Organic Food is About Public Health

Reducing the significance of organic food to its “healthiness” is a bit like reducing politics to a matter of “truthiness.” The recent Stanford University study (September 4, Annals of Internal Medicine) on organic food offered no new research and ignored some that is already out there.

Organic actually is healthier, because it is about public health: the health of farmworkers, as well as the health of the soil and water and the complex community of creatures supported there. Those positive impacts have been proven and offer strong reasons for support of organic; none of those impacts has been disproven. Organic is about WE, not about ME.

As defined in the legislation that established the National Organic Program, organic is a production system: "A production system that is managed in accordance with the Act and regulations in this part to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity."

A useful comment, Organic Food Isn’t More Nutritious, But That Isn’t the Point, by Brian Fung in the Atlantic, was published Sept. 4, 2012. An excellent and more thorough refutation of the conclusions of the Stanford study appears in The Devil in the Details, by Chuck Benbrook, a leading organic researcher and current a professor of agriculture at Washington State University. Benbrook’s article also provides a link to his more technical critique of the study and what it left out.

Frances Moore Lappe also commented with indignation on the distortions in the study and the media treatment of it. She repeats some of Benbrook's points and adds to the importance of pesticides.

Consumer Reports also weighed in with a review that stressed the study's limitations and the dangers of pesticide exposure.

Organic proponents are playing catch-up, and that is how it works.  They are forced to respond in the most rigorous fashion to technical arguments by a clever but unreliable report released on a holiday weekend so reporters would swallow it whole -- "truthiness" in action.  The sponsors and authors of the report aren't getting much attention, but that attention is increasing.  Unsurprisingly, those who do look at the background see the hand of agribusiness that wants to undermine organics.  Here's a summary from Cornucopia Institute.

Finally, for a comprehensive report on demonstrated benefits of organic production, the Organic Farming Research Foundation has just published an impressive summary, Organic Farming for Health and Prosperity, written by Carolyn Dimitri, Loni Kemp, Jane Sooby, and Elizabeth Sullivan. Educators and communicators who want to defend and advance organics now have this excellent resource to back up their efforts: .

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