Stanford Organic Food Study Flawed
October 17, 2012
The research asserted that there was no difference between conventional and organic food.
By LISA GARBER | NATURAL SOCIETY | OCTOBER 17, 2012
We broke the story of Stanford’s ridiculous organic food study the very night of its publication. Now, a month later, the media is catching on to the study’s flaws; New York Times Opinion columnist Mark Bittman apologized for hoping—in vain—that the study would have little impact on the media. “That was dumb of me,” he says, “and I’m sorry.”
Narrow Definitions and Egregious Oversights
The study suggests that organic animal and plant products are no healthier than conventionally grown varieties. Bittman puts it beautifully: “By providing ‘useful’ and ‘counterintuitive’ information about organic food, [the study authors] played right into the hands of the news hungry while conveniently obscuring important features of organic agriculture.”
The study authors narrowly—and misleadingly—defined the word “nutritious” and “healthy,” and on numerous occasions contradicted themselves. How can food that the authors admit “may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria” also be no more or less healthy than foods that don’t? How can foods that put less waste and toxins into the groundwater be no more or less healthy for us than foods that pollute our water and harm those—animals and human—who drink it? We already know of the many nasty effects of pesticides and dangers of GMOs.
Even within its narrow constructs, the study authors erred. Newcastle University researcher Kirsten Brandt last year published a similar analysis of studies to conclude that organic foods do contain more nutrients. How did Stanford miss this? By misspelling a critical class of nutrients found in produce that changed the results of the research: flavonols.
Accusations of Elitism Misplaced
Shortly after the study’s publication, fellow New York Times writer Roger Cohen “cheered” for its results and collectively called organic consumers narcissists. He does admit that organic farming is “probably better for the environment,” but crucifies it for being “an elitist, pseudoscientific indulgence shot through with hype.”
Cohen’s accusation may be true for the likes of Whole Foods executives, who scream “buy organic” while filling their pretty stores with GMO-laden or GMO-supporting foods like Larabar, owned by General Mills, which has contributed over $500,000 to defeat Proposition 37. (If you haven’t seen the undercover ‘Organic Spies’ video about Whole Foods and GMOs, check it out in the past link.)
But the truth is this: organic farming is better for the earth and better for us. The cost of this can be quite high; that’s why we must join together to promote organic, biodynamic farming across the globe rather than subjecting farmers in Africa to Monsanto corn, debt, and health problems. Monsanto doesn’t care about underprivileged farmers. They care about lining their pockets.
Organic living should be available to all of us. It may seem like pie in the sky to some, but it isn’t. And we certainly shouldn’t be stopping the revolution.
To top it off, it’s worth noting that Stanford may have downplayed the benefits of food in response to a hefty donation from Cargill, the biggest private company in the US. Although connections to a political or financial body may not indicate guilt, it’s certainly not helping.
So, who’s elitist now?