Does It Matter If Organic Food Isn't Actually More Nutritious Than Conventional Products?

Clutch your kale close, organic food lovers — a new study says organic products aren’t any better for you nutrition-wise than conventional foods. The four-year project looked at 240 other studies covering nutrients in foods as well as potential contaminants like pesticides and found that even though we might pay more for our organic veggies, fruits and meat, they’re no better for us than regular food.

But then again, many consumers aren’t paying more just for the health benefits for themselves. Proponents of organic foods also tout the positive effects of sustainable farming have on the environment, notes USA Today.

It all started when two doctors were mulling over what they should tell their own families and patients in regards to choosing between organic and conventional in the grocery aisle.

“It became much larger than we expected,” said the lead author on the study, which was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Some of the most notable findings from the study include the fact that there wasn’t much of a difference between the vitamin content of A, C and E in organic fruits and veggies compared to conventional produce, and that while there was more detectable pesticide residue in conventional products compared to organic (38% to 7%), the amount was usually still below the maximum allowed limits in the European Union. Both kinds of produce were found to be susceptible to bacterial contamination.

Consumers pay a premium price for organic food, but the scientists warned that if you’re solely concerned about the health value of your products, there’s no reason to buy organic over conventional. And while many people do like organic products because of how they’re grown (or how the animals are raised and fed in the case of meat and dairy products), a Nielsen study says 76% of shoppers buy organic because they think it’s the healthier choice.

Urvashi Rangan, a scientist at Consumers Union the public advocacy arm of our elder siblings at Consumer Reports, told the paper that sustainable farming is key for many consumers.

“The health benefits really ended up being almost inadvertent, a nice fringe benefit” of farming in a sustainable way that benefits the planet, she says.

Organic food shoppers, we want to know…


Study sees no nutritional edge in organic food [USA Today]

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  1. Stickdude says:

    Missing poll option:

    Yes, it still gives me that feeling of superiority over the unwashed masses.

    • Quirk Sugarplum says:

      Indeed. I toss straight into the bin all the Organic food I buy. The smug look I get from not only buying all this “healthier” food but also senselessly wasting it can be used on twice as many kinds of people.

    • Banished to the Corner says:

      2nd missing option: Meh, don’t usually buy organic.

      I grew up eating organic food in the 60s-70s, usually grown on my parents place or the neighbors. We even had our own bees! Now, I will look where something is grown/produced, and I choose to pay more for cage free/free range meats. However, I refuse to believe that my apples care if they were grown organically or not.

      I’ve always said, the true definition of “Organic” is: “comes with bugs”, because I never had an apple that didn’t have a ‘occupant’ until I moved to the dorms in college.

    • MeowMaximus says:

      another missing poll option: I buy it because it tastes better

  2. PunditGuy says:

    Still comes with 100% of your USRDA for Self Righteousness.

    Seriously, though, not putting pesticides in you body is probably a good thing, and not putting them in the environment is definitely a good thing.

    • Cerne says:

      Utterly debatable.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        How do you debate it with cows utters?

      • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

        I could see chronically low levels of pesticides not be a big deal for the human body, actually.

        However, when talking about soil or the water table…you know that SOMETHING bad will happen, right?

    • crashfrog says:

      Organic crops are grown with pesticides. Often they’re bred to express their own intrinsic pesticides. “Organic” doesn’t mean “no pesticides.”

    • guaporico says:

      Organic crops can use organic pesticides, but not synthetic. Organic farmers try to use less pesticides than their non-organic relatives, but that is not always the case.

    • Coleoptera Girl says:

      Pesticides lose their effectiveness over time (how long depends on how copiously they’re applied) and have effects up the food chain that can be devastating to a local ecosystem. Less pesticides in the environment is definitely a good thing.

      • Coleoptera Girl says:

        Crashfrog and guaporico do have a good point, though. The sad thing is, diatomaceous earth is effective in killing insects and other small pests without chemicals, but you can’t use it and still call your produce organic.

        For the curious, diatomaceous earth is basically a dust composed of the sharp skeletons of microscopic organisms called diatoms. It gets into insect respiratory systems and lacerates the membranes.

  3. Wireless Joe says:

    I guess I never thought organic meant “more vitamins” or whatever. Two apples from the same orchard (one grown organically and one grown conventionally) are the same nutritionally; “organic” doesn’t mean “fortified”. The perceived benefit to me was the absence of many of the chemicals used for pest control and fertilization as well as sustanability.

    • jebarringer says:

      Organic food can be grown with “organic” pesticides and still be considered organic. Some of the “organic” pesticides are harsher than their synthetic counterparts. Others are chemically identical to their synthetic counterparts.

  4. crispyduck13 says:

    Wait a minute, people thought an organic apple was healthier for them than a regular one? Like it terms of nutritional content? I can’t be reading that right.

    If I were to buy organic produce it would be to avoid pesticides, that is it. All that boxed “organic” mac and cheese and frozen entrees is just labeling to me, apart from using organic produce in some way.

    • quail20 says:

      It’s only the whack jobs out there that touted that organic produce had more nutrition. I never heard an organic farmer ever say that it did more than keep pesticides out of your diet. (OK, maybe a whack job organic farmer may have said such drivel. But the movement was never about nutrition.) These are the same people you’ll often hear chatting about how chiropractic medicine can cure acne or that holistic remedies removed tumors from a friend’s prostate.

      All of that said, there’s been debate over corporate farms and their “organic” produce not being 100% organic. Never followed the debate closely but corporate farms will follow the letter of the law to earn the title “organic” while still taking short cuts that toy with the edges of the law.

  5. menty666 says:

    I thought the whole drive behind organic was the lower pesticide/herbicide levels? I never thought that the stuff as better nutritionally. Though an heirloom tomato does taste better to me than the ship hardy varieties the stores sell.

  6. McRib wants to know if you've been saved by the Holy Clown says:

    I’d continue buying it if the only reason was that organic produce was consistently tastier.

    Which it is.

    • MaxH42 needs an edit button says:

      OMG, the honeycrisp apples we got at our farmer’s market this weekend are SO much sweeter than any I’ve gotten at the store, even organic. But they looked ugly and had lots of spots, so they probably couldn’t sell them in a supermarket. Oh well, more for me! o/

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        That’s part of the problem with produce today. They genetically alter them to be more appealing visually. We as a country don’t know what real produce is supposed to look like anymore. If it “looks” bad it must be bad, even though bad-looking produce doesn’t mean it’s bad produce.

        • STXJK says:

          Produce is also genetically altered for shelf life. I live in the Caribbean, and the local fruits are amazing. No way they would survive a boat trip to FL, though

        • quail20 says:

          Remember when they used to wax apples to make them shinier in the produce department? They had to get rid of the wax. Now I think it’s something akin to mineral oil that gets used. (Same stuff that makes M&Ms shiny.)

      • Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

        One of our trees is a very old heritage apple and we have no idea what it is – it’s probably a local hybrid from many, many years ago. The ripe apples look green and have large brown spots and areas on them so they look absolutely rotten BUT… they aren’t rotten and they are the sweetest and crispiest apples we’ve ever had. It’s almost unreal.

        There is no supermarket that would ever let these terrible looking apples even near the produce section.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I buy organic milk because it lasts longer than regular milk. I hate the price, but I love that a half gallon lasts me so much longer and I don’t have to eat cereal for every meal for a week just to not feel guilty about milk getting spoiled.

      • nugatory says:

        The only organic product I buy is milk. For me, I buy it as it simply pasteurized. Not UHT pasteurized, nor is it homogenized. To me, there is a marked difference in taste that is worth the extra $2 a gallon.

    • TrustAvidity says:

      There’s a pretty entertaining Penn & Teller BS clip you should watch. I’m sure some organic things do taste better, but the video is entertaining nonetheless. People take bites of 2 different halves of a banana being told one’s organic. They go on about how much better and natural the organic one tastes just to be told both halves were from the same banana.

  7. EP2012 says:

    I’ve been eating organics for many years, but NEVER because I thought they had more nutrients – it’s always been because I felt that putting less poison into the environment was better than putting more.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      This, and (not) putting the poisons in your mouth, is the reason for organic. If someone doesn’t get that, then they are doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

  8. Zelgadis says:

    Interesting this popped up here right after I read the same article in the Toronto Star.

    I never understood “organic” anyway. I really don’t think there is a standardized definition of the term as it pertains to the supermarket. After all, cyanide is “organic,” and I’m sure as hell not eating that.

    • dulcinea47 says:

      Yes, there is a standard definition of organic as it pertains to the supermarket. Stuff labeled organic (in the US) has to be certified by the USDA to be free of pesticides, herbicides, and grown in soil that has not been treated with certain things for a certain period of time… you can look up the details yourself but that’s the gist of it. Companies can’t just slap the label “organic” on whatever and sell it at the market.

      • crashfrog says:

        Organic farmers can and do use pesticides and herbicides in cultivation. Organic doesn’t mean “no pesticides.”

        • chefboyardee says:

          You keep writing this in replies to posts here, but I don’t think you understand that most people know that *organic pesticides* can be used. It’s the synthetic ones we’re worried about.

          There’s also the whole “no GMO” and “no additives” thing.

          Organic crops must be grown in safe soil, have no modifications, and must remain separate from conventional products. Farmers are not allowed to use **synthetic pesticides**, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers, and sewage sludge-based fertilizers.

          http://www.helpguide.org/life/organic_foods_pesticides_gmo.htm

          Foods claiming to be organic must be free of artificial food additives, and are often processed with fewer artificial methods, materials and conditions, such as chemical ripening, food irradiation, and genetically modified ingredients.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_food

          • jebarringer says:

            You do know that many “organic pesticides” use the same chemicals as their synthetic counterparts, right? And sometimes “organic pesticides” are harsher on the environment, because rather than being created by using precisely X amount of Chemical Y, they’re created using X amount of Substance Z that contains varying amounts of Chemical Y.

    • InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

      A little information for you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_certification

      In order to sell something in a supermarket as organic, it has to meet some very specific guidelines. The term “organic”, as it pertains to food, does actually have a standardized definition in the United States as well as other countries.

      You may be confusing Organic with All-Natural, which doesn’t have a concrete definition (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_natural)

    • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

      It would have taken you less time to Google the answer than it did for you to type your post, including the qualifiers that should have clued you to the fact that you really didn’t know what you were talking about.

  9. dulcinea47 says:

    Totally missing the point. People don’t eat organic food b/c they think it’s more nutritious (at least, I don’t know anyone who thinks that.) People eat it b/c it’s not covered in pesticide. Just b/c the govt can’t be bothered to actually figure out whether all that pesticide is doing harm over the long term doesn’t mean that all of us are willing to take their word that it’s okay to eat, or okay to spread all over the environment.

  10. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    Poll question: Will you still shop organic?

    Yeah that’s a valid poll question.

    Are you still beating your wife?

  11. Cerne says:

    The environmental benefits of organic food are also overstated, especially when it comes to meat production. Buy organic food if you prefer it, but don’t feel smug about it.

    The best tasting food is a mixture of conventional produce and stuff brought from a good local farmers market and butcher. The best part of living in Toronto is definitely St. Lawrence Market.

  12. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Did the study cover the affects of eating grain-fed and antibiotic-crammed beef? Because that’s another big reason people choose organic.

    Technically the same nutrition level simply means the same level of nutrients. That doesn’t cover the extra potentially harmful additives.

    • Jane_Gage says:

      To the person that smugly posted this article on their FB, I provided links to peer-reviewed journals correlating growth hormones to precocious puberty in young girls. The more you ovulate the greater your risk of reproductive cancers.

  13. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I buy what I can afford to buy with the money I have that week for groceries. That always means the cheapest possible item, so organics/all natural/whatever are not in the picture. I just don’t have the extra money to pay more for the same weight of carrots or apples or whatever. It’s hard enough trying to buy unprocessed foods with a limited amount of money, let alone unprocessed foods that cost more because they’re organic.

  14. RoguePisigit says:

    In other news, sky blue. Water wet. I’ve always equated buying organic to being Amish in a “technological advancement = bad” sort of way.

    • chefboyardee says:

      Well then, sir, you’re an idiot. Some of us love technology and still eat healthy, organic, local foods because a) it’s better for you, b) it tastes better, and c) it promotes healthy land management practice.

      Yes, I said better for you.

      “Detectable pesticide residue was found in 7% of organic produce and 38% of conventional produce”

      In a body the size of my 8 month old child’s, that’s a significant difference.

      Also, you’ll note that they state that “As to how pesticides could be in organic product that must be grown without them by law, Smith-Spangler said it could either be long-lasting, now-banned pesticides in the soil or drift from nearby fields.”

      So, if we get rid of non-organic production methods over time, then the organic foods would be even healthier (read: pesticide-free) than they already are.

      • wombats lives in [redacted] says:

        Response to point:
        a) There is no proof that it’s better for you. Claiming that it’s better or worse with the limited current studies haven’t provided clear results.
        b) People are often claiming taste is much better of a vs b, but when fed both blindly they can’t tell the difference. In other cases, if a person is given two parts of the same thing (IE one apple), but are told one is organic and the other is not they will hype up the one they favor.
        c) Organic farming tends to require more land and energy to grow the same amount of food produced using current methods.

        In short, I always turn to chefboyardee when I’m looking for scientific based facts pertaining to the benefits of organic food.

  15. grillin_man says:

    I’ll take ‘ingesting 7% vs 38% detectable pesticide residue’ for $1,000, Alex

    Outside of that – do I feel smug for buying organic and/or locally-grown? No…but I’ve never though that organic was more nutritious…as others have said – an apple is an apple. I *do* appreciate getting to know the person that has worked so hard for the meat/produce that I buy.

    …and I like ingesting less detectable pesticide residue whenever possible

  16. trswyo says:

    I never bought it for the nurtrient level. Its about taste and little to no added chemicals. I find that beef, chicken, and pork fed a no-grain, pasture fed, or organic feed has a much better taste. Just my personal opinion. Yes, you put the two infront of me I can tell the difference. Its been tried.

    I am not some crazy hippy, I just care what I eat and my family eats. I don’t buy everything organic, but I do try to keep the important items that way. If you are a good bargin hunter, you usually can find farms that offer animals for nearly the same cost as factory farm animals… however you can visit the farm, see how the animal is raised, fed, and processed.

  17. SeattleSeven says:

    “there was more detectable pesticide residue in conventional products compared to organic (38% to 7%),”

    I buy organic because of what is NOT in it. Not because I thought it would somehow contain extra vitamin A.

    I tend to steer toward organic for items that are hard to wash or items that pick up dirt and such as they grow (brussels sprouts for example)

    • Coleoptera Girl says:

      Apples are a big carrier of pesticides because of the indentation where the stem comes out. Any very sweet fruit that has such indentations where water (and pesticides) pools and low-growing fruits (berries, especially strawberries) are fruits that I buy organic whenever I can. Sooner or later, I’ll have myself an organic strawberry patch…

  18. RobinB says:

    The study only covered a 2-year period, so the long term effects of chemicals causing cancer and other diseases couldn’t be measured here. Same for measuring long-term resistance build-up to antibiotics.

  19. Kuri says:

    Heh, celery has zero nutritional value outside of fiber and we need it, so, I don’t think it’s any worse.

  20. STXJK says:

    Worry less about organic vs. inorganic, and instead shop local. Better produce every time.

    • Banished to the Corner says:

      Absolutely. I read the comment from someone about the fruit from the Farmer’s market tasting better than the fruit in the local store. It’s because the Farmer’s market usually has fresher food.

      I grew up where we had fresh corn. I’ve tasted corn that was a few days old, and it’s good if you’ve never had it within hours of it being picked. If you get used to stopping at the farmer’s stand and seeing the forklift bring in the corn JUST picked in the field, you learn to appreciate the incredible flavor. Now I live in LA and can’t find good, really fresh corn to save my soul.

  21. TuxthePenguin says:

    Can someone please define what “sustainable” farming is? And why that’s the goal?

    The reason I ask is I thought the entire idea of farming/agricultural technology was to push the yield per acre as high as possible without turning the land into dust. Wouldn’t anything producing less than that yield per acre technically be sustainable, but actually a worse outcome?

    • trswyo says:
      • TuxthePenguin says:

        Except this includes “social and economic equity”. Why? If we can do with ten people what it used to take 100, why should we use 10? I’d much rather allow those people to learn newer, more useful skills and make society even more productive.

        Again, our aim should be to produce the highest yield without affecting future yield (so that prevents topsoil depletion, etc) and society’s health (pesticide runoff, etc). Creating keep-busy jobs shouldn’t be one of those goals.

  22. Budala says:

    I’d still rather eat beef that hasn’t been pumped with antibiotics and fed genetically modified corn. I’d also rather drink milk from cows that have been eating their natural foods.

    I really don’t care of the nutritional content between the organic and non-organic and most people will agree that was never in their mind when making a purchasing decision.

    I’ll go as far as saying that one is a fool that thought that organic food gave them a higher nutritional value over non-organic, as the farmers have been trying to improve the food and not make it worse.

  23. quail20 says:

    Anyone else think that the nutrition myth of organic food got started as a way to promote the product to the self-centered? Or do you think it was just one of those “telephone games” where good for the environment morphed into must be more nutritious for me?

  24. jumbojeepman says:

    I never heard the benefits were more nutrition from organic, I thought the benefits were less chemicals and no genetically altered products.

  25. jp7570-1 says:

    SInce organics do not use conventional pesticides or herbicides, organic farming operations these chemicals do not contribute to polluted runoff. That is an important point missing from the debate. It has nothing to do with whether or not organic fruits and vegetables are “better”.

  26. Kusac says:

    From what I understand, organic foods are not a viable option. If all the farms in the world were converted to organic food, it would only be able to sustain approximately 4 billion people. Do we have any volunteers for the 2 billion that would starve?

    • trswyo says:

      True, using today’s technologies organic farming produces on average 5% less yield in beans and fruits and 25% less yield in veggies. (Study from McGill University in Montreal and the University of Minnesota). However with a little research I am sure that can easily change.

      Also, take into account that conventional farming produces on average about 3000 caleries a day per person globally. With on average 215 full meals wasted per person annually. So do we really need everything produced conventional? I am sure there is a profitable venture to find a balance between the two.

      Organic farming is not just about the food, its about environment. 171 million metric tons of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is used annually (same study). It also takes more water to grow conventional crops vs organic as the soil doesn’t retain as much of the water.

  27. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    Option 4 – was never stupid enough to buy into it in the first place.

  28. Telekinesis123 says:

    This is a ridiculous flawed “study” It’s not about the vitamin content it’s the pesticides and chemical residue that are all over them which are known to be cancerous and toxic in other ways, some of those effects take much longer then 4 years to develop.

    Nice strawman of vitamins they created, it’s never been about vitamins as the #1 thing.

    • Coleoptera Girl says:

      +1
      This was definitely a “duh!” study aimed at getting a conclusive-sounding answer to the question, “Are organically grown foods better for you?” It didn’t fully answer the question…

      • Telekinesis123 says:

        Yep, strawman. Break down one issue which was not ever the main issue and hope people “throw the baby out with the bat water”, putting the whole subject out of their minds even ones that are not addressed by the study and are the real main reasons people want organic.

        Oh you mean non organic bananas are just as yellow?! Guess the whole pesticide and carcinogen issues are solved because both bananas are yellow. Yep, case closed.

  29. i_fix_it says:

    I read studies in the past that said organic produce can have more nutrition depending on the quality of the fertilizer used and for how long the soil has been “upgraded”.

  30. Overheal says:

    Not a flawed study, as it targets nutrition, but as they say its also about pesticides and other garbage that are in the foods. For instance compare foods that are artificially fortified with chemically manufactured vitamins and the risk of cancer and disease. Even if you told me HFCS had as much glucose value as Sugar, I would still pick sugar as the healthier option.

    Which would you rather: a real organic piece of chicken, or one that has the same protein, etc. and costs less but oh yeah it’s full of estrogen and it might encourage your body to grow exaggerated man boobs? Spoiler alert: if you do the pepsi trial between organic and mass production meats, theres a definite difference in texture and flavor. Nutrition might be the same, but that’s all thats the same.

    • Telekinesis123 says:

      Consumerist even had a story ran about HFCS last year or so about how rats fed the exact same caloric content but one being sugar the other in HFCS, the ones fed the HFCS gained something like 30% more body fat (not sure the exact number but it was quite significant).

      The whole lobby is built around them trying to prove it’s functionally identical in the body but studies have proven otherwise, the body deals with HFCS and sugar differently.

  31. Pete & Repeat says:

    “Some of the most notable findings from the study include the fact that there wasn’t much of a difference between the vitamin content of A, C and E in organic fruits and veggies compared to conventional produce, and that while there was more detectable pesticide residue in conventional products compared to organic (38% to 7%), the amount was usually still below the maximum allowed limits in the European Union.”

    I’ll take the 38% – 7% reduction of toxins spread in/on my food, please! Also, did they study meat? Because organic milk, eggs, meat doesn’t have antibiotics, growth hormone, etc. Organic food is also not GM food. Google a bit about GM feed causing sterility in animals on farms…or watch Food, Inc.

  32. trencherman says:

    I buy organic milk because it tastes better and lasts so much longer without going sour that it ends up costing less. This may be because it’s ultra pasteurized, or whatever the term is. I don’t drink milk except in my coffee, so it needs to last a long time.

  33. MuleHeadJoe says:

    I saw the reports on this via other channels … I didn’t read any of them end to end, but after skimming all of them (including the Consumerist’s entry into the fray) I’ve come to realize that nothing has changed. Most American consumers are dolts. Organic has NEVER meant that the food was more nutritious or healthier >>to eat<<. Organic has ALWAYS meant that the food was grown (or raised if animal sourced food) in a more environmentally sustainable and responsible manner. PERIOD. POINT BLANK. THAT'S IT, THAT'S ALL. In the words of Syndrome, "lame lame lame lame lame!"

    • fleef says:

      THANK YOU- methinks there’s a Monsanto agenda in that “news story” somewhere…

    • Zyada says:

      This. Plus from what I’ve heard, Monsanto is the Monster cable of agri-business.

      Hmmm… MONster cable, MONsanto. Maybe they’re the IlluMONati?

  34. cspschofield says:

    Organic produce requires more land to grow the same amount of food; it is, therefore, WORSE for the environment in at least one way.

    • RayanneGraff says:

      Not to mention that the yields of organic farming are lower than modern farming as well, so you’re using more land & more resources to grow LESS food.

    • Badger29 says:

      It’s incredibly naive to think the higher yields of conventional farming come without cost. The high yields of modern farming come from genetically engineered seeds from a monopolized source, heavily used pesticides and fertilizer, and are pulling nutrients from the soil at an incredible rate. That’s the point of organic farming that is totally missed. And when is it suddenly “WORSE for the environment” to simply not squeeze every possible bushel out of an acre?

  35. Difdi says:

    Organic products are generally healthier not because of the nutritional content, but because of what the food does not contain.

    The point is that we won’t know what the full effects of gene modified foods, chemical additives or other things are for generations. We do know what the effects of food without those things are, however.

    Sure, scientists employed by the genetic engineering companies say the products are totally safe. Scientists and even medical doctors used to say the same things about cigarettes.

    • Therulnig says:

      Some stuff I prefer organic and will pay the price difference, some it isn’t worth it. “Organic” is a popular marketing term (multi-billion dollar marketing scheme) now so it is important to know what exactly you are paying up to twice as much for because the grocery brands are well known to deceive in marketing as much as they legally can.

      “Organic” doesn’t automatically mean that the food is GMO-free, straight from the land, and treated with the utmost care (in the case of animals).

  36. Mr. Spy says:

    I was dead set against it, but then I tasted some organic fruit. Go figure, it does taste better. So yeah, if it costs just slightly more I might opt for organic. Otherwise, probably not.