The Original Journal Article that prompted this post is here:
- US National Library of Medicine,
- National Institutes of Health Published in the British Journal of Nutrition
- Baranski et al. - Sep 2014
This was a "meta-study" - or a study about research on a given topic. This might sound silly to you if you are not a researcher, but give me a moment and let me explain why I found it to be an important study.
The problem: There have been many studies of varying quality that try to show that organic foods are better OR no different from conventionally grown foods. Persons who have an agenda that are served by showing organic foods are better are likely to seize on any study that shows organic products in a positive light. Unfortunately, they might be attracted to studies with the most dramatic results but with the poorest study designs. On the other hand, those who are not inclined to favor organics will either find studies that show no difference (again, potentially ignoring study quality) OR they will attack the weaker studies selected by proponents of organic foods. The net result of this is that there is confusion and disagreement about what we know as a result of current research. This leaves us subject to our own preconceived notions and we learn nothing in the process.
The other problem is the fact that it is impossible to study all aspects of food production and quality at once and in one study. By their very nature, highly focused studies are more likely to produce clearer results, but are also less likely to give us a clear picture of the entire situation. A meta-study attempts to connect results within certain parameters.
For example: Let's say I did a study on whether or not plants need potassium to grow and found that they did. With that study only, should we try to grow plants purely in potassium? What about all of the other things required to have healthy plants? Perhaps it would be a good idea to gather the results of studies (a meta-study) about plant growth in an effort to come up with a complete picture of what it takes to grow a plant? My point is that it is important to gather relevant research and try to summarize what is learned on a subject THUS FAR.
This study identified over 300 studies with pertinent results. After reading the British Journal of Nutrition article, I feel comfortable with the approach to the meta study.
What did the meta study conclude?
I boiled it down to a few things.
1. fruits, vegetables and grains grown using organic practices have less chemical residue
2. fruits, vegetables and grains grown using organic practices have more antioxidants - which are good for you.
3. there isn't a health disadvantage from organic fruits, vegetables and grains.
4. there is so much more to learn and this is a worthwhile area of study.
A while back, I posted on our farm blog about this topic. If you want more background on how I came upon this article, feel free to go there (http://genfaux.blogspot.com/2014/10/is-organic-better-for-you.html)
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Bob, you bring up a good point that produce may be subject to sprays as they cross boundaries. From what I could tell, the meta-study has a blind spot in that location simply because the definition they operated under for certified organic foods implies that these chemicals are NOT used.
To both Isaac and Bob, I tend to agree that if you have to choose between organic or local (assuming you have the option for either), local should tend to win simply because you have the opportunity to influence growing methods with direct contact possible. An organic and local producer is the best of both worlds and I would love to see a better environment that would support that model throughout the world.
Since I am a certified organic vegetable grower who sells locally (full disclosure to expose any bias I might have), I do have the opportunity to eat my own product and agree that if you grow your own, it could be the best of all. But, I also know many people who have to make the choice not to grow food – which is why some of these distinctions are necessary and important.
Thank you both for your comments.