More on Stanford study

From Chris Milburn in Sydney:

To: capenews-l@list.web.net

Subject: [capenews-l] Critique of Stanford study on purported lack of benefit of organic food

From the Worldwatch Institute’s “Nourishing the Planet” food policy initiative comes the view that the study was significantly flawed…..w
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For the last two weeks, foodies, farmers, and scientists have been debating the validity of a study released by Stanford University about the nutritional quality of organic produce. The analysis concludes that organic foods­foods grown without pesticides and other agro-chemicals­are not superior in quality to conventionally produced varieties. According to the study, the risk of exposure to pesticides and other harsh chemicals is only negligibly higher in conventional foods. In other words, the study argues that consumers who pay higher prices for the supposed health benefits of organic foods have been wasting their money. But our friends Chuck Benbrook, Dawn Undurraga, and Francis Moore Lappe disagree.

Although the Stanford study claims that there is a 30 percent “risk difference” between organic and conventional foods, Chuck Benbrook,  a scientist and former Executive Director of the Board on Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences, finds, “an overall 81 percent lower risk or incidence of one or more pesticide residues in the organic samples compared to the conventional samples”­using Stanford’s data. This discrepancy is the result of the Stanford researchers’ decision to omit certain criterion from their system of analysis, such as the difference between single and multiple pesticide traces (i.e. the difference between an organic apple containing a trace amount of one pesticide, and a conventional apple lathered in a highly-concentrated assortment of different pesticides).

Even if the Stanford analysis were accurate, it wouldn’t warrant the “breaking news” media attention it has received. Dawn Undurraga of the Environmental Working Group notes that as a new mom, even a 31 percent difference in pesticide residue is enough to reinforce her preference for organic foods. She reminds us that even using the low Stanford figures, a consumer is five times more likely to ingest pesticides with conventional than with organic varieties­a fact that the mainstream media has completely overlooked.

And Francis Moore Lappe, in a Huffington Post article, reprehends the Stanford scientists for not considering long term studies of organic versus conventional consumption in their analysis (the studies they used ranged from two days to two years). Ms. Lappe notes that the short-term studies used in the research are inadequate for determining the health impacts of pesticide consumption–she says “it is well established that chemical exposure often takes decades to show up, for example, in cancer or neurological disorders.”

And the Stanford study didn’t consider the environmental impacts of organic versus conventional food production. Organic food procurement has a host of benefits, none of which are acknowledged in the report: it contributes to increased biodiversity in the field­more birds and beneficial insects, better soil biota­and to decreased pollution associated with the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. And American farm workers, who have an  average lifespan of 49 years, will likely benefit from a decrease in the application of pesticides.

What do you think about the Stanford study and the media attention is has received? Do you think that organic food is healthier? Email me with your thoughts!

All the best,

Danielle Nierenberg

Nourishing the Planet Project Director

Worldwatch Institute

www.nourishingtheplanet.org
Email: dnierenberg@nourishingtheplanet.org
Phone: +1-202-590-1037

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