A Missing Variable

July 9th, 2010 | Simcha Weinstein | 2 Comments »

In the past 20 years, I would venture to guess there has easily been at least a hundred (if not more) studies comparing the nutritional value of organically raised food (typically fruits and vegetables) to the nutritional value of the same food grown using conventional farming methods. Most of the studies that I have researched or read about tend to conclude that there is really no difference at all, and it’s simply an implied myth that organic foods are more nutritious. I’m not a scientist and am really not qualified to make a statement about the legitimacy of these findings. I basically have to assume that the findings themselves are based on accurate scientific data. Where I do take exception is with the actual methodology of the studies. The typical format is to compare the vitamin and nutrient content of each fruit or vegetable – one raised organically; the other raised conventionally. While this seems to make sense on the surface, the studies fail to consider a rather significant variable, which is that the conventional product has been subjected to pesticide use throughout its growing cycle. Not to consider this as part of the study is like comparing the nutritional value of a crab that was just caught off the Gulf Coast to a crab caught off the shores of Maryland. The actual nutrients and vitamins may still stack up pretty well side-by-side, but there is the ever so small point that the Gulf Coast crab has been laced with petroleum and dispersants. To ignore this as part of the nutritional value of the crabs would easily be considered by most people to be pretty irresponsible and disingenuous. It’s troubling that pesticides on fruits and vegetables are not typically viewed as part of the nutritional makeup of these foods. It would seem that these studies are incomplete at best, providing information that seems to dismiss the health benefits of eating organic fresh food.

When a study is described as comparing nutritional content, readers of these studies will tend to believe that since organic food doesn’t test any better than conventionally grown food, there is no real health benefit to eating organic; and sadly, this just plays into the mythology that organic is over-hyped and not really worth it. It seems that studies and statistics (although they seem to have science on their side) can be very subjective and easily manipulated to get the answers and results we desire. At the very least, these studies should acknowledge that even though the nutritional and vitamin content of these foods appears the same, conventional products are raised using chemical fertilizers and pesticides that are known carcinogens, proven by many studies to be harmful to human health. At least then, the full scientific picture will be represented.