January 14, 2013

Organic agriculture often subject of debate

Here we are again in the deep winter months.

For those of us involved in North Country agriculture, this a time not for toiling in the field, but for deep thoughts about farming philosophies and planning for future ventures. 

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about organic agriculture. Back in September, Stanford University published the results of a study about organic food that the media latched on to, most likely because it challenged at least one of our notions about the benefits of “organic.” We know that organic food costs more than conventionally grown food (there are lots of reasons for this, but I’ll save that list for another article), and it can be a big budgetary decision about whether to spend money on organic.

In case you missed the uproar, let me recap the Stanford study for you. The research team, which included medical doctors Dena Bravata and Crystal Smith-Spangler, said that “they did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives.” 

The Stanford scientists did not conduct their own “hands-on” study, such as breaking down organic and non-organic broccoli into nutrients and measuring them. They embarked on a “meta-analysis.” This involves reviewing the research and results that others have conducted and published, sifting through tons of information and trying to make sense of it for the rest of us. 

In the end, the Stanford group dealt a blow to the organic-food world by essentially saying there’s no observable difference in health benefits between conventional and (pricier) organic food. At least, that’s the part the media chose to pass along, and it certainly got a rise out of me. Organic enthusiasts and experts were upset and determined to set the record straight.

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