Is organic food healthier? This is a question that comes up time and time again….
In September, 2012, Stanford University released a study claiming that organics are no more nutritious than conventional foods. To say this study fell short could be an understatement. The media, of course, created an entire news buzz of this inaccurate information.
For those of us working towards improving health in our country, a questions arose.
•Who funded this study?
Well, the answer might surprise you.
There are close ties between Standford’s Freeman Spogli Institute and the chemical and agribusiness industry. The Freeman Spogli Institute supports the researchers.
Charlotte Vallaeyes, Food and Farm Policy Director at the Cornocopia Institute (a non-profit organic farm policy organization) said:
“There was just no way that truly independent scientists with the expertise required to adequately answer such an important question would ignore the vast and growing body of scientific literature pointing to serious health risks from eating foods produced with synthetic chemicals…. So we were not one bit surprised to find that the agribusiness giant Cargill, the world’s largest agricultural business enterprise, and foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which have deep ties to agricultural chemical and biotechnology corporations like Monsanto, have donated millions to Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute, where some of the scientists who published this study are affiliates and fellows.”
So let’s get to the truth! Is organic food healthier? Here are three scientific reasons the answer to that question is YES.
1. Protection from ingesting GMOs. Organics do not allow GMOs.
So are GMOs really so bad?…
Let’s explore that question.
Also in September of 2012, a 2-year study led by molecular biologist, Gilles-Eric Seralini, conducted at Caen University in France, found alarming results.
It was a long-term (chronic) toxicity study which unexpectedly found increased rates of tumorigenesis and mortality. This, Dr. Seralini, felt he had to report.
The study has been peer reviewed by independent scientists to guarantee that the experiments were properly conducted and the results are valid.
This study is first to consider the impact of eating a genetically modified diet over the two-year lifetime of rats.
The rats were fed GM corn; here are the results, as reported by the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom:
• Between 50 to 80 per cent of female rats developed large tumors by the beginning of the 24th month, with up to three tumors per animal. Only 30 per cent of the control rats developed tumors.
• Up to 70 per cent of females died prematurely compared with only 20 per cent in the control grouTumors in rats of both sexes fed the GM corn were two to three times larger than in the control group
• The large tumors appeared in females after seven months, compared to 14 months in the control group. The team said the tumors were ‘deleterious to health due to a very large size’, making it difficult for the rats to breathe and causing digestive problems.
Professor Seralini published the study article in the U.S. Journal Food and Journal Chemical Toxicolgy. Following widespread criticism by scientists, Food and Chemical Toxicology retracted the paper in November 2013 after the authors refused to withdraw it. In June 2014 an amended version of the article was republished in Environmental Sciences Europe, and the raw data were made public.
2. The number 2 reason to eat organic is dangerous pesticide avoidance.
This is another aspect of the recent Stanford University study that I think could have and should have been addressed more thoroughly.
Round-Up may be the most dangerous pesticide but it’s not the only dangerous pesticide.
So what’s the big deal about pesticides?
Don’t they just wash off? Well, some do, but not all pesticides wash off. There is a group of pesticides called ‘systemic pesticides’ that cannot be washed off because they are actually absorbed by the plant.
The four main systemic pesticides are:
• Imidaccloprid – Used on tomatoes and leafy greens
• Thiamextham – Used on most fruit and vegetable crops
• Clothiandin – Used on corn, canola, sugar beets and as a soil treatment for potatoes
• Dinotefuran – Used on cumbers, leafy greens and potatoes
You are definitely ingesting these chemicals if you are eating these types of produce conventionally.
Do pesticides stay in the body once we’ve ingested them?
Well, unfortunately, the answer is yes….
Many different studies have been performed with different types of pesticides and they do linger in the bloodstream.
Here are a couple of examples:
Researchers at the University of Washington (published online January 2008) did a study involving 23 children. All of these kids went through urine testing for organophosphorus (OP), an insecticide used to kill bugs through disrupting their nervous systems.
The study was broken down into three phases:
• In phase 1, the kids ate a diet of conventionally grown foods.
• During phase 2, the kids ate a diet of predominantly organic foods for five days
• Then in phase 3, the kids went back to conventional foods.
Here are the shocking results:
- In phase 1, all the kids had OP in their urine
- Then, in phase two, OP metabolites were below the levels of detection after just five days of eating organically
- When the kids returned to a conventional diet in phase three, OP metabolites were once again present in their urine.
OPs are are among the most acutely toxic pesticides, being classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as highly toxic.
The University Of Washington researchers determined that a diet composed of predominantly organic food ‘provides a dramatic and immediate effect against exposures to organophosphous pesticides.’
A second study that caught my eye was conducted by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynocology at the University of Sherbrooke Hospital in Quebec, Canada (2011).
In this study, pesticides associated to genetically modified foods were measured in the blood and placenta of pregnant women, as well as the blood of non-pregnant women.
Scientists specifically looked at the levels of the herbicides glyphosate (GLYF) and gluphosinate (GLUF) plus the bacterial toxin Bacillus Thuringiensis, known as bt.
The aim of the study was to evaluate the correlation between maternal and fetal exposure.
Researchers also wanted to determine the levels of:
• Gluphosinate and its metabolite known as 3-MP
• Glyphosphate and its metabolite known as AMP
• Cry1Ab, a bt toxin
Blood from thirty pregnant women and thirty-nine non-pregnant women was studied. The results showed the following:
• Glyphosphate and gluphosphate were both detected in the blood of all the non-pregnant women, but not the pregnant women.
• The metabolites 3-MPPA and CryAb1 toxin were detected in the non-pregnant women, pregnant women and their fetuses.
This study, being the first of its kind, revealing the presence of circulating pesticides associated to genetically modified foods will pave the way for a new field of reproductive toxicology.
How do you avoid pesticides?
Well, eating organically will help you.
According to the USDA detection data, conventional crops were six times more likely to contain multiple pesticide residues. (Food Additives & Contaminants, May 2002)
3. Eating Organically is More Humane
As a child of restaurant owners, I always knew where our food came from and that the source of our protein was once a living creature. After all the fish were still kicking when they arrived.
I feel confident in saying that the same is not true for kids, or even a lot of adults, today. Not only are we, as a nation, unaware of where our food comes from, but how farm animals are treated and how treatment effects quality.
More and more is ‘in the news‘ about inhumane treatment of farm animals. Truth be told, if you were to see some of the photos that come to me, most readers would be up in arms.
Organic farming does not guarantee humane treatment but it certainly is a start. Laws govern organic farming which give farm animals a better chance of a life where they can exhibit there natural behavioral patterns.
The definition of organic as written by the USDA’s National Organic program is:
‘Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.’
So what does this mean for livestock and poultry? Federal regulation states:
‘Livestock that are to be sold and labeled organic must be from livestock under continuous organic management from the last third of gestation or hatching. Poultry or edible poultry products must be from poultry that has been under continuous organic management beginning no later than the second day of life.’
Feed must be totally comprised of agricultural products that are organically produced and handled as outlined by National Organic Program.
Prohibited practices include:
- Drugs, including growth hormones.
- Feeding animals plastic pellets to provide roughage. (YUK!)
- Feeding animals feed formulas that contain urea or manure (This has happened in our farming system….)
- Feeding farm animals slaughter-by-products. (Reading this one, I had to ask myself WHY a farmer would feed an animal that is vegetarian, meat? But it has happened – laws are put in place for a reason….)
It’s horrible to think that we, as a nation, would feed our live stock and poultry feed that would make them ill…..it happens in conventional farming. Corn, for example, is not a part of a cow’s natural feed. Cows eat grass.
According to the National Organic Program, the producer of an organic livestock production must ‘establish and maintain year-round living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals, including’:
- Year-round access to the outdoors
- Exercise areas
- Fresh air
- Clean water for drinking
- Direct sunlight, suitable to the species, its stage of life and the climate
- The opportunity to exercise
In other words, a cow is allowed to act like a cow, it may walk around, graze and interact with other ruminants. Chickens can peck at the ground and run around, having ample room. This list may sound like basics but in conventional farming, it doesn’t always happen…
In conventional farming, CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) do not provide these ‘luxuries’ to the animals we eat.
Allowing natural behavior of our livestock and poultry provides less stress and a more natural, humane life cycle to these animals. The organic label is controlled by law; in order for farmers to utilize the label, compliance is a must. And, yes, there is a system of checks and balances. The organic label is not easy to come by for farmers, and once achieved, is precious.
If you are buying from a farmers market and you get to know your farmer, they will be happy and proud to tell you how they grow their livestock, poultry and produce. Small farmers are hard-working folks! It’s my humble opinion that we have to be very careful when it comes to agribusiness. It’s not easy to feed a nation as large as ours, especially at the rate that America is over-eating but I feel that a humane system of raising our food is a key issue. If you feel that way too, consider organics.
You may learn more about the National Organic Program here.
Takeaways on the question: Is organic food healthier?
Yes it is because:
- You are protected against GMOs
- You avoid ingesting dangerous pesticides
- Eating organic is more humane