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Cargill's Way

The rotten apples surrounding Stanford's organics study

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PESKY PESTICIDES 'Organic isn't more nutritious' screams of cognitive dissonance—also of funding from Big Ag.
  • PESKY PESTICIDES 'Organic isn't more nutritious' screams of cognitive dissonance—also of funding from Big Ag.

The way headlines broke around a recent Stanford study comparing organic and conventionally grown foods, you'd think organic had been left for dead.

The New York Times, for example, announced that "Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce." Maybe the doubt was inferred from the meta-study's lukewarm synopsis: "The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

Now wait a minute. It's true that ideologues can attribute positive benefits to whatever they want, but organic food has never been seriously touted as more nutritious or vitamin-rich than conventional food. Nor is it the cure for HIV, or the preferred food of unicorns.

Organic has always been defined by what it isn't, and the first rule of organic food is that it's free of things like "pesticide residues" and "antibiotic-resistant bacteria." The study confirms what organic supporters have long purported to be the case: organic food is less adulterated by things you don't want in your food.

The organic watchdog group Cornucopia Institute called the Stanford study "biased" in a Sept. 12 press release, which also raised questions about the study's funding. Several of the authors are fellows and affiliates of Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute, which has received funding from big-ag companies, including Cargill.

The study synthesized the results of 237 previously conducted studies that had compared nutrient and pesticide residue levels in organic and conventional food. While residue levels were compared with the EPA's allowable levels (they mostly complied), Cornucopia noted that the study did not discuss any of the specific dangers posed by pesticides, such as a 2010 study in the journal Pediatrics that found children with organophosphate pesticides in their systems were more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Another organophosphate pesticide is chlorpyrifos, which also poses a risk to the brains of children, especially via prenatal exposure. Once widely used as a residential roach killer, chlorpyrifos was banned for home use by the EPA in 2001. The chemical is still permitted for agricultural use on fruit trees and vegetables, and is known by its Dow trade name Lorsban. According to the EPA, 10 million pounds of it is applied annually in the United States.

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