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.ferris.338 Jeff Ferris

      Chris, I’m sorry, but reference an organic farm of any size that is using intense tillage? Fact please, because it is counter-productive in organic growing. Also, no farmer, conventional or organic, continuously removes crop year after year. That is why there are cover crops and green manures. It would be an interesting argument if you were making it from some factual position. Please see the Rodale Farm Systems Trial. 30 YEARS of side by side growing of the “real” agricultural crops, not cherry picked ones. Organic used less fuel, fertilizer and pesticide, had HIGHER yield, and probably most importantly to any independent farmer, high profit margins. Oh, and less subsidy from you and me, the taxpayers. I suggest you back up your argument with some facts first. Not one of your comments on farmer apply to a successful organic grower.

      • Chris Paterson

        Here are the facts, this is my reality. I am a farmer. I am immersed in agriculture. I travel a lot, and see hundreds of farms every year. My facts do not just come from books, magazine articles, and cocktail conversations. Most of the people commenting here have idealistic theories, they have heard stories and read articles. They are not farmers. They are simply consumers scared of eating chemicals.

        Most of the successful organic operations I have seen are very small in scale and started with very naturally fertile soils. And they have discovered great things that work well, they work hard, they are passionate, and I have huge respect for them. They produce great food, and they deserve a premium price. These represent a small local niche.

        However, all around me I see large farms trying to cash in from becoming organic. They might be from Texas, Iowa, Illinois, or Saskatchewan. In many cases they were on marginal soils and couldn’t pay their fertilizer bill and couldn’t get credit anywhere, so it was an obvious solution. In other cases, they were already very successful, and are just diversifying into the premium priced market. They have no way to control their weeds other than tillage, and yes they do till a lot! And they still have major weed problems, lose half of their crops every year to insects and disease, and have very poor grades because of malnutritioned plants. They do green manure crops and pulse rotations, and they buy lots of expensive OMRI organically approved fertilizers, but still cant get a decent yield. To top it off, they quite often are not paid, as a lot of the small organic processors are either scammers or cant get cashflow established. What I see is incredibly weedy fields blowing their seeds into the neighbors field and soil drifting over the fencelines. It’s a real shame that this is not illegal.

    • trikebum

      -”
      The intense tillage used by organic farmers in an attempt to control weeds burns huge amounts of fuel (CO2 emissions) wastes most of the soil moisture (drought) and quickly erodes the topsoil that has taken thousands of years to build up … this is not sustainable’——
      Actually permaculture practices don’t till as deep as conventional. to preserve the natural ecology in the sub-soil. My organic farmer friends tell me not to till deeper than 3-4″ in my garden. OTOH, conventional farming tills to a depth o 10-=12″ destroying the natural sub-soil ecology.

    • Erica Thibodeaux

      Chris, do you really know what you’re talking about here? Your answer doesn’t really make sense which common organic practices. Common sense tells us that growing large mono-crops without the needed
      diversity ruins the value of the soil and increases the need for harmful
      pesticides. Seriously, have you followed the news for the past 2
      decades? Organic is not a niche. Conventional growing is the niche that will never sustain our planet. See my response below to your comment about global food shortages.

      • Chris Paterson

        Growing organic in North America is a niche. Eating organically is what is growing, but a major amount of it is coming from overseas. Carbamate is a deadly pesticide banned in North America since the 50’s, yet still used in China. The only place you’ll find it in North American food supply is in the “organic” aisle because China doesn’t allow inspection of its farms by organic certifiers, we just take their word for it. Chinese organic food should have to follow the same protocols and be on a level playing field with North American organic farmers as far as inspections and what’s allowed. They aren’t.

        • Green Diva

          I come from a line of farmers (and
          ranchers) on both sides of my family. Organic may be a “niche” now,
          but when my great grandparents grew food, it was just called FOOD! Food was
          always organic, until the industrial revolution. I noticed that all of the crops
          you mentioned are mostly subsidized. This raises a red flag to me. O.o

          If a farmer’s mono crop becomes
          decimated (let’s turn our attention to the droughts at the moment), the farmer
          loses, we all lose. If a farmer grows crops in a micro climate with a more
          diverse number of crops, he will then have other crops to fall back on if one of
          them is wiped out. Doesn’t that seem like a more viable and economical solution
          than not being able to pay your mortgage?

          And yes, crop diversity does in fact
          build the soil. If you plant beans (which fix nitrogen in the soil) with say
          corn, it directly affects the health of the soil, and the plants that benefit
          from more nitrogen. My native ancestors knew thisJ Ever heard of the 3 sisters?

          Farmer Joel Salatin is a prime
          example of a kick a** farmer who “gets it”. I pray that more
          farmers follow his lead. We need you to snap out of the subsidy trance and realize
          how dysfunctional our current food system is. We need a paradigm shift and only our farmers can make it and it can be one where
          everybody wins.

      • Chris Paterson

        Erica, yes I do know what I’m talking about. Do you? Crop diversity does not build soil. Mother Nature built these soils with monoculture grass, or monoculture trees. The fact is that a 100 bushel wheat crop will produce twice as much root mass and attached bugs as a 50 bushel wheat crop would, and those roots and bugs decompose in the soil for many years to build more soil. Please use “real life” common sense, not wishful idealism.

  • Anita

    Not sure I understand the vitriole. I would expect a carrot to be a carrot to be a carrot under a number of different growing methods, but the way the land or the laborers is affected seems to me to be the larger question.

    I love the intention –at least as I understand it–of organic farming: Grow healthy food without harming the planet. I think many so called conventional farmers have a similar goal. If you are in a sensitive health situation tis probably best to avoid all trace of chemicals. Otherwise a healthy immune system should deal with it and may even be challenged for the better like a vaccination or something–no data, just a hunch.

    But organic and conventional farmers should continue to be exposed to new methods and encouraged to use the ones that are environmentally and economically beneficial. Better soil care I.e. no till and cover crops are a case in point.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1326090053 Evan Girard

      Is the human body actually meant to ingest pesticides? 2-4D, i.e. I agree on the challenge for the better, but we don’t evolve quick enough, like weeds, to be able to consume these over the long-term. Those studies will have a tough time being conducted. In addition, that healthy immune system I believe you’re saying that you are familiar with isn’t in everyone…and mainly for those in ‘sensitive’ health situations? (let’s replace that with ‘children’s’ and tell me if you feel the same way?) Really, those generalization is really staggering. There is

    • Chris Paterson

      A carrot can be very different based on how it grows. If the native soil is lacking a key ingredient (like magnesium, or calcium or something) that carrot will suffer malnutrition, and not grow healthy to its potential. Under “organic” production methods, that’s the end of the story. However if you’re allowed to analyze the soil and add some calcium or magnesium, you can create a very healthy carrot. Myself, I think the “organic” carrots sold in grocery stores taste like cardboard, I’d rather have one from my own garden where I know it’s been fed properly, and not malnutritioned.

      • Akbarbear

        Agreed! Food grown in highly nutritious soil, with rich organic matter, minerals, microbes and mycillia offers plants all they need to reach their maximum nutrition, AND they will taste the best, too! Google “HI BRIX”. A carrot grown in super nutritious soil will taste so much better than one grown in depleted soil pumped with chemical nitrogen-potassium-phosphorus.

  • Howlin’ Sandy

    I have interviewed banana plantation workers in the Philippines who ALL, due to the horrible chemical mix (4 “initials only” types from China, PLUS paraquat AND malathion” going right through! their full thick plastic “protective” hazmat-like suits and goggles, produce on their skin, and possibly beyond, i.e. body and mind, slow-to-heal large, ugly and painful lesions, causing many hours of lost work and medical treatment expenses (if the low-paid workers could even afford it.)

    The taste alone between organic and non-organic bananas is OBVIOUS, if one’s body has cleared it’s damaged sense of what’s good or not, by having shed enough of the toxic burden that incrementally adds up to ruination that most, to some degree, suffer. The same goes for bleached coffee filters vs. natural brown. The taste alone is much affected but worse of course the stuff that gets into bodily tissues.

    Remember when most of the Pelicans died off from DDT? Wonder why wetlands are getting destroyed and mutations occurring more and more? Toxicity from pesticides, fertilizers, heavy metals used in make-up and dental run-off… NOT filtered out by our sewer systems.

  • Nonna Muss

    But what about the nutritional benefits of organics touted in “In Defense of Food?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/nail.shakoor Na’il Shakoor

    “Who paid for it, Monsanto?”

    …of course

  • Fred Hoffman

    If you want more nutritious vegetables, buy heirloom varieties instead. A study by the University of Texas measured the nutrients in grocery store produce from the 1950’s and the 1990’s. Hybrid vegetables, grown by big ag, are bred for shipping and cosmetic virtues, sacrificing nutritional value. http://www.utexas.edu/news/2004/12/01/nr_chemistry/

  • http://www.facebook.com/laurie.m.marshall Laurie Marshall

    Thanks for clearing the air, Michael Pollan. And for promoting local farmers’ markets!! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/heather.feerrar Heather Feerrar

    If you read into it more eventually the pesticides don’t even matter any more. What you have to worry about is genetic manipulation of crops, and all the havoc they caused the bodies of the animals they tested it on. They are very similar to the disorders in humans that have skyrocketed over the last 20 years. Cancers, digestive disorders, obesity & fatty organs and mental issues like Alzheimer’s and Autism. No independent long term human testing has been done on any genetically modified crops. That’s why people prefer organic, its not only the amount of pesticides you have to worry about, or what tastes better. Its about whether or not the apple you are about to eat has had its DNA altered to be immune to the pesticide, and what that apple’s DNA can do to your body once you eat it.

  • dumb hick from iowa

    The media really screwed this one up. How the hell did this study get disseminated to the point where it became a headline? Something is damn fishy.

  • Sam

    “The published
    literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly
    more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods
    may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant
    bacteria.” nothing about overall health benefits at all. NPR was wrong

  • april mackay


    look here for another argument for organic. this Stanford study is stupid, because people wont know for generations the true affects of GMOs. so just slow down and work on some other health problems and your grand children will know the answer to buy organic or not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mike.ortin.7 Mike Ortin

    Good, but not a great reply. I’d like to point out that there is a big mistake being presented in this article: “If you’re shopping at your farmers’ market, you’re getting food that’s very fresh, probably very nutritious, and probably grown without synthetic pesticides.” The part about being grown without synthetic pesticides is simply not accurate. It may be very true for the Bay Area in California and other pockets out there. I travel a lot and frequent farmers markets for meals instead of restaurants and always ask the organic question before buying. Overwhelmingly the answer was conventionally grown. Even at my California home town farmers market it is like this (only 1 out of 17 farmers grew with organic practices.) This is also true for those road side farmers stands. I like to be informed before making a buying decision, so just ask the vendor any questions that are important to you.

    • Dean

      I agree completely. Just because it is locally grown does not mean that the farmers do not use pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and generally grow in a sustainable way. It is amazing how much confusion there is about local/organic and having a replies like this only increase this confusion. Organic is a system of growing food, local is a location.

    • BryanCooper

      Good info – many if not most roadside produce stands are simply retailing conventional food. They go to a regional wholesaler market at 4:00 am, buy the cheap stuff (in season only) and move it to their stand. Nothing whatsoever to do with locally grown or organically food. This is true in the Bay Area as well.

    • http://www.facebook.com/walter.haugen Walter Haugen

      Mike – I started using organic methods over 50 years ago as a wee toddler in my mother’s garden. I now grow food using organic methods and a much lower carbon footprint (no tractors, for example) than all of the “certified” organic growers around me. Yet I am branded as “conventional.” In 2010 we had an aminopyralid problem here in Whatcom County, Washington and the “certified” organic produce was contaminated, while mine wasn’t. The organic brand does NOT confer safety.

      It is better to use risk management tools. 1) Grow it yourself – 1st party. If not possible, 2) Buy from a farmer you trust – 2nd party. If all else fails, buy from a store or farmer regulated by a 3rd party. Your local supermarket is more regulated than the “certified” organic growers and retailers. As I have said for many years, “certified” organic is a fraud and a scam.

  • Lisa Moskow

    Your (KQED) organic versus
    conventional program is very irritating
    The fact that Stanford did the study means nothing since Stanford is a
    private school supported by large corporations who specialize in fleecing the public. Most of us do not need a scientific study
    to tell us that we don’t choose to ingest chemicals and pesticides into our
    bodies. We certainly don’t want to
    ingest Roundup Ready every time we eat corn or soy or canola and so on. Monsanto is spending millions to stop
    the labeling of GMO foods. They
    don’t need to sponsor a specific Stanford study—all they need to do to achieve
    their nefarious ends is contribute enough to an institution to ensure
    that scientists self-censor themselves.
    I am disgusted when I see
    “science” used to undermine basic common sense.

    We all know that foods are
    not equal in flavor and nutritive value.

    Some “conventional” foods
    are okay, but have not gone through the

    hoops of organic
    labeling—if this “study” used those foods (like foods

    from many private
    gardens), then there could easily be no difference between them and certified
    organic foods. We also know that
    cattle

    are dying from GMO diets
    and that lacing crops genetically with pesticides just creates stronger pests
    and the need for more pesticides.

    We also know that we are
    suffering from a widespread health crisis in

    this country. Please spare us from such phony baloney
    propaganda.

  • Robin

    I think it is important to remember that purchasing organic food supports agricultural practices that are better for the soil and the rest of the environment – and soil is a living resource we need to maintain for future generations. A healthy soil requires less fertilization, leaches fewer nutrients to water resources, and supports microbial populations that can decrease incidence of pests on crops. Honestly, I do not buy organic food for MY health, but for the health of the planet I love and the generations to come.

  • Hill Walker

    Seems that story on the Stanford (a university that receives more ‘secret’ funding than just about any other school of higher learning) study about how there are no health benefits to organic food has generated quite a stir.

    I think a better story would have been how a study based on the statistical model known as the “Dr. Ingram Olkin multivariate Logistic Risk Function” -that doesn’t actually do any real science in and of itself, but rather does an analysis of other studies, and was essentially developed at the behest of the tobacco industries as part of their toolkit to ‘debunk’ the very idea that their product kills people.- got published in the now a touch suspect journal ‘Annals of Internal Medicine’ lending credence to the claims by the biotech lobby that “Of course pesticides are good for you” echo chamber of NPR supporters, Monsanto, ADM World, etc etc, ripped through the main stream media in such short order.

    Now THAT would have been some interesting journalism.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kripa.davis Kripa Nat Davis

      Thanks for Pointing that out. It needs to be known that several of this studies authors are known disinformation specialists that have a track record of taking big payoffs for participating in massive deception campaigns.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joan.cooper.1257 Joan Cooper

    This reminds me of when Proctor and Gamble funded a study that created a “scientific” report to prove that their was no environmental benefit of using cloth diapers over throwaway diapers, then the ” scientific report” becomes News, and news is taken for fact.
    Bt common sense tells you the evidence was rigged- because if paper diapers were so great for the environment (they stated less water used for washing! and counted impact of diaper service trucks delivering diapers, while failing to calculate delivery trucks of paper diapers to stores) then why not throw all of your babies’ used diapers right into your own backyard instead of the landfills, beaches, trails and garbage pails along the way.
    Common sense tells you it’s unhealthy to ingest pesticides. Narrow definition of the word nutrition allows them to create this campaign of misinformation – but it shows that the organic food demand is growing and scaring the pesticide companies by undermining their bottom line.
    Joan Cooper, founder Biobottoms, Inc
    joancooper333@coomcast.net

  • Central Illinois Urbanite

    I feel it sucks that NPR has the same sponsors as conventional media outlets. I am not embarrassed by strong intrinsic values, I want ag policies that are fair and value small family farms. Big Ag is selfish and cruel, cruel to people and cruel to the environment. Always has been and they do not deserve 1 penny of our tax dollars or income. I want Corporate Welfare to stop.

  • http://www.libertynewspost.com/ Liberty Newspost

    Specious report. Organic labeled foods are not genetically modified. Less pesticides, better tasting, no hormones in organic meats. Lots of other things to look at.

  • Toni Gattone

    Thank u for clarifying, local is always preferable.

  • k5r4

    If you’re concerned about the antibiotics in meat. fruits & vegtables, then organic is what you should eat.

  • allenallen

    They probably choose a narrow definition of ‘nutrition’ and ignore mineral content. So they have people arguing off-topic by claiming–and us accepting–their definition of the term ‘nutrition.’ Make them define their terms before even starting a counter argument!

    Most vitamins are probably the same, especially A, otherwise the produce would look faded.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dreanki.cameron Dreanki Cameron

    There was no mention of gmo’s. I’m willing to bet money that monsanto or pioneer payed for this study, the info is very limited.

  • Guest

    for a list of donors (Cargill, Goldman Sacks, BP, to name a few) to THE FREEMAN SPOGLI INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, STANFORD UNIVERSITY that conducted this “meta-research” please see page 35 of the FSI annual report: http://iis-db.stanford.edu/pubs/23434/FSI_2011ARFinal_Low.pdf

  • http://twitter.com/nybe nybe

    for a list of donors (Cargill, Goldman Sacks, BP, to name a few) to THE FREEMAN SPOGLI INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, STANFORD UNIVERSITY that conducted this “meta-research” please see page 35 of the FSI annual report: http://iis-db.stanford.edu/pubs/23434/FSI_2011ARFinal_Low.pdf

  • Md.Razaul Karim

    I am totally agree with Tamela Rich. I also like organic food due to mindful eating!

  • http://www.facebook.com/walter.haugen Walter Haugen

    As Michael Pollan himself maintained in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, there is quite a difference between organic methods and the certification process, as well as a huge difference between the non-sustainability of big organic and sustainable local food. Local food producers like myself are shut out of local markets because we use organic methods but are not “certified” organic. Even the local co-op prefers to buy from “big” organic rather than small-scale producers. I have been saying “certified” organic is a fraud for years because the certification process is about marketing, not safety, and the “certified” organic producers and retailers depend on the uninformed consumer conflating safety and marketing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kathey.brodtman Kathey Brodtman

    Monsanto is very powerful. I want to know who paid for this study. A lot depends on the quality of the soil where food crops are grown. Most farm soil is so drenched with insecticides, the microbes in the soil are all dead. Living soil is full of organisms that feed the roots and add nutrients to the plants. These are the nutrients that our bodies need. We don’t need poisons and toxins. Has anyone considered all of the GMO products that we eat everyday. Are they safe?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Durt-Bagg/1028178789 Durt Bagg

    The study said all these pesticide residues in conventional produce are permissible under EPA rules. They may be, but there’s a question of how adequate those rules are. Because there are questions about whether those levels are okay for children and for pregnant women.
    —–

    Believe the EPA? Not me.

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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