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Stanford study on the health benefits of organic food: What people are saying

I've worked in the medical school's news office for more than a decade, and I recall only a handful of studies getting the type of media attention that our organic-food one has gotten. (In case you missed it: Researchers here found little evidence of health benefits from organic foods. Senior author Dena Bravata, MD, MS, told one reporter that based on the findings, she doesn't "go out of my way to buy organic food anymore.") The attention isn't that surprising: Many people have strong feelings about organic foods, and I suspect many more - reporters included - want to know if buying organic is worth their money.

Journalists from around the world jumped on the story, and here's a sampling of what they and their sources had to say about the research.

ABC News' Liz Neporent:

So the bottom line? Not all conventionally grown foods contain residue nor are organics always the more virtuous choice. A good rule of thumb: Skin can protect the fruit or vegetable from any pesticide exposure so when the outside can be peeled away, it may not be worth spending the extra cash for organic.

The Bad Deal's Ryan Sutton:

But here’s the thing: Many of us who pay more for organic or free range meats and vegetables don’t actually expect something healthier. And we don’t pay more for fewer pesticides or to reduce our exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria.

We pay more for organic or free range products because we believe it’s the right thing to do. We want to support the farmers and growers who treat their animals, their crops and mother nature’s land with respect and dignity. And even though “organics” and “free range” have become part of BIG FOOD, we believe that it’s a better way of doing things.

Discovery News' Emily Sohn:

Together, the results are too inconclusive and disparate to draw any major conclusions, said Betsy Wattenberg, a toxicologist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

In order to really know anything about food-related risks that people tend to care most about, such as cancer or reproductive and developmental health issues, we would need carefully controlled studies that last for years or even decades.

Those kinds of studies don’t exist, and they are likely impossible to do.

Writer @michaelpollan [discussing a New York Times article on the study]:

Read closely: 1, not as negative as headlines suggest. 2. nutrition has never been imp. case for organic.

New York Times' Kenneth Chang:

The conclusions [of this study] will almost certainly fuel the debate over whether organic foods are a smart choice for healthier living or a marketing tool that gulls people into overpaying.

NPR's David Greene:

I feel kind of duped. I mean, I was in a grocery store and was seriously thinking about buying organic raspberries the other day – I figured, [if] organic it must be better. How did this industry explode and become this big without someone at some point earlier saying ‘you know, we don’t know if this is any better?'

Reuters Health's Genevra Pittman:

Chensheng Lu, who studies environmental health and exposure at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said that while the jury is still out on [the effects of pesticides], people should consider pesticide exposure in their grocery-shopping decisions.

"If I was a smart consumer, I would choose food that has no pesticides," Lu, who wasn't involved in the new study, told Reuters Health. "I think that's the best way to protect your health."

He said more research is necessary to fully explore the potential health and safety differences between organic and conventional foods, and that it's "premature" to conclude organic meat and produce isn't any healthier than non-organic versions.

The Atlantic's Brian Fung:

That we needed a study to understand how nutritionally similar organic foods are to non-organics is a perfect example of the way we've lost sight of what the term really means. It's worth keeping in mind that organic refers only to a particular method of production; while switching to organic foods can be good for you insofar as doing so helps you avoid nasty things like chemicals and additives, there's nothing in the organic foods themselves that gives them an inherent nutritional advantage over non-organics. In other words, it's not wrong to say organic food is "healthier" than non-organics. It's just unrealistic to think that your organic diet is slowly turning you into Clark Kent.

WebMD's Brenda Goodman:

Nutrition experts praised the research since it helps to dispel some myths that might make people afraid to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.


"I don't want that mom who's at the grocery store to feel guilty if she can't afford organic. That mom shouldn't feel like she's making a lesser choice," [Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, MS, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics] says.

Previously: Research shows little evidence that organic foods are more nutritious than conventional ones
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