Studies show mixed results on organic food

Pesticide-free produce may not provide added health benefits, according to European research

By Kayla Hrynyk |

America’s cultural retaliation against expanding waistlines has launched a number of alternatives for the health-conscious consumer. While we may easily disregard the phrase “healthy fast food” as an oxymoron, the subject of organic foods comes packaged with some surprising controversy.

To many, the word “organic” is simply synonymous with “healthier.” College students on a budget usually tack on an alternative meaning: “pricier.”

“I buy organic,” senior Kenny Ray said. “I think it’s worth the extra money because it’s healthier. I just read the labels.”

But what exactly makes these foods healthier, and therefore worth the extra cost?

Generally, organic foods have strict restrictions on the use of synthetic pesticides and must be certified by the United States Department of Agriculture. Organic enthusiasts claim that this sort of production reduces health risks by keeping harmful chemicals and pesticides out of the food, according to the Organic Consumers Association.

Honor Schaulland, the campaign assistant of the Organic Consumers Association, said, “If [the food] doesn’t have pesticides and genetically modified organisms, then your body doesn’t have to deal with that, as well as digesting it.”

However, very few studies have been done to compare the nutritional values of organic and non-organic foods. Although supporters of organics will claim that organically grown food has been shown to contain higher levels of nutrients, no concrete evidence exists to support this notion.

In an article written for the Africa News Network, Melbourne science writer Elizabeth Finkel said, “There is tremendous variation in the nutritional make-up of fruit and vegetables regardless of whether they were grown by organic or conventional means.”

Nutritional variation exists in dairy products as well, as demonstrated in the studies done on dairy products in Sweden and Denmark.
In the Denmark study, cows were fed a corn-based diet and the organic milk had higher levels of vitamins A and E.

But in the Swedish study conducted by the Swedish University of Agriculture earlier this year, scientists reported no nutritional differences in the milk from their cows, whose diets are largely comprised of grass and clover on both types of farms.

When organic farmers adhere to the proper composting procedures, harmful microbes are destroyed. However, data presented by the Center for Global Food Issues shows that although only 1 percent of America’s diet consists of organic foods, about 8 percent of E. coli cases result from organic foods. Studies such as these make one wonder how strictly these procedures are followed.

Raw fruits and vegetables are not the only products sold with organic labels. In April 2003, Frito-Lay launched a line of organic snack foods, including Tostitos Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips. Packaged in natural-looking tones and spattered with catch phrases boasting the product’s nutritional benefits, these chips are designed to appeal to health-conscious shoppers.

Organics may seem like a shortcut to healthy living, but chips contain high amounts of fat and sodium regardless of how their ingredients are grown. Tostitos Natural Yellow Corn Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips contain 140 calories and six grams of fat, while Tostitos Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips also contain 140 calories and seven grams of fat.

The best option for the calorie conscious may be the light version of the conventional tortilla chips, which contain only 90 calories and one gram of fat per serving. But some believe that even the fact that we have such a thing as organic snack foods demonstrates the displacement of American health values to some people.

“Calories are calories,” sophomore Gordon Burt said. “If I eat a slice of bunny bread white instead of organic whole wheat, I’ll just walk or bike another mile. I don’t see what’s so ethically important about organics. If you’re obese or unhealthy, it’s not because you eat less natural foods.”

Aside from health benefits, organic enthusiasts claim that the production of organic food is better for the environment. But because organic farming yields about half the harvest conventional farming does, it also uses twice the amount of land.

The United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs conducted a study whose results further expose the misconception of organic foods. According to their findings, organically grown vine tomatoes require more than two times the amount of energy and six times the amount of space that conventionally grown tomatoes require to fully mature. They also release 100 times more carbon dioxide because they are heated in greenhouses.

Similar reports for poultry and dairy products were documented in the study. Buying locally grown produce, no matter what production methods were used, actually serves as a more environmentally friendly option because the vegetables don’t have to travel great distances while emitting CO2 gases into the atmosphere during their voyage.

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