The Weekly Check-Up Atlanta

What is Organic Food and How are We Studying It?

The past decade has seen an explosion in the popularity of Organic food, that is, food produce d with no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, genetic modification or antibiotics. Animals used to pr odu ce organic food typically can move around, have access to  direct sunlight and eat organically produced feed. In an era where food production is done on an industrial scale that looks more like a factory than a garden, its no surprise that this new trend is so popular. There are numerous clear benefits of organic food, many say it tastes better and that it has less of an environmental impact. Another commonly stated reason to go organic are the supposed health benefits. A review of the available evidence of the health benefits of organic food was recently published in a major medical journal, The Annals of Internal Medicine. This review is massive, covering 22 pages of small text. This review only addresses the health related reasons to go organic. There is no mention of the ecological benefits of reduced pesticides, antibiotics, chemicals, lack of genetically modified organisms or the improved taste of organic food. While the review’s authors conclude that there is not much evidence to support a health benefit, a closer look at the results show that the real answer is a bit more nuanced.
The review was very complicated and looked a thousands of other people’s research studies and tried to come to conclusions based on all of them. The studies examined were very diverse, often contradictory, and many were asking different questions using different methods. This made the results of each study hard to compare to each other and is a major weakness of the review. There is lots of variability in the nutrient contents of foods based on location, breed and season which makes organic and conventional foods hard to compare. Another weakness was that most of the studies were looking at level of contamination, or chemicals or nutrients in food, but very few actually studied how people’s health changed when they ate organic. Despite these weaknesses, some conclusions seem likely based on trends in the data. Check back here soon when I will go over the findings of this comprehensive review.