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Ask Reece

posted on Friday, September 28th, 2018

Dear Reece,

Could you provide me with evidence that organic food is healthier than conventional? I am trying to convince a friend, who has apparently seen studies that show there is no difference between organic and pesticide-laden foods. I find this hard to believe.

Thanks,
Cares About Real Organic Treats

Dear CAROT,

There are a couple of literature reviews, the highest form of evidence-based science, summarizing studies on organic food vs. conventional in aspects of human health (Mie, A., 2017; Gomiero, T, 2017). Neither are perfect, or perfectly conclusive, partly since nutrition studies are notoriously hard to conduct in a meaningful or long-term way (Gallegos, J, 2017). Nutritionally, the studies cited above show mixed results, with not more than a marginal benefit to eating organic, if any. As far as poisonous residues goes, there are more residues on conventional produce, but there isn’t conclusive evidence that these directly affect human health at current levels. They do affect workers’ health, though (Gomiero, T, 2017). There is some correlation between general health outcomes and eating organic foods, but there is no way to tell if that is from the organic foods or some other factors that are likely part of the lifestyle of organic food eaters (Gomiero, T, 2017). See how it’s tricky? I would add that none of these studies use local, small-farm organic foods, and there could be a significant difference nutritionally between those, and “organic” produce imported from large multinational companies (I like that Karma labels produce from specific local farms/farmers).

The question I ask myself is: does a scientifically measurable increase health from eating organic matter? There are a lot of good reasons (a reduction in greenhouse gases (Squalli, J. 2018) [farm workers’ health (mentioned above), soil health (Lori, M., 2017)] beyond human health to eat local organic produce – maybe your friend would be interested in one of those reasons. Or maybe not. Did you know it’s really hard to shift people’s opinions by presenting them with facts? Unfortunate, but true. It is so well-established it has a name in psychology – belief perseverance – and may be linked to our ability to develop hypotheses about the world from a young age (Savion, L, 2009)

Back to our subject: there is also the related benefit of supporting small, local producers, and being part of a community or network of people who care about similar things. If you and your friend still disagree on the benefits of organic food, I hope the two of you can still enjoy each other’s company and also perhaps a lively discussion about this topic you both have an interest in.

Kind regards,
Reece


Ask Reece is the Chronicle’s advice column by Karma working member Reece Steinberg, a health sciences & culinary arts librarian and food enthusiast. Reece provides advice with input from a variety of sources including anything from traditional etiquette columns to peer-reviewed scientific articles. He answers Karma member questions about dietary lifestyles, food science and fermentation, eating etiquette, and anything else, really. Please email your questions to askreece@karmacoop.org