Are organically produced foods a healthier personal choice? A recent survey by Stanford University medical researchers of 240 prior studies investigating organic foods, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and summarized at Stanford University, calls into question beliefs about the positive benefits of organic foods, in both absolute terms and in light of their generally higher cost.
The new Stanford survey findings, spanning a significant and varied body of research, are consistent with other research surveys that have found little immediate personal health benefits from consuming organic foods in the developed world.
The Scientific Evidence
Wikipedia defines organic food as “foods that are produced using methods that do not involve modern synthetic inputs such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Organic foods are also not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.”
This definition of organic food not only clarifies the term, it outlines the needed scope of considerations to assess the health and safety benefits of organic foods against synthetically augmented ones.
Here is a brief summary of our reading of available research related to the health benefits of organic foods. Please note that this summary focuses on widely applicable food production and consumption considerations and leaves aside low-probability risks (such as industrial accidents involving exposure to concentrated pesticides and agricultural chemicals):
> Earlier versus newer pesticides & additives – we believe any comparison of organic and augmented foods today must account for the fact that pesticides and other additives are now heavily studied and regulated for safety across the developed world. While earlier pesticide, hormone, and antibiotic practices (still potentially in use in parts of the developing world) were arguably unsafe, the same cannot be said categorically of newer augmentation practices. For example, many new pesticides act narrowly and break down rapidly into inert compounds.
> Political risks of weakened health protections – similarly, while it is plausible to suggest that private interests could attempt to suppress scientific findings and weaken relevant food supply protections in any country at any point in time, as has occurred in the past, there is little evidence suggesting that such efforts are either occurring or succeeding on a significant scale in the developed world today.
> Health impacts on humans – as suggested, a broad body of research suggests that there is at best limited evidence of a significant personal health benefit in humans from choosing organic foods over modern augmented foods, at least in the developed world.
> Health impacts on other species – excluding the intended targets of modern pesticides, there is some evidence of injury to non-targeted species via modern pesticide use, though not to the extent with earlier pesticides and their unregulated use (for example, the broad application of DDT in the environment in the 1950s).
> Sustainability & soil preservation – there is evidence that organic farming can result in improved soil preservation and, by its nature, is more likely to be sustainable – both by fostering better soil retention and health, and from reduced reliance on non-sustainable inputs.
Our Natural Truth Rating
Given this pattern of evidence, HumanaNatura rates the proposal that organic foods are healthier a 6/10 (Notable Evidence) in our Natural Truth rating system.
We base this rating on widespread and increasingly time-tested evidence showing little individual health benefit from choosing organic foods over augmented ones in the developed world today.
But we also temper this finding by acknowledging that pesticide and additive use is less well-regulated and potentially less healthy in some countries in the developing world, and that organic methods have benefits when considering our long-term societal goals of agricultural soil health, food supply sustainability, and ecological integrity.
For these reasons, our general recommendation for people seeking to maximize their personal health in the developed world is to choose foods and allocate food budgets: 1) first by selecting foods for naturalness and quality, and 2) secondarily favoring organic growing methods.
When we speak of choosing high quality natural foods in this recommendation, we specifically mean using foods that are part of HumanaNatura’s OurPlate healthy eating model and consistent with the important Natural Eating guidelines of HumanaNatura’s Personal Health Program. We would encourage you to learn more about HumanaNatura’s OurPlate model and natural eating guidelines, since they are often unexpected and initially counter-intuitive to many people.
You can click to learn more about our Natural Truth health information campaign and evidence-based 1-10 rating system. We of course also welcome your comments and input on this or any other HumanaNatura Natural Truth review.
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