Organic Food Dominates Non-Organic In Every Way, Science Says

Score one for the hippies. A study led by a Washington State University soil science professor finds that pesticides and weedkillers reduce nutrition, flavor, shelf life and overall attractiveness of fruits and veggies.

Science Daily reports the findings in the peer-reviewed online journal, PLoS ONE.

If you’re a snob for organic produce, to what lengths are you willing to go — such as traveling longer distances, paying higher prices and investing the time and effort to grow your own stuff — to procure sweet, untainted food?

Commercial Organic Farms Have Better Fruit and Soil, Lower Environmental Impact, Study Finds [Science Daily]
(Thanks, Benjamin!)

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  1. NaOH says:

    My findings have generally been the complete opposite. I try to steer clear of the “organic” (hate the misuse of the term, by the way) produce because it’s generally way less attractive looking.

    • human_shield says:

      I wouldn’t do this. Our food has been so processed and genetically bred that what is “attractive” may not be the best for you. I grow a lot of veggies and they don’t always look perfect but they sure taste better.

      • Alvis says:

        Genetically bred? As opposed to breeding without the use of genes?

        • Biokinetica says:

          You know what they mean…

          • vision646 says:

            I do, but some people might not. If you are going to have a conversation on a scientific topic you should be specific. Human_shield seems to be against genetically modifying crops in a laboratory setting, but is ok with genetically modifying them in the field.

            Everyone is entitled to their opinions but every study I’ve seen has showed no ill-affects from crops genetically modified in the lab (although honestly this isn’t my area of expertise and I don’t read them all).

            • mac-phisto says:

              the problem is that virtually every one of those studies has either been paid for by the people who genetically modify the crops, or the data is gleaned from experiments conducted within company labs by company scientists. i’m not prepared to trust the corporations experimenting with our food that much.

            • Travtastic says:

              I seem to remember multiple cases of horizontal gene transfer of pesticide resistance, going from corn to the surrounding weeds.

        • vision646 says:

          +1

          All crops have been genetically bred, some just took longer to get to their current state than others.

    • dulcinea47 says:

      Attractiveness really isn’t the best basis for choosing food. At all.

      • Untidy Sanchez says:

        But that’s exactly why the food we have looks like it does – because we picked the most attractive ones, and through selective pressure we ended up with today’s varieties. Have you ever seen what wild broccoli looks like?

    • Griking says:

      So you’d rather consume food dyes, preservatives and other chemicals because they make your food look better? It all starts out looking the same.

      • NaOH says:

        Do you mean it all ends up looking the same?

        And yes, I would rather consume those things. A lot of people’s perception of taste can be influenced by visual cues, I’d wager.

        Further, you can’t scare me with the word “chemicals”. Everything is made of chemicals.

        • Biokinetica says:

          Yes, but it’s the all-powerful human brain that makes the final decision. You’re brain has actually been ‘trained’ to search for what is most “attractive”, and big food has basically found out what that is.

          Food for thought: The human brain actually has defcon provisions for lowering your eating standards when going into starvation. If your body or the brain itself is ever in danger of undernourishment, your brain kicks in and alters your perception of all organic items that wouldn’t normally be a part of your diet. Fish eyes suddenly start to look more appetizing…

        • Travtastic says:

          That’s a fairly meaningless statement. Hydrochloric acid is a chemical, care for a glass?

          • BCSteve says:

            No, the point was that the word ‘chemical’ was being used as a scare word. Yes, they can be bad, but they can also be harmless, or even good. You can’t just say “it’s covered in chemicals” and expect that to be a valid argument, without qualifying which chemicals. All too often, people try to do this. The strength matters too. If it’s a glass of 12M HCl, I’d wear my lab coat to get anywhere close. But if you gave me a glass of 0.001M HCl, then sure, I’d drink it. Likewise, give me a glass of pesticides, I wouldn’t drink it. But if there’s a few molecules left on my strawberry and the chance of me eating a parasitic insect is decreased, then sure, I’ll take the few molecules.

        • magus_melchior says:

          Curious that you object to the word “chemicals” but you don’t respond to “dyes” and “preservatives”. Given that your handle (sodium hydroxide, AKA lye) indicates you’re a chemist or someone at least familiar with chemistry, I would think you’d know that some preservatives (nitrates, for example) can wreak enough havoc with your body chemistry to increase the risk of things like cancer.

          Also curious that you’re essentially invoking an argument from composition (your experience refutes this study, therefore, you say, this study is wrong). Surely, if you’re a scientist, you would recognize the value of not dismissing scientific research outright until peer review yields similar results?

          Furthermore, “large” and “attractive-looking” are meaningless in regard to produce outside of late 20th-century Westernized culture. Anyone who spent at least a little bit of time studying how agriculture dramatically changed plants from the 16th to 20th centuries would understand that. Some of the ugliest things you’ll see in the vegetable markets around the world are packed with flavor and nutrition, and some of the prettiest are essentially fooling you into believing you’re getting your vitamins and minerals because the grower found ways of increasing the sale weight (cellulose and water).

    • Silverhawk says:

      I agree. Most organic veggies in my local markets look awful. I know visual attractiveness shouldn’t be the only criteria, but seriously, I’m not going to pay double for organic veggies that are smaller, shriveled and pockmarked more than their non-organic counterparts.

      That said, one thing I do buy are organic carrots – we have a local market that carries some older, heirloom variety and they always look like they were harvested the day before, no splits, great color, and most importantly, great flavor. Way better than the megafarm bagged variety.

    • jefeloco says:

      Did they accidentally flip their results before publishing? Every single report and study I have ever read on organics show that they are not healthier and look terrible. The yield is significantly smaller when growing organically AND they still use pesticides and fertilizers!

      Yes, they use oils and waxes as pesticides (that choke out the plants and mess up the soil) and manure is a fertilizer that is organic. Why do people automatically denounce crops that have been bred in a lab instead of bred in a field? My grandpa used to cross breed plants and trees to get stuff that actually worked in his climate, much the same thing they do in labs.

      • j_rose says:

        Agreed, 100%. Every other scientific study is the opposite of this one.

      • lchen says:

        I’ve never heard of such studies, and every study I’ve read about showed that organically grown foods to have more nutrients. When presented with food prepared with conventional ingredients versus organically grown ingredients, lab rats instinctively chose organic. Organic fertilizers and pesticides are usually things that are proven to break down naturally and not get into the water ways.
        What your grandpa did is not what they do in labs, he used the genes already in the plants to make them stronger whereas genetic manipulation add in genes from other species that could never occur in nature. Genetic manipulation also has unintended side affects, with genetically altered corn causing more insects to become immune to the BT(a bacterium pesticide) the corn produces.

        • thisistobehelpful says:

          This really is so far the opposite of most studies you should look some up. At minimum in the shelf life part because most of our produce is picked before it’s ripe, frozen and then a gas (I forget what) is introduced into where it’s stored to ripen it so that would equate to a really long shelf life. Then there’s the irradiated things. The FDA has no current definition for organic. Organic labeled farming requires more pesticides and fertilizer for the same or smaller yield. Whether or not a poison is “natural” doesn’t make it less of a poison it’s just a different kind. Arsenic is naturally occuring, so is cyanide, so is ergot, all are poisons. Having less of a deadlier one or 7 times as much of a less deadly one doesn’t make the organic one better it just makes it sound better.

          I’d like my food overall less poisonous but if I can’t afford it and there’s STILL poison on it with no regulation anyway of what constitutes organic and therefore no true idea of what’s going on that makes it organic, then I’m going to shell out for whatever looks fresher and is cheaper and try to avoid things that are terribly bad as opposed to only somewhat bad. And yes there are different items that are better or worse in general.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      Hmmm. I can always spot organic produce across the room because it often looks so much better. I generally just go with what looks and smells better–organic or not. But the only bad looking organic produce I have seen is heirloom tomatoes.

    • cerbie_the_orphan says:

      Good vegetables aren’t all even in color, or shiny. Hit up some local farmers markets, sometimes. You get bland and hard vegetables in many cases, for the same of looking good after their travels.

  2. BigHeadEd says:

    I will agree that it dominates in every way but one: price.

    • indeeme says:

      Then you aren’t getting your organic produce in the right places. CSAs, direct from the local farms, generally cost me less than non-organic produce at the supermarket.

    • DariusC says:

      THIS! I was just about to post that but you win :D Great argument. Especially in this economy. Health is a low concern in regards to finance and career. You will eventually get old and weak(er) over time so focus on what really matters. Don’t give me that “you want to live that long” argument XD

    • mac-phisto says:

      all depends on where you live, i guess. i have an organic farm down the road that has awesome produce & the price is right! i can easily save $20+/week buying whatever i can there (mostly tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, corn, zucchini & onions).

      the downside for me is: 1) they’re only selling veggies from june 1 – november 1, 2) they run out of product pretty quickly (get there early!) & 3) i can only get there on the weekend.

      it’s worth venturing out to see if you can find a similar opportunity – be it a farm or a farmer’s market or a farm stand. you may be surprised at what you find.

  3. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    They used the term “soil DNA.” When exactly did DNA become to mean internal components in general, rather than dioxyriboneucleic acid?

    • magnetic says:

      I’m pretty sure they mean the DNA they used to ID the microorganisms in the soil. (Though, I’m always skeptical of those shotgun surveys. Too easy to contaminate.)

    • Gort42 says:

      Read further: It’s pretty clear that by “soil DNA”, they mean that took soil, ground it up, looked at the DNA from all the plants/insects/bacteria left in the soil, and found greater genetic diversity. In a nutshell: More diversity == more kinds of worms == better soil.

  4. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I’m confused – didn’t this stufdy deal with only strawberries, not all food?

    Really Phil? Dominates in every way?

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      Well, they put organic and non-organic in a cage match to the death, but they just sat there. If there’s one thing they can’t do is put on a good show, evidently.

    • ihatephonecompanies says:

      “We found that the organic farms had strawberries with longer shelf life, greater dry matter, and higher antioxidant activity and concentrations of ascorbic acid and phenolic compounds, but lower concentrations of phosphorus and potassium.”

      Hence “dominates in every way”, is in fact incorrect, even when applies to just this study.

      • magus_melchior says:

        Phosphorus (generally phosphate ion) and potassium are usually very easy to come by. The other compounds, excluding ascorbic acid (vitamin C)? Not so much, and plants are the best sources.

        Not quite “every way”, but darn close if it’s just those 2 nutrients.

  5. pantheonoutcast says:

    This is earth-shattering news for people who subsist solely on strawberries.

  6. sssster says:

    I’d much prefer pretty food, even if it is laced with herbicides and pesticides. What is really irritating is the effort by the food industry to dilute “organic” standards so that organic foods don’t really need to be entirely organic. Let’s make it hard to tell so consumers won’t really know what they’re getting. Good idea.

  7. TimothyT says:

    Organic Food Dominates Non-Organic In Every Way, Science Says – Totally misleading title, in that this is only regarding strawberries. Most real research actually proves without a doubt that organic is not any better and can actually be dangerous because of less regulations on pesticides.

    There, fixed it for you.

    • Twonkey says:

      I find it amusing when someone corrects someone else with his own misinformation. :P

      Now I’m not saying that organic products are better than non-organic products, but I am saying that if they are not, it’s not because pesticide restrictions are more lax for organic products than they are for non-organic products. If anything, the opposite is true.

      Do yourself a favor and go read up on organic certification.

  8. MustWarnOthers says:

    I try and eat specific foods which are organic. I try not to be overly picky and snobbish about it, but the quality of some of the foods is definitely significant.

    It’s definitely true that some of the organic produce does look more “rustic” but that’s how the produce is supposed to look…Plus it usually tastes much better.

    While it is not specifically an organic vs non organic issue, the difference in quality of local meats and poultry is just unreal.

    If you can find a good local butcher who gets meats and poultry from grass fed, quality local farmers, you’ll never buy that Agribusiness junk again.

  9. MustardTiger says:

    I lost 70lbs switching from GMO to organic food without changing a damn thing in my diet. Say what you want, but I didn’t even exercise. Organics ftw

    • MustardTiger says:

      Damn errors making me post things a bunch, submit fail XD

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Organic generally costs more than non-organic produce. You don’t think that your weight loss may have (at least partially) resulted from buying less food or perhaps cutting the items you didn’t find in an organic variety? You say you didn’t change your diet, but unless you subsisted entirely on things that are also offered in an organic variety, I doubt you could keep your diet exactly the same and switch to organic.

      Also, unless pesticides and/or vegetable decay rates contribute to your waistline, I’m pretty sure that an organic carrot contains the same amount of calories as a nonorganic carrot.

    • SuperSnackTime says:

      Organic calories count for less than regular calories. Fact.

  10. MustardTiger says:

    I lost 70lbs switching from GMO to organic food without changing a damn thing in my diet. Say what you want, but I didn’t even exercise. Organics ftw

  11. MustardTiger says:

    I lost 70lbs switching from GMO to organic food without changing a damn thing in my diet. Say what you want, but I didn’t even exercise. Organics ftw

    • dulcinea47 says:

      That doesn’t make any sense at all. In fact defies the laws of physics, or something.

      • ARP says:

        Maybe not. For example, reguar and organic apple both have 100 calories. However, organic apple has more nutrients compared to regular apple. That could cause the person to eat less, have more energy, faster metabolism, better immune system, etc.

    • guroth says:

      In order for that to be correct then at least one of the following must be true:
      a) Organic food has less calories.
      b) Organic food makes you poop more.
      c) Organic food contains tape worms.

    • WhoLikesPie? says:

      Well duh, you obviously couldn’t eat as much food since organic food costs so much more.

      P.S. Your crappy anecdotal evidence has completely changed my mind on the topic of organic food… thank you oh great champion of organics. Please never give any scientific evidence ever as to why something may have happened because humanity never needed science, just someones third uncle who heard about a guy who once did something.

    • Untidy Sanchez says:

      There’s this tendency for humans to find patterns in anything – even when there isn’t one. You know what they say about correlation and causation…

    • Winfield says:

      This makes sense because I’ve read in several studies that the chemicals present in non-organic produce cause the body to store up fat. This is a simplified version, but the chemicals get stored in the fat cells to protect the organs.

      One possibility…

      • jasonq says:

        Welllllll…if this is true, it *could* be tied to the fact that a lot of pesticides have endocrine-disruptive effects, which *might* affect things like fat storage.

    • Blueberry Scone says:

      Hey, did you lose 70lbs switching from GMO to organic food without changing a damn thing in your diet? And you didn’t even exercise, right?

      (:

  12. Gort42 says:

    Read further: It’s pretty clear that by “soil DNA”, they mean that took soil, ground it up, looked at the DNA from all the plants/insects/bacteria left in the soil, and found greater genetic diversity. In a nutshell: More diversity means more kinds of worms means better soil.

  13. Guppy06 says:

    More nutrition per kilogram of food for per dollar spent?

  14. DarkPsion says:

    I am curious as to where they found “inorganic” food?

    All food is organic, even silk flowers and wax fruit is “organic”.

  15. Konwashere says:

    It also dominates in price. Whole Foods takes your Whole Pay Check.

  16. FrugalFreak says:

    Science must like paying more.

  17. Taliskan says:

    TIME magazine had an issue with a huge story on this. If i recall they said there was no major differences between the two and in some cases non-organic won ahead of organic.

    • TimothyT says:

      Yes, exactly. I call BS too. The funny thing is that the commercial growers are among the major organic growers too. It’s a good way to pad their margins.

    • majortom1981 says:

      YEs but it has to be with a TRUE organic farm most organic produce is by the same growers of the non organic stuff. Organic is still allowed to have certain pesticides by law.

      A true local organic small farm will have better tasting produce. ITs just hard to find a true organic farm.

  18. Decubitus says:

    But you can’t patent organic food or sue people for saving the organic seeds for replanting, so what good is it?

  19. thiazzi says:

    There is much evidence that says the exact opposite. This debate will go on until we stop giving a shit.

  20. Untidy Sanchez says:

    I read the paper. I can’t believe it ended up in PLoS ONE!

    Point 1: Despite the fact that they grew the same variety of berries by both organic and conventional methods, Table 1 shows that the comparison was between the organic version of one variety and the conventional version of a completely different variety. They made the direct comparisons of organic vs conventional on the leaves only.

    Point 2: The taste panel was not blinded to the aim of the study.

    • Untidy Sanchez says:

      Also, one of the funding sources is The Organic Center. End of story.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      I’m glad someone else noticed the flaws in the study. :I

    • Rhizobium says:

      Good points re: the PLOS study and comparisons of different strains of strawberry.

      I’m not sure that it’s a huge deal that participants knew the purpose of the study, though. (In double-blinded drug trials, participants generally know the drug being tested is targeting a particular condition/symptom, right?) It’s not completely clear to me that the strawberry tasting was double-blinded … the use of codes indicates that it could have been, I guess. (I read the paper quickly – will revisit later.)

      Anyhow, overall, this study doesn’t justify make sweeping generalizations about the benefits of organic produce, IMHO!

  21. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    Commercial Organic Farm=The same exact companies that grow/farm “non-organic” crops, but realize where the money is, and not only grow organic crops, but spend millions on advertising touting how great organic is.

    The people who tout how great organic crops are and how they stick it to the big farm-glomerates make me chuckle almost as much as the people who tell me that oil companies want to silence/put down/cover up alternative fuels. Because Shell Oil could never buy a battery company, or produce batteries, make hydrogen, etc…

    • magus_melchior says:

      The best way to stick it to the “man”? Make a veggie garden.

      Can’t exactly grow field corn, but our tomatoes can beat even the “vine-ripened” tomatoes in most markets.

    • MrEvil says:

      They also spend less money on herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizer, and they spend less on seed.

  22. Zaphâ„¢ says:

    We take the time to grow organically in our back yard and for fruits/vegetables we cannot grow that have edible skins (ie apples, strawberries, etc) we buy organic only. If there is a sale on organic fruits/vegetables that have an inedible skin or rind (ie oranges, avacados, etc) we will buy organic otherwise we get conventional.

  23. Alvis says:

    Pesticides ARE organic.

  24. Emily says:

    This was the study some mentioned, which showed that organic food had no nutritional or health benefits, when compared against regular food:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE56S3ZJ20090729

  25. JonThomasDesigns says:

    Humm a article on Consumerist about organic that doesn’t Trash Wholefoods .. Weird .

  26. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    HA! I’m listening to this on NPR right now. AND the study was done in my own backyard (figuratively speaking).

  27. mszabo says:

    Apparently they forgot about Yield and Cost in their comparison.

  28. crashfrog says:

    A study led by a Washington State University soil science professor finds that pesticides and weedkillers reduce nutrition, flavor, shelf life and overall attractiveness of fruits and veggies.

    Organic farmers use pesticides and weedkillers too, though. That’s why the phenols and anti-oxidants are higher – those are the plant’s own attempts to kill pests. A lot of those compounds are healthy and desirable in a fruit, but many organic varietals express high levels of pesticides that aren’t so good for humans.

  29. Horselady says:

    Unfortunately,
    it is so expensive that a lot of people can’t afford it……..

  30. Cindymiles says:

    Recently there has been a huge upheaval in the las Vegas organic gardeners forum when we found out that sewage sludge made from treated human feces which still has traces of hep c, HIV and all the drugs and medicines that people take has been categorized as organic, mixed into soil and sold for use in home gardens without disclosure. The government allows madness in the soil and I’m off organic food for now as I don’t trust it to be any cleaner or better than conventional. It was also uncovered in San Francisco and may be going on everywhere but not known about.

  31. kracken41 says:

    Penn and Teller did a great ‘BS’ show on organic food. Sure, it’s entertainment, but it brought up some really interesting points. In my mind organic food is a huge waste of money.

  32. lmbrownmail says:

    I buy our food based on taste. For us it turns out that most of the food we buy just tastes better if it’s organic. I don’t know why but it does. So we buy organic, even if it’s more expensive.

    • j_rose says:

      Because you think it does.

      Actually, it’s likely you’re buying fresher food. If you go to the same high-end stores that specialize in organics, and find the non-organic version it’s likely to be more fresh than in your regular grocery store. It will still taste yummy.

      Watch the P&T episode someone referenced above, it’s on YouTube.

  33. asherchang2 says:

    Ok. Organic frozen strawberries it is then, for maximum nutrients and flavor.

  34. mojomarc says:

    It will be nice when science bloggers realize the difference between one study and a scientific conclusion. As has been mentioned ad nauseum below, this study goes against the trend of research in the area, so rather than trumpet this as some proof of domination, one should be looking at the conclusion and the study itself and wonder if the data actually warrants the conclusion. With the flaws in the study mentioned below, this one is shifty enough that we should be waiting for replication (and blinded taste tests–how hard would that be to do, anyway????) before making such sweeping and misleading headlines.

  35. ldub says:

    It’s been a 2-3 year process for us, but now about %80 of what we buy is organic and/or locally grown. Yes, it’s a bit more expensive but we just save in other areas of our spending. And it’s well worth it. I had no idea that chicken, beef, milk, eggs, etc…. could taste this good. Growing our own veggies during the Summer has been a great learning experience for our kid, too. The whole thing certainly increases your respect for farmers, too!

  36. CathyMoran says:

    The most satisfying is to grow it. Shows kids where food comes from. Allows you to vent your frustration on weeds. Teaches you to eat in season. Challenges you to find 47 ways to eat zucchini!

  37. Lowcifur says:

    This study goes completely against my personal experience.

    I recently started teaching myself to cook, and that entails seriously shopping for ingredients. At the local grocery store, I was a little taken aback by how terrible the produce section looked: almost all the fruits and vegetables were malformed and sickly looking, not to mention pricier than I expected.

    That’s when I realized I was in the “organic” section. When I moved to the “inorganic” (I guess the Organic Foods marketing team would like to imply everything else is synthetic), everything looked better, was larger, and much cheaper.

    This Consumerist synopsis is a little misleading (I hate to say that, since I almost always agree with Consumerist). If you read the article, you’ll notice that they only tested Strawberries, and only ones grown with a certain type of pesticide. I’d hardly call that a decisive test.

  38. MrEvil says:

    I find this study highly dubious. Especially considering they isolated to only one item of produce.

    What would you rather eat, the ear of sweet corn that was grown organically but was half-eaten by worms, or the pristine ear of GMO sweet corn that is completely un-touched by pests stalk to silk? The flavor is different (the non GMO stuff is a bit sweeter), but the fact that I get to eat most of the ear outweighs the sacrifice in flavor.

  39. Henry Brzrki says:

    Thanks for that. Where did you find the info…I searched for “fund” in the article and couldn’t find it. Scientific credibility continues to plummet.

  40. BearJazz says:

    Too bad organic produce uses pesticides and weedkillers too.

  41. joymkr says:

    A recent programming of “BullShit” with Penn and Teller did quite an expose’ on some of the fraudulent practices of so called “organic food” growers and consumers.
    One item that caused me to rethink the “value” of organically grown food was the fact that organic farmers do indeed spray their produce with substances which reduce infestation and rotting. Some of these “substances” may be more harmful than the pesticides currently being used by non-organic farmers. Reference to the “old days” of DDT is misleading.
    I was also surprised to find that the majority of organically farmed produce is controlled by two large mega-corporations and not the hard work of the “small farmer”. Horizon is one of the megacompanies. Finally, I have found that a thorough washing of all produce in a mild acidic solution will remove all pesticide residue and the residue from “organic sprays”.

  42. Luftvier says:

    Local >>> Organic.

    End of argument.