Health conscious types, including moi, as I admit in this week's PodMed, have flocked to purveyors of so-called 'organic' foods in recent years, paying sometimes gaspingly high prices for fruits, veggies and other consumables for ourselves and our families, mostly in the quest for preserving wellness but with a sprinkling of ethics thrown in for good measure (think veal calves). Now a study in Annals of Internal Medicine tacitly gives us permission to shop at our local and often much more convenient conventional grocery store, as it debunks both myth and cachet surrounding organic foods.
The study was an analysis of 17 studies in humans and 223 studies of nutrients and contaminants in foods. Clinical outcomes were reported in only three of the studies, but found no difference in allergic reactions such as wheezing or skin reactions in people consuming conventional or organic foods, and no difference in Campylobacter infections that produced symptoms. When pesticide residues in urine were measured, children who consumed organic diets had lower levels, but when bodily fluids such as breast milk, semen, urine and serum were examined in adults, there was no difference in biomarker levels between the folks who followed an organic diet and those who didn't.
Organic foods were 30% less likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues than conventional foods, but even among the conventional foods the vast majority did not exceed maximum limits with regard to pesticide residues. There was no difference between the foods with regard to contamination with E.coli, a common cause of diarrhea.
How about meats? Most consumers cite concerns about antibiotic use in meats grown conventionally as well as contamination with resistant bacteria as reasons to choose organic. Animal welfare, especially freedom from cages, access to air and sunlight, and the outdoors, are also factors, as is concern related to conventional farming's impact on the environment. This study found that bacterial contamination of meats such as chicken and pork was common in both organic and conventional meats, but related to processing rather than farming practices. The likelihood of isolating bacteria resistant to three or more antibiotics was higher, however, in conventional meats, but only about a 30% difference.
The authors admit that organic means different things in different countries, but largely requires adherence to standards related to antibiotic and pesticide use, feed for animals, and processing sans radiation or chemical food additives. The price for these modifications is high: consumers pay up to twice as much for foods grown organically as those grown conventionally and purveyance of organic foods is big business, growing from about a $4 billion dollar industry in 1999 to over $26 billion in 2010. One scathing review of this study I read suggested that in lieu of expenditures on organic foods, maybe we should concentrate on global efforts to simply feed the very large number of folks who go hungry each day.
Other topics this week include a look at the problem of high blood pressure nationally in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, prolonged CPR in the Lancet, and ginkgo biloba and memory in the Lancet Neurology. Until next week, y'all live well.
Organic No More?,7 Comments