Organic vs. Conventional Nutritional Debate

December 15th, 2009 | Simcha Weinstein | 2 Comments »

simchThumbtestingOver the past 10 years (and certainly before then) there have been quite a few studies comparing the nutritional value of organic and conventionally grown foods. The results tend to vary, with some studies showing a favoring towards organic, while some results showing absolutely no difference in their nutritional values. What is most striking about these tests are actually not so much the results, as the methodology of the studies.

Tests that tend to show that there is no nutritional benefit to eating organic foods typically did not compare amounts of antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, irradiation, or genetic modification. They did not look at any of these variables. They approached the testing from the perspective that only the nutrient content of food matters – not production methods, or effects on the environment. Focusing only on the narrow window of nutrient content, it is not surprising that these tests would find no difference in the nutritional values of organic vs. conventional foods. The fundamental makeup and biochemical content of a plant is defined by genetics, not by the way it is grown. So, if we simply look at nutrient content, the results will typically yield in favor of conventional foods being equally as nutritious as organically raised foods. That’s just science.  But this methodology would be comparable to testing different ways of fireproofing a home and coming to the conclusion that asbestos is equally as capable as other methods. Since the study was only focusing on fireproofing (and not health affects of the product), one could not reject asbestos as a capable choice. We, of course, know that such a conclusion would be absurd, because of the health dangers that have been well ­documented concerning asbestos.

By simply isolating one aspect of what is considered “healthy”, many of these food tests are providing equally incomplete conclusions about the nutritional value of what we eat. To not consider the impact of chemical pesticides and fertilizers as part of the overall “health and nutrition makeup” of our food detracts from the results of the testing. The next time you read about a study that implies that there is no evidence to prove organic food is healthier than conventional food, it might be worth looking into the testing methodology. It’s not to imply that any testing that would show that organic and conventional foods provide a similar nutritional experience is inaccurate. It’s more about creating a “testing playing field” that is level and fair, and capable of producing accurate results.