Stanford University’s study on the nutritional value of organic foods raised several eyebrows last week when it concluded “the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.”
Yet organic advocates were quick to latch onto one sliver of hope from the study — slight evidence supporting a 30 per cent reduced exposure to pesticides in organics. Everyone knows organic foods cost more, but advocates have long justified their cost since they’re said to be less toxic. So are they correct?
One agriculture technology scientist (and Stanford U alum) named S.D. Savage isn’t convinced. “The Stanford-association authors drew the cautious conclusion that ‘consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues,’ but they didn’t do anything to put that statement in perspective,” he blogged on Applied Mythology.
Photo: USDA Gov
The reason is two-fold. First off, in its Pesticide Detection Program report, the US Department of Agriculture found “the vast majority of the residues” detected “are at less than one part per million (1 milligram/kilogram). There really are not very many chemicals, synthetic or natural, that are of concern at these levels,” Savage says.
What’s more, the pesticides we think of as “dangerous” really aren’t that bad. “… The old chemicals have been steadily replaced by much less hazardous ones that have emerged from a multi-billion dollar discover effort,” Savage writes. “That is why 36.6 per cent of the residues detected in 2010 were for chemicals that are less toxic to mammals than things like salt, or vinegar or the citric acid in your lemons.”
Savage cites other considerations, like the EPA’s tolerance level assessment, which analyses the risks of every new pesticide that farmers want to use and sets levels and regulations on how they can be used. But he concludes that if there’s anything to be taken away from Stanford’s study, it’s that more research still needs to be done. For now, it’s safe to assume consumers can blow off the hype and have confidence in buying “conventional” foods.
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