July 31, 2009

Organic Shmanic?

A lot of articles ran this week about a study commissioned by the UK's Food Standards Agency that found that there is no significant nutritional difference between conventional and organically grown foods. To which I say, hurrah, because for anyone who can't always afford organic (myself included plenty of the time), that's pretty good news, and at least we're not missing out on good nutrition in the meantime while we figure out more sustainable ways to produce our food.

While it's good information to have (though their methods are getting a lot of criticism), I'd personally be more interested to see a study comparing the nutritional value of local crops harvested seasonally vs. ones picked green, flown overseas and ripened artificially, or perhaps comparing crops bred to withstand pesticides vs. an heirloom variety. When you're deciding between two items in the store, it's not like your choices are always going to be the exact same variety of a crop with the only difference being how each one was produced.

And anyway, I don't think nutritional content is the best reason to buy organic products. For one, as most reporting on this study has pointed out, the study doesn't address any chemical residue found on the plants. And for two, it doesn't address the environmental impact of farming with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which is my chief reason for buying organic when possible. To me, it's like ordering coffee in a paper cup versus a styrofoam one, if for some reason there was a bizarre coffee house that gave you a choice and charged $1 more for the paper cup. It's money that's unfortunately coming out of my pocket, yes, but if the styrofoam has to end up in a landfill (I know you can recycle it, but let's pretend Bizarro Coffeehouse won't let you) and the paper cup is easily recyclable, the paper cup is the ethical choice.

So therein you have my rant for today, but I hope you'll do some research for yourself as well. Here are a few resources:

Civil Eats breaks down the flaws in the FSA report
Basic requirements for organic certification (PDF)
LinkThe USDA's National Organic Program (not very useful in my opinion, but it's the "official" site)
Iowa State study assessing the economic impact of the US's current farming system (as much as $16.9 billion per year)
The Environmental Working Group's list (and iPhone app) of what produce has the most and least pesticide residueMark Bittman talks about eating healthfully, organic or not

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