Organic: The Debate Rages On

A couple of weeks ago, we mentioned a British study claiming that organic food is no more nutritious than conventionally grown food. After the news broke, a rousing debate emerged in newspaper columns and Web sites. What are your thoughts on this issue?

How it all started: A review commissioned by the British Food Standards Agency examined food nutrient levels and the health benefits of eating organic food. The study, which was conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, indicated that "there are no important differences in the nutrition content, or any additional health benefits, of organic food when compared with conventionally produced food."

The debate: Areas of debate have included the original subject of nutrition, the additional issue of pesticide content, and other topics related to agriculture, such as production methods and sustainability.

• Prominent voices in the debate have included Grist's Tom Philpott, who cited studies showing that organic foods have fewer nitrates and more antioxidants, and Ezra Klein from The Washington Post, who remained skeptical. Philpott then published a second piece on the subject of pesticides, soil, and nutrition. Klein maintained that nutrition might not be an issue, but conceded that "the evidence that organics are good for the environment, and the soil in particular, is very compelling."

• Civil Eats, among others, attempted to point out flaws in the British study, citing contradictory results from other studies and discussing the links between government and agriculture.

• New Scientist said the initial study "missed the point" and went on to discuss other issues related to conventional versus organic agriculture, such as pesticides, energy use, and soil erosion.

• Meanwhile, Russ Parsons at the Los Angeles Times brought up the complexity of issues related to farming after making the provocative statement, "I don't believe in organics".

• And last week, The Chicago Tribune reported on pesticides and peaches, finding that U.S. Department of Agriculture tests showed "more than 50 pesticide compounds on domestic and imported peaches headed for U.S. stores."

Our thoughts: Regardless of the study's accuracy regarding nutrition, we'll continue to buy organic fruits and vegetables, though not exclusively. Our reasons for supporting organic include environmental sustainability and protection for soil, water, and farm workers. Yet, we may also buy non-organic produce if it means supporting a local farmer or business. We're still sorting through all the various viewpoints; the issues are complex and fascinating.

Your thoughts: Where do you stand? Why do you buy organic – or not? Has the British study or any of the ensuing debate affected your opinion?

Related: Conscientious Cook: What Should You Buy Organic?

(Image: Emily Ho)

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Emily Ho is a Los Angeles-based writer, recipe developer, and educator on topics such as food preservation, wild food, and herbalism. She is a Master Food Preserver and founder of LA Food Swap and Food Swap Network. Learn more at Roots & Marvel

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