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No Health Benefits from Organic Food

A recent review of 240 studies has concluded that:

 The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Organic produce has become increasingly popular in recent years. There are several reasons that consumers might prefer organic produce, including the belief that organic farming is better for the environment and more sustainable. I am going to focus in this article about the health effects of organic produce. Environmental claims for organic farming are complex and controversial – I will just say that such claims largely fall prey to the naturalistic and false dichotomy fallacies. In my opinion, farming practices should be evaluated on their own merits individually, based on evidence rather than philosophy. Sustainable and environmentally friendly farming are certainly laudable goals and I support farming practices promote them, however they are labeled.

The alleged superiority of organically grown produce is a separate question. In a 2003 survey 68.9% of people who purchase organic food said they did so because they believed it to be healthier (more than any other reason given).  However, fifty years of research has so far not produced convincing evidence that there is any health benefit to consuming organic food.  Likewise, systematic reviews of nutritional quality of organic produce also reveals no difference from conventional produce.

The recent review is therefore in agreement with previous reviews – organic produce is not more nutritious or healthful, but it is more expensive.

Some studies that find small differences in the content of specific nutrients may be due to confounding factors. For example, organic produce is generally smaller than conventional produce, so if nutrient content is measured by mass (as opposed to the total for an individual vegetable or piece of fruit) organic produce may have a slightly higher concentration. This does not necessarily translate to more overall nutrients for the consumer. Further, many studies measure multiple endpoints (nutrients) and find some differences, but may not be properly accounting for multiple analyses. The researchers in the recent study found that results were “heterogeneous” – meaning that there were significant differences in outcome among the studies. This could indicate a lack of replicability of specific outcomes, indicating that differences were more artifacts of method rather than genuine.

One type of study that I have not seen is essentially the equivalent of an “intention to treat” analysis – what is the impact of buying organic food in the real world. Even if there are tiny nutritional advantages to organic food (although to be clear this conclusion is not supported by the evidence), is there an overall nutritional advantage to eating organic? Does the higher price mean that for many consumers fewer overall fresh produce will be consumed?

The recent review did find that organic produce had fewer pesticide residues than conventional farming. However, there is no evidence that these low levels of pesticides present any health risk. The review found:

The risk for contamination with detectable pesticide residues was lower among organic than conventional produce (risk difference, 30% [CI, −37% to −23%]), but differences in risk for exceeding maximum allowed limits were small.

So while there was a difference, this did not result in a significant difference in terms of exceeding safe limits. Further, studies looking at health outcomes did not find any significant difference between consuming organic vs conventional produce. These studies are limited in number and duration, however. Further, there may be a bias in how these studies are performed. Organic farming does use pesticides, but only “natural” pesticides are allowed. There is little to no evidence that these organic pesticides are less harmful for consumers or the environment. It is just assumed that they are based upon the naturalistic fallacy.

Even if we take the most pro-organic assumption – that there are more pesticides on conventional produce and that those pesticides have greater negative health effects than organic pesticides, it must still be recognized that simply washing fruits and vegetables effectively reduces pesticide residue. If minimized exposure to pesticide residue is your goal, thoroughly washing your produce is probably the easiest and cheapest way to achieve that end.

Differences in bacterial contamination were similar. There were no differences seen in E. coli contamination. There was a 33% greater chance of isolated a multi-antibiotic resistance bacteria on conventional produce, but no evidence this translates into a health risk. Again – even if we assume a difference in health risk (something not demonstrated by the data) this can be remedied by thorough washing.

Conclusion

The recent review of organic vs conventional produce agrees with previous systematic reviews that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that organic produce is healthier or more nutritious that conventional produce. Despite the scientific evidence, the alleged health benefits of organic produce is the number one reason given by consumers for buying organic. This likely represents the triumph of marketing over scientific reality.

Posted in: Nutrition

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157 thoughts on “No Health Benefits from Organic Food

  1. Dingo199 says:

    Interesting to see how this has been pounced on by Dan Olmsted at Age of Autism, who of course is rushing to blame the (not) unsafe levels of pesticide in non-organic food as being the cause of autism. Of course the fact that AoA makes money promoting organic products for autism would have nothing to do with it, would it?
    http://www.ageofautism.com/2012/05/from-the-editor.html

    …….But hang on a minute, I thought vaccines were the cause of autism?
    Now I am confused.

  2. rork says:

    I am a little bothered by pesticide calculations that consider the average consumption. Perhaps the average American consumes 1.0 lb of winter squash per year. That has exactly nothing to do with me. I probably consume 20 times that much, and 20 times as many string beans, spinach, and broccoli than average as well. But do I buy organic labeled stuff: not really.

    I find it cheap and easy enough to grow vegetables and flowers without any pesticides whatsoever. I don’t use much fossil fuel either. I do find it comforting to know exactly how it was done. The health of non-human organisms motivates me. No way I’m sending Bt out there – I have magnificent insects to think about.

  3. cervantes says:

    Hmm. Reading the Paper of Record™, I learn that organic meat and produce is no safer than conventionally grown food, according to a meta-analysis, as you report here. Turning to the science section, I learn that feeding antibiotics to farm animals is causing an alarming rise in contamination of meat with antibiotic resistant bacteria, and more presence of such superbugs around generally.

    What’s a pointy-headed east coast liberal to think? I think what we have here is a serious case of missing the point. While it is probably true that the nutritional value of conventional and organic meat and produce is generally similar, and that the amount of pesticide contamination of conventional produce is small enough that it doesn’t cause demonstrable problems for the typical consumer, that isn’t really what organic farming is all about.

    It’s about the relationship of farming to the social and biological environment as a whole, not just to your individual biology over the next 24 hours. Aside from antibiotic resistant bacteria, we’re talking about broad ecological impacts of pesticide use, soil quality, erosion and runoff, eutrophication of bodies of water, social and economic consequences of the scale of farming, fossil fuel consumption, air pollution, substitution of capital for labor — a whole lot worth worrying about and arguing about. Whether that particular head of lettuce has as many vitamins as the next one is not the issue.

    Got it?

    By the way, on a personal note, yesterday I made dinner for my family — my mother, aunt and cousins — mostly using stuff I grew myself. It tasted fantastic — fresh pesto made with home grown garlic and basil, home grown sweet corn, home grown salad. All of it 100% organically grown of course. Everybody went home very happy. Economics and the nutritional value of a given hunk of biomass don’t begin to tell the story. It’s the story of how we live, in our entirety.

  4. Cervantes – I acknowledged that people have non-health (mostly environmental) reasons for preferring certain organic farming methods. It’s right there in the text. Got it?

    I also made a point of quoting a survey indicating that the #1 reason people choose organic is because of perceived health benefits. So I was addressing that belief.

    Having said that, I still think the burden of proof is on promoters of organic farming to demonstrate its superiority for the environment, if that is their claim. I don’t think they have. Further, I reject the false dichotomy – there are sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices that should be used and promoted, whether or not they meet some ideological / marketing label of “organic”.

    I have my anecdote as well – a nice non-organic garden in my back yard with great yields and delicious produce. Might have something to do with the fact that they are picked fresh. Also, I plant varieties that are not necessarily optimized for mass production and profit but produce great results for small-scale consumption.

  5. @cervantes:

    >>>”Environmental claims for organic farming are complex and controversial”

    >>>”I am going to focus in this article about the health effects of organic produce.”

    Got it?

    RE: “By the way, on a personal note, yesterday I made dinner for my family — my mother, aunt and cousins — mostly using stuff I grew myself. It tasted fantastic”

    Are you claiming that the food tasted better than it otherwise would have had you used non-organically produced food purchased from a store? If so, are you also claiming that it tasted better more due to organic production methods than due to being locally harvested and prepared at the peak of ripeness and freshness?

    RE: “Economics and the nutritional value of a given hunk of biomass don’t begin to tell the story. It’s the story of how we live, in our entirety.”

    That’s easy to say when you can afford the extra expense of organically produced food; not everybody can.

  6. cervantes says:

    Oh come on, don’t be so defensive. I wasn’t attacking the post, I was stating my own views on this issue.

    You folks have a really thin skin. You should grow up.

    And as for the environmental claims, lots of them have indeed been proven. Viz the precise issue I cited, the potential disaster we face from routinely feeding antibiotics to livestock. Fertilizer runoff creates a huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Pesticide residues in waterways adversely affect the development of amphibians. I could go on and on. None of this is controversial.

  7. “Oh come on, don’t be so defensive. I wasn’t attacking the post, I was stating my own views on this issue. ”

    Well, given what Steven said at the beginning of the post, you were commenting off topic. You also made the somewhat antagonistic comment, “Got it?”

    Now you add, “Oh come on, don’t be so defensive.” and “You folks have a really thin skin. You should grow up.” Who’s being defensive here, again?

    “Fertilizer runoff creates a huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Pesticide residues in waterways adversely affect the development of amphibians. ”

    Do you have evidence that organic fertilizers and pesticides cannot cause similar issues?

  8. Old_skeptic says:

    No health benefits from organic food?

    That’s odd. I thought that organic produce was as nutritious as the regular kind.

    Let’s not overstate the conclusions of the new study. It didn’t find anything wrong with organic food. It just didn’t find any benefits beyond what would be expected from conventionally grown versions of the same products.

  9. Scott says:

    Also, overuse of antibiotics isn’t an organic/conventional issue. It’s a plain old bad practice issue.

    When it comes right down to it, I have to agree with Dr. Novella. Worrying about whether a particular practice is labelled as “organic” or not is meaningless window dressing. Each individual practice must stand or fall on its own factual merits.

  10. Puddle Jumper says:

    I’m actually a little (just a little) surprised at the results. I assumed, based more on the little soil and plant biology I know, that a healthier soil and plants with fewer contact with pesticides and herbicides would have a higher overall nutrient content. Oh well, good to have assumptions shattered once in a while. But as with so many people, nutrition was not a primary reason for me to buy organic but more for a wider health of the environment.

  11. cervantes says:

    “Fertilizer runoff creates a huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Pesticide residues in waterways adversely affect the development of amphibians. ”

    Do you have evidence that organic fertilizers and pesticides cannot cause similar issues?

    Yes of course. Organic farming methods do not apply synthetic fertilizer to the soil — they add organic matter which is more tightly bound and creates much less runoff of nutrients. Organic farmers take pains not to allow runoff, but to build up the soil. Once they get the soil to the point they want it, they actually do very little further amendment.

    As for “organic pesticides,” organic farmers generally do not use pesticides of any kind. Some will resort to strategies such as diatomacious earth or tobacco dust, but they mostly try to control pests through crop rotation, covering crops at key times when insects tend to attack, manual removal, and other non-chemical strategies. They do not use herbicides.

    And I most certainly was not commenting off topic. I noticed the little disclaimer at the top, but that doesn’t mean I am not allowed to expand on the issue. It is a fact that many of the bloggers here seem to be hypersensitive to accurate, constructive criticism — or in this case, to perceived criticism which was in no way criticism at all. You will be much more persuasive if you don’t behave like jerks.

  12. Cervantes wrote: “You will be much more persuasive if you don’t behave like jerks.”
    The irony is strong with this one :)

    I did not intend to come off as defensive. We pride ourselves on being open to accurate and constructive feedback, and in fact let one of our bloggers go specifically because they were not dealing well with commenter feedback.

    The problem was, your feedback was not accurate or constructive. You clearly stated in your comment that I had “missed the point”, but the text of the post clearly indicates that I did not. You could have expanded on the point you wished to make without the false accusation and the gratuitous “got it” at the end.

    You then doubled-down (when this was fairly pointed out to you) by accusing me and another commenter of being thin skinned and childish. And now you go further by accusing us of generally not being open to fair and constructive feedback.

    Enough said – let’s get back to the actual issue.

  13. Syberdragonwolf says:

    It’s interesting, but one of the things I rarely see in talk about pesticides is the overall effect on the pests themselves.
    It’s kind of like over prescribing antibiotics.
    The pests are becoming more and more resistant to the pesticides.

  14. stanmrak says:

    Come on now, don’t you recognize junk science when you see it?
    http://www.anh-usa.org/new-junk-science-study-dismisses-nutritional-value-of-organic-foods/

    The USDA Organic Seal is the best assurance you have that someone actually inspected the food to ensure its purity (and that regulation is being eroded every day). Although you can’t be absolutely certain, it’s the highest standard we have. Your conventional produce? You have no idea what’s in it – or on it. If you knew, you wouldn’t want to eat it. Do some investigation into the health effects of GMO foods. Unless you buy organic, you’re eating GMO foods. They don’t want you to know that; that’s why they’re spending millions to defeat mandatory labeling.

    http://www.responsibletechnology.org/health-risks
    http://www.responsibletechnology.org/10-Reasons-to-Avoid-GMOs

    Look around, the population is getting sicker and sicker every decade. It’s the food, stupid. (or what’s being passed off as food).

  15. the bug guy says:

    Organic agriculture has some very positive aspects, but also has a number of negative attributes. Contrary to the common misconception, organic farmers use pesticides, only they are restricted to those allowed under certification. Yes, they use Integrated Pest Management principles like conventional farmers to apply control measures only at the time and place needed, but that doesn’t mean that they avoid all uses. In some cases, the organic alternative is more acutely toxic to humans and can present a greater environmental risk.

    Organic fertilizer has no magic ability to stay put and runoff can be just as much of a problem as from conventional agriculture.

    Overall, organic agriculture produces less food per unit of land and requires more labor.

    We must get away from the false dichotomy of conventional vs. organic agriculture and move on to sustainable agriculture that combines the best aspects of both processes to move use forward and to help insure food for our growing world population.

  16. Janet Camp says:

    I buy organic produce because it is the only decent produce available here in the green-devoid Midwest. I grow a lot, but can’t keep enough going in the winter with my grow-lights, so have to buy some. The chain supermarkets are pathetic, so the co-op becomes the only viable alternative. I won’t become a member because of all the woo they carry and promote (ear candles-eek!), but I do sneak in and grab their lovely produce. It isn’t much more expensive for the most part, although that varies.

    Cervantes, I largely agree with you, but “got it?” was rude and Dr. N was careful to narrow his area of discussion. I appreciated you expanding the discussion with your thoughts, but found your tone unhelpful.

    I actually quit reading this blog for a period of time because you attacked one of my comments rather viciously (I used a pseudonym then) and I guess I do have somewhat of a “thin skin”, although I’d put forth that that makes me human, not immature.

  17. stanmrak says:

    Reasons not to eat factory-farm “conventionally” grown food:

    Killer Superbug Infections
    Antibiotic-resistant superbugs kill more than 90,000 people a year, with MRSA alone killing more people in American than AIDS. The overuse of antibiotics in farming helps spur the growth of these hard-to-kill and sometimes-fatal infections. Tests of supermarket meats routinely find superbug germs, meaning that improperly cooking the meat or failing to wipe off your countertop correctly could put you in a life-threatening situation. Antibiotic-resistant superbug germs are far less likely to be found on organic meat because organic bans the use of antibiotics.

    Pesticides
    More than 17,000 pesticide products are on the market, yet the Environmental Protection Agency has required testing for less than 1 percent of the chemicals currently used in commerce. Even tiny amounts of America’s most popular weed killer glyphosate, primarily used with GMO crops, can damage DNA and kill cells, and have been linked to infertility and certain cancers.

    Human Sewage Sludge
    It’s perfectly legal for nonorganic farmers to douse human sewage sludge taken from municipal water treatment plants to fertilize fields. The sludge could contain whatever morgues, residences, and industrial parks decide to put down the drain.

    GMOs
    Scientists have never studied the long-term health effects of eating genetically engineered material, but that hasn’t stopped nonorganic farmers from planting GMO crops since the 1990s. Most GMOs are manipulated to withstand high doses of chemical pesticides. Currently, up to 90 percent of nonorganic processed foods contain GMO material.

    Drugged Meat
    About 80 percent of all antibiotics used in this country go to feed conventional livestock because it not only prevents disease, but helps fatten the animals up faster. North Carolina livestock alone ingest more antibiotics annually than the entire U.S. human population. USDA researchers routinely detect antibiotics in meat, and new science suggests that could be making humans gain weight, too.
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture discovered traces of harmful veterinary drugs and heavy metals in U.S. beef, including:
    1. Ivermectin, an animal wormer that can cause neurological damage in humans.
    2. Flunixin, a veterinary drug that can cause kidney damage, stomach, and colon ulcers, as well as blood in the stool of humans.
    3. Penicillin, a drug that can cause life-threatening reactions in people who are allergic to it.
    4. Arsenic, a known carcinogen that is allowed in some nonorganic animal feeding operations. (It is commonly fed to chickens, and chicken litter, or feces, is sometimes fed to feedlot cattle—and the majority of supermarket and fast-food beef in this country comes from feedlot operations.)
    5. Copper, an essential element we need for our survival but that’s harmful when too much accumulates in our bodies. And it is being found in the beef we eat, although U.S. agencies haven’t been protecting consumers from it, even though some Third World countries manage to do so. In 2008, Mexican authorities rejected U.S. beef because it contained copper in excess of Mexico’s tolerance levels. Because the U.S. doesn’t have a set threshold for copper in beef, the meat was sent to U.S. stores, and ultimately, purchased by U.S. consumers.

    Food Additives
    Conventional processed foods are little packaged science experiments, and you are the guinea pigs. We know that certain food dyes are linked to brain cell damage and ADHD.

    http://www.rodale.com/organic-foods-study

  18. I’m not sure that the body reflects the headline.

    Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are an issue, whether they are found on the apple in the store or the gut of the person who cleans out the pig house. Addressing the issue in any meaningful way takes more than four sentences.

    No, thoroughly washing food is not enough – two reasons off the top of my head.

    1) Hamburger disease. E coli are thoroughly mixed throughout the meat and cannot be washed off. The meat must be completely cooked through to kill it (unlike steak where it is sufficient to cook the outside).

    2) If antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria enter humans working on farms – and thus the community – this can’t be fixed by me washing my spinach.

    If you don’t want your blog post to be inadequate, you can easily change the headline to “Eating organic food offers no nutritional benefits over eating conventionally-farmed food.” (Alternatively, you could have someone with some depth of knowledge of both the material and the myths write the post.)

  19. Calli Arcale says:

    I’m glad this study was done. Most people I know who buy organic do so because they think it will be more nutritious.

    I would like studies to explore the safety aspect as well, because I am skeptical that organic is really any safer. It’s true that the organic label would bar indiscriminate use of antibiotics, but you can have antibiotic-free meat without going organic. I’d be more interested in whether pesticide residue on organic produce is any safer. After all, organic farmers *do* use pesticides. They’re just supposed to be “natural” ones like pyrethrum (an extract of the chrysanthemum plant). It’s considered fairly safe, and is the active ingredient in lice shampoo, but it is a neurotoxin. If synthetic pesticides shouldn’t get a free pass, then really, neither should this.

    I’m also dubious of the environmental benefits. Nothing in the organic designation specifies environmentally-sound practices, so why would we expect organic producers to necessarily be better for the environment? The label tells you nothing about that. Many of them probably are (especially the local growers you can find at a farmer’s market), but there is no reason to assume that the organic corn you buy at the supermarket was grown sustainably or with any good allowances for drainage and soil runoff.

    Personally, I think the label is worthless. People think it means the food is healthier, less contaminated, more environmentally sound, more sustainable, and more ethical, but in fact the label doesn’t tell you any of those things. It really only tells you a little bit about the fertilizers and pesticides used. It’s just not enough information. And honestly, rather than creating a new label for marketers to have their way with, we should be campaigning for better practices across the board.

    stanmrak: I don’t have time to comment on all of your post, but I will point out something a bit tangential. You mention excessive copper in beef as being a bad thing. It’s an interesting thing to mention in this discussion of organic products, because copper sulfate and copper hydroxide are allowable pesticides to use in organic farming. If excessive copper is bad, perhaps we should be a little more cautious about organic products.

  20. Chris says:

    Calli Arcale:

    If excessive copper is bad, perhaps we should be a little more cautious about organic products.

    Much of the allowed pesticides for organic gardening have issues. Pyrethrum and nicotine are “natural pesticides”, but they do have safety issues.

  21. William M. London says:

    According to the Nielsen survey in 2010 of 27,000 consumers from 55 markets
    around the globe, the number 1 reason consumers gave for eating organic food
    was: “They are healthier.” 76% gave that reason. See
    http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/consumer/global-trends-in-healthy-eating/ The
    next most common reason was offered by only 53% of respondents.

    The label organic food makes little sense when we consider that organic chemistry refers to carbon compounds. It seems to me that conventional agriculture is our main source of organic food.

    We should also recognize that organic chemistry is itself a misnomer since many organic compounds have nothing to do with the functioning of organs or organisms. The term came about because of vitalistic thinking suggesting that a life force was necessary to create the chemicals in living organisms. Vitalistic thinking persists today notably among many proponents of some popular forms of so-called alternative medicine (sCAM) who also tend to be proponents of “organic food.”

  22. the bug guy says:

    Calli, here is a very recent article that looks at the complexity of comparing organic and convention in terms of environmental impact:

    http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2012/120904.html

  23. Quill says:

    Alison Cummings wrote:

    “I’m not sure that the body reflects the headline…”

    I agree as it most certainly does not.

    “If you don’t want your blog post to be inadequate, you can easily change the headline to ‘Eating organic food offers no nutritional benefits over eating conventionally-farmed food.’”

    Exactly so. That would make it accurate and change it from its current HuffPo Health style. Ha!

    My anecdote: I often look for CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture), local farmer’s markets and organic produce over the conventional stuff in the supermarkets for one main reason: produce from them often tastes much better or actually has some taste. This causes me to eat more veggies and that makes me healthier.

  24. stanmrak says:

    Nutrient content isn’t really the best reason for eating organic, even tho that’s the reason most people give – avoiding pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, GM ingredients and artificial ingredients are – as well as supporting sustainable agriculture and humane animal treatment. There’s much more to assessing healthy food than just vitamins and minerals, fats, carbs and protein, but they get all the notoriety.

  25. Quill:

    local farmer’s markets != organic produce
    organic produce != locally produced

    Not all, and in many cases, not even most local farmer’s market food is organic. Additionally, a good deal of organic food sold in markets is not locally produced; it is often produced by large scale organic farms/operations in other states and even other countries.

    I suspect that better taste you perceive comes more from the food being harvested locally at the peak of ripeness and delivered fresh to the market with little transit time in between than it does from organic production methods.

  26. stanmrak,

    Regardless of your opinion of what are the best reasons to eat organically produced food, the point is that your reasons aren’t what most people who consume organic give for doing so.

    If we accept their responses of why they buy organic (supposed superior nutritional value) at face value as honest answers, it is reasonable to discuss whether there is any merit to those particular claims. If there is not, then it remains to be seen whether those people would find any other reasons compelling enough to continue buying organic.

    All the other issues regarding organic food production are indeed interesting (but not foregone conclusions) and worthy of discussion (perhaps in a future post on a blog like Neurologic that discusses more than just health and medical issues) , but the point of this post was that there have been no scientifically demonstrated health benefits from consuming organically produced food over non-organically produced food.

    One can speculate and hypothesize about other various possible direct health benefits not yet scientifically demonstrated, but those remain, at best, areas for further investigation rather than currently supportable claims.

  27. icewings27 says:

    I guess I’m a victim of the hype, a bit…I don’t eat store-bought meat unless I have to. I buy beef and pork by the 1/2 or whole animal, from regional farms, and “Organic Chicken” from Costco which is the only place I can find it.

    I do find it generally tastes better, particularly the pork. Not necessarily because it’s organic but because of what it is fed.

    Also, I am comforted knowing my hamburger came from one animal, not a thousand, and that my chicken has slightly less poop in/on it than Tyson’s.

    Am I completely misguided?

  28. I see an interesting parallel between organic food and CAM: the Big Farma and Big Pharma gambits, and the illusion that organic food production and CAM aren’t multi-billion dollar high profit margin industries.

    The trend in the organic foods industry right now is towards consolidation and acquisition by large multinational corporations. Organic consumers are willing to pay a premium for organic food, and Big Farma has noticed and is moving in.

    From Wikipedia:

    “Most small cooperative distributors have merged or were acquired by large multinationals such as General Mills, Heinz, ConAgra, Kellogg, and others. In 1982 there were 28 consumer cooperative distributors, but as of 2007 only 3 remained”

    Also from Wikipedia,

    “In the United States, 75% of organic farms are smaller than 2.5 hectares. In California 2% of the farms account for over half of sales”

    If these two statements are both correct, it means that the big operators likely dwarf the small operators in their contribution to the market.

  29. mousethatroared says:

    Gotta agree on the headline critisicim. Although the article looks fine, similar to one or two previous ones on the same topic, I think.

    Looks like the article is talking primarily about produce, but when one says “food” it’s hard not to come up against the meat/livestock antibiotic issues. As far as I know, the only way to buy meat that doesn’t support the practice of indiscriminate antibiotic use that endangers public health is to buy organic.

    Please, If someone else knows a way, let me know. Cause I’m not into those high organic meat prices.

    Personally, I’d rather have tighter government controls on antibiotics use with conventional livestock. The news articles I’ve read have said FDA scientists would prefer that as well, since the 70′s but apparently that’s a struggle against big farma. :)

    Sure, it might bring the prices up some, but I doubt that it would be up to the expense of organic meats.

    Since folks are sharing their organic gardening experience, I planted strawberries, lettuce and zuchinni this spring. The strawberries made excellent chipmunk feed, The lettuce made one salad, the zuchinni turned black. Some of us are not botanically gifted, I guess.

  30. mousethatroared says:

    Also The bug guy said “We must get away from the false dichotomy of conventional vs. organic agriculture and move on to sustainable agriculture that combines the best aspects of both processes to move use forward and to help insure food for our growing world population”

    Right on! (cause they don’t have a “like” button here)

  31. surfgeorge says:

    Steven Novella wrote:

    “There was a 33% greater chance of isolated a multi-antibiotic resistance bacteria on conventional produce, but no evidence this translates into a health risk. Again – even if we assume a difference in health risk (something not demonstrated by the data) this can be remedied by thorough washing.”

    I don’t have access to the full article, but using the link you provided (http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1355685), here is the actual quote from the abstract:

    “However, the risk for isolating bacteria resistant to 3 or more antibiotics was higher in conventional than in organic chicken and pork (risk difference, 33% [CI, 21% to 45%]).”

    There is no reference in the abstract to antibiotic resistant bacteria in produce (I’m using the standard dictionary definition of produce: “Farm products, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, considered as a group.”), only in chicken and pork.

    I’m skeptical of your claims that:

    1. “[T]his [exposure to antibiotic resistant bacterial contamination] can be remedied by thorough washing.” Could you provide references to research indicating that washing pork and chicken eliminates the risk of exposure and infection?

    and

    2. There is “no evidence this translates into a health risk”. This abstract of this study states that “Only 3 of the human studies examined clinical outcomes, finding no significant differences between populations by food type for allergic outcomes (eczema, wheeze, atopic sensitization) or symptomatic Campylobacter infection.” Could you please provide citations to support your claim that a 33% greater exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria, or any level of exposure at all, does not “translate[s] into a health risk”? I don’t see any evidence for that claim cited in the abstract.

    Thank you.

  32. Sullivanthepoop says:

    Since there is a phase-out ban on non-medical livestock antibiotic use and a lot of companies have already stopped the practice long before the deadline, the main problem has been addressed. Hopefully, it will also lead to the second most pressing problem being addressed and that is overcrowding.

    I really do not understand the vapid fear over GMOs. I am not saying it is a good or a bad thing, but everything we eat has been genetically modified to an extent. We were modifying crops to be drought resistant before we had even a glimmer of a thought about inheritance. We made broccoli from kale in the 6th century, not to mention all the other cabbage flower head veggies. Why is it any different to add genetic information manually instead of forcing it reproductively? What mechanism could exist to account for this belief?

  33. passionlessDrone says:

    Hello friends –

    I was a little bit shocked when I read the headlines; a while ago Stephen Novella had another piece on organic food, and my thoughts at the time were that the number of studies we had available was pretty small, and the 250 number was floating around the Internet. It turns out, the number of studies in humans was, and remains, pretty small.

    I cannot access the reference list to the current study; but a list of the studies that comprised the paper that Stephen Novella discussed in May 2010 is available, here:

    http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2010/05/12/ajcn.2010.29269.full.pdf+html

    What you can find there is that two years ago, where there were 12 human studies available for metadata analysis, is that the number of participants is pretty small if our goal is to understand if we fit into a profile healthy living, which encompasses a lot of different things.

    Below are the sample sizes for the papers listed in the previous metadata review and what they studied.

    Most of the studies were just looking for antioxidant or other blood/urine/breastmilk level changes; aka, they can’t tell us much, if anything about health, just about a select set of biomarkers.

    16 participants — 100 mL (men) or 200 mL (women) organic or conventional Cabernet Sauvignon wine consumed in one sitting; organic samples consumed [I could go for that study!]

    6 participants — 1 kg apples or 1 white roll bread consumed in one sitting. Included a ‘wash out’ period of one week. Just in case eating one medium sized apple could alter your urine output for a week! (?!)

    20 women — 96g of tomato puree for 21 days.

    36 men — 96 grams of carrots for 14 days.

    43 men — 500g of apples per day for 28 days.

    How many people out there think that this is how someone eats an organic diet? Well, here’s some non-organic pasta, non-organic meatballs, non-organic onions, non-organic wine (X3), non-organic mushrooms, non-organic garlic, and on top, lets put some organic tomatoes! Tomorrow I’ll eat Burger King and then eat one organic apple.

    There isn’t any good data supporting an organic diet for measuring ‘health’, but pretending that these studies are meaningful measurement points for a diet based on organic foods is just as naeive as the people answering the survey that they thought it was more healthy. The difference is, the readership of this blog is supposed to know better.

    32 participants — 4 identical meals for 22 days. At least they gave them meals, and here, the authors began detecting differences in urinary extracts, though I don’t think the clinical relevance, if any, is known.

    312 lactacting mothers — Self reported organic percentages of foods. Another weird metabolite finding in the strictly organic group, clinical meaning unknown.

    As stated earlier, there aren’t too many studies looking at health outputs. Here is one:

    2764 infants — Parent report of organic percentage of foods as low/medium/high. Parent report of eczema/wheezing/etc. IgE Measurements. No findings of real interest, but at least they tried.

    That is eight human studies from the last review (the other four from the twelve were in vitro). This is a grand total of 3229 people. There was one study that measured any health outcome at all, the infant study, which did find an association for organic dairy products in the group for ‘strict organic eaters’ (i.e., > 90%).

    This study is polishing the cowpies; while it is technically true that The recent review is therefore in agreement with previous reviews – organic produce is not more nutritious or healthful, but it is more expensive., the reviews are based on studies that aren’t asking the question about nutrition, or ‘health’, they’ve asked the question, ‘can we detect metabolite differences if someone eats an organic apple a day’ and whatever else they want?’, or ‘do infants fed a parentally reported organic diet have parentally reported eczema more often than infants fed a conventional diets?’

    Those are interesting questions, but it really speaks towards the paucity of data, not the strength of data. How, on Earth, does anyone think this is a meaningful way to reach a conclusion on the health benefits, or lack thereoff, of reducing your intake of pesticides?

    If someone had posted the infant study here on a different thread, the study that had a decent sample size, and found an association to strongly organic diets and reporting wheezing later in life, it would have been torn apart by the skeptics here. They would have crucified this study as something woefully inadequate to answer a question as complicated as dietary interaction with the development of an autoimmune disease. It is based on parental report of both degree of diet adherence (!), and childhood wheezing! But place it as the biggest cowpie in a very small pile of cowpies, and suddenly we can understand if organic eating is associated with being ‘healthy’.

    A few months ago a metadata study on statins came out; they looked at 18,000 people and found associations with diabetes and memory problems. This was a phase IV study, meaning a lot of regulatory hoops had already been jumped through; including a great many tightly controlled studies on effects, and side effects. Even still, it was not until tens of millions of people had taken them that we were able to detect these types of associations. This isn’t because pharma is evil; it is a function of the complexity of the systems being interacted with. Compare that level of detail and hidden effects to what is being presented here. Imagine a drug company trying to get through phase III trials with a grand total of 3400 participants, some of whom had trial durations of one apple.

    I don’t know if eating organic is better for you or not, but I do know that this study doesn’t do much to answer that question.

    Stephen Novella did another piece a few years ago about a (terrifying) study in Pediatrics that measured urinary pesticide output against ADHD

    Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Urinary Metabolites of Organophosphate Pesticides

    This study included over eleven thousand children, and reported These findings support the hypothesis that organophosphate exposure, at levels common among US children, may contribute to ADHD prevalence. Prospective studies are needed to establish whether this association is causal.

    @Stephen Novella – If you have read the latest metadata study, could you comment on how it speaks towards conditions like ADHD, which have been linked to pesticide levels in the blood? Would you be willing to comment on how organic/conventional diets, which do appear to be associated with different levels of pesticides, were evaluated for this type of relationship?

    - pD

  34. stanmrak really pulled out all the stops on idiocy in this thread. I’ve long since detested organic foods. Just a big waste of money. The whole “organic” movement is such a scam. They push everything as “natural” and it’s assumed (by Joe Public) that anything with the “organic” label (and earth toned packaging!) is healthy. Penn and Teller did a great little thing about organic produce, where they would put a non-organic, store bought (conventional) produce next to an organic one, and ask which one tasted better. I don’t remember exact results, but either the conventional produce won, or it was a tie. They then took the same store bought, synthetic pesticide grown fruit, cut it in half, and labeled one side organic, and one side non-organic. Almost everyone said the organic one tasted better… even they they were from the same fruit!

    It’s all about packaging. I admit that I fell for it on multiple occasions. I bought some “grass raised” ground beef, and I thought it tasted better than the store bought stuff. Turns out it was the fat content. I always buy the leanest beef I can because of the saturated fat, but the grass raised crap had a very high fat content. So it passes itself off as “organic” and “natural”, but in reality it’s much more unhealthy for you than the lean meat from the store (with all those antibiotics!! oh no!)

    Ahh.. first world problems..

  35. And boy, it’s amazing all the goobers that come out of the woodwork when you talk about either the holy grail of organic foods, or circumcision!

  36. surfgeorge says:

    @SkepticalHealth:

    I see your ad hominem attacks. I don’t see your responses to what I believe are legitimate questions raised in several comments regarding how Novella defends, in his own words, “no health benefits from organic food” based upon the study he is commenting upon.

    My questions regarded what seems to be Novella’s misreading/misparaphrasing of the abstract and his lack of substantiation of “no health risk” from exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria.

    passionlessDrone, is, I believe, asking that the same standards that Novella and others here apply in determining the quality and validity of studies they find to have objectionable conclusions, be applied to reviewing studies that have conclusions they are possibly predisposed to agree with. Curious at least that no mention is made of the quality of the studies that made up the meta-analysis, other than the results being heterogeneous.

  37. Quill says:

    @ Karl Withakay: I suspect I wasn’t being too clear as what I thought I said & what you wrote are in accord. When I said I go for “CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture), local farmer’s markets and organic produce over the conventional stuff in the supermarkets” I meant that as a descending order. To me verifiably local produces the best taste, as when you concluded:

    “I suspect that better taste you perceive comes more from the food being harvested locally at the peak of ripeness and delivered fresh to the market with little transit time in between than it does from organic production methods.”

    To be sure, the basic reality of produce says that those fresh factors account for many of the taste benefits. However, there are clearly discernible differences between fresh/local/conventional and fresh/local/organic as well as fresh/trucked-in/conventional or organic. One example would be strawberries where current organic methods leave more of the flavor intact. Sure this is subjective, but other examples can be found. This is not to say that “all organic is superior to conventional” and I think taking best practices from all areas of agriculture to find the most sustainable and bountiful ways seems best. But just as organic methods often produce superior berries, conventional methods produce other things superior to the best “natural” stuff.

    One side note: the local farmer’s market I try to get to weekly is 100% local organic from USDA certified small farms. Yes this is in California and such things aren’t that exceptional around here. I’m sure other markets in other parts of the US feature plenty of organic produce from places like the central valley.

  38. dawshoss says:

    To puddle jumper “I know, that a healthier soil and plants with fewer contact with pesticides and herbicides would have a higher overall nutrient content. Oh well, good to have assumptions shattered once in a while.”

    I may have an answer to this, many organic pesticides or herbicides require more frequent spraying as they degrade or lose efficiency sooner. And GMOs allowing more use of roundup also allow no-till practices, which greatly preserves the soil (instead of tilling the soil to fight back weeds, they can just drill holes in the ground where they want the crop planted and leave the rest intact) …something that may be of some interest to stanmrak.

    Because of these greater rounds needed (with fertilizer too) as a counter to the environmental friendliness you can be at least sure that organic thus often requires more gas consumption. Depending on the kind of “organic” in question…

  39. dawshoss says:

    The end of my previous comment inspired a question to ask:

    At the least, with all this variety in what can be called “organic” and variety in what that can actually mean for environmental practices, can we all at least agree that this label needs tightening up?

    Wouldn’t most of us rather want a label or rating system showing how environmental friendly or not the thing is?

  40. dawshoss says:

    “Even tiny amounts of America’s most popular weed killer glyphosate, primarily used with GMO crops, can damage DNA and kill cells, and have been linked to infertility and certain cancers.” “Most GMOs are manipulated to withstand high doses of chemical pesticides.”

    As someone born with birth defects suspectably attributable to a certain herbicide, I have to take issue with this. First I have to issue the usual challenge for citations on these (in the first quote not the second, agreed there, but see below for more on that) and what the post-publication peer review has been on these studies. To my knowledge they’ve been pretty subpar.

    But secondly I have to share what I know from my own research on the subject: Concerning toxicity (ie DNA damage and cell killing) Glyphosate has an LD50 of >5000 mg/kg in rats, one of the lowest toxicities I’ve ever seen period for an herbicide, way lower then the runners up for usage that this is allowing us to replace. It’s half life is 47 days and does not leech into the soil or ground water. Atrazine’s LD50 is 3090 mg/kg with a halflife anywhere from 13 days to 261 days, and has a major problem with leeching into the ground water, the mid-west is full of water contamination problems with this chemical because it stays around so damn long.

    (LD50 means how much you need to give the population before half of it dies, as a comparison, caffeine for rats is 19 mg/kg, table salt is 3000 mg/kg sugar is 29,700 mg/kg)

    The other big contender is 2,4-D….my personal fav :/ …it’s got a toxicity of 639 mg/kg, supposedly a short half life though of 16 days, but it does leech into the soil as well.

    And if we’re to use the tenuous modifier “linked to” these two herbicides have been linked to far far worse than just infertility, ie the birth defects alluded to earlier. The best study against roundup involved a highly unrealistic injection of it directly to the embryo.

    So in short I’d damn well rather have farmers using roundup rather than these other potentially far uglier sprays. And as an added note, the advantage to roundup resistance, is you can apply it without risking as much exposure to the farm workers as they no longer have to go out and apply it by hand trying to avoid the crop plants, they can just do one big dump over the whole thing.

    All this is pretty much the big appeal to roundup GMOs, it allows farmers to switch over to far less toxic herbicides and reduce worker exposure. So in that respect, the greater amount is pretty much moot, that greater amount is still far more healthy.

    -figures for herbicide toxicities obtained from http://toxipedia.org; and from the wiki site on toxicity for the everyday chemicals.

  41. Regarding resistant bacteria – the two differences found in this review between organic and conventional food were higher pesticide residues and increased antibiotic resistant bacteria on conventional food. However – there is no evidence that either of these factors is clinicaly significant, that they pose any negative health consequences for the consumer. So the headline remains accurate.

    Regarding washing – the primary purpose of washing raw meat is to prevent contamination of hands, cooking surfaces, and other food. The primary defense against bacteria in meat itself is thorough cooking (which I should have added).

    Regarding the amount of evidence – my conclusion:”The recent review of organic vs conventional produce agrees with previous systematic reviews that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that organic produce is healthier or more nutritious that conventional produce.”

    I did not say there is overwhelming evidence against a benefit or anything like that. There is lack of evidence for a benefit – so like so many things the marketing and public perception of benefit is not supported by evidence. The burden of proof is on proponents who are making claims about health benefits.

  42. BillyJoe says:

    SH,

    “And boy, it’s amazing all the goobers that come out of the woodwork when you talk about either the holy grail of organic foods, or circumcision!”

    It’s amazing how a marginal benefit for organic is interpreted differently from a marginal benefit for circumcision.

  43. Good point, BJ. Another weird thing: circumcision is sometimes religious, and it seems organic foods are a religion too! :)

  44. Old_skeptic says:

    Dr. Novella, you say that “The recent review of organic vs conventional produce agrees with previous systematic reviews that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that organic produce is healthier or more nutritious that conventional produce.”

    In other words, the nutritional value of an organic banana or carrot is comparable to that of a conventionally grown banana or carrot.

    But the title of your post says something different. It says that there are no health benefits from organic food. This could be interpreted as meaning “Don’t eat that organic banana or carrot. It doesn’t have any nutritional value.”

    And that would be inconsistent with the scientific evidence.

  45. Scott says:

    @ Old_skeptic:

    I’d have to characterize that as willful misinterpretation. Anybody who could read the headline and honestly interpret it that way can’t be relied upon to understand ANY phrasing.

    Those arguing that the antibiotic resistance and similar issues should be counted as “health benefits from organic food” have a leg to stand on, but worrying that people will think it means there is no nutritional value at all is ridiculous.

  46. Chris says:

    I believe anyone who thinks that everyone should eat organic food should try growing enough to feed themselves for at least a summer, with very little if any supplementation from a grocery store. I challenge them to deal with all of the soil prep, water and pest control to get a decent harvest. And this is not even for a full year.

    And yes, I have an organic edible landscape. It is challenging and fun. While I will be harvesting all the apples and pears I will need for the entire year, I don’t really get enough veggies and greens to feed us all for any length of time.

  47. Robb says:

    It’s funny how the original blog post and this recent review conclude that,

    “However, fifty years of research has so far not produced convincing evidence that there is any health benefit to consuming organic food. Likewise, systematic reviews of nutritional quality of organic produce also reveals no difference from conventional produce.”

    when other reviews and individual studies have actually found a basis for claiming organic produce has nutritional and qualitative superiority to conventionally grown produce.
    For example, just looking at two recent studies, quite easy to find, tells me that:

    Organic strawberries look and taste better, have higher levels of vitamin C and other antioxidants, are larger and have a longer shelf life before going bad.

    Organic vegetables generally contain higher amounts of minerals and weigh more than conventionally grown ones, organically produced animal meats contain more polyunsaturated fatty acids, and 94-100% of organic grown foods do not contain any pesticide residues.

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0012346

    http://www.agronomy-journal.org/index.php?option=com_article&access=doi&doi=10.1051/agro/2009019&Itemid=129

    There are other examples of studies that have found organic produce is nutritionally and/or qualitatively superior. I’m more interested in seeing a critique of the limitations/flaws in both the pro and con studies to see why negative reviews come to their conclusions and positive ones their own too. In any case, as has already been brought up, organic farming isn’t just about nutrient content or any marketed “health benefit”. It’s about quality (yield, weight, shelf life, taste, etc.), efficient energy usage, less exposure to growth hormones, antibiotics, antibiotic resistant microbes, pesticides, etc., and a less detrimental effect on soil and waterways.

  48. surfgeorge says:

    @Steven Novella

    Thank you for your response to my questions.

    I’m hoping you can explain to me, or point me to an explanation of, what level of increased exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria would be considered “clinicaly significant, that they pose any negative health consequences for the consumer”. This study asserts 33% greater exposure. At what level does increased exposure become a negative health risk, and how is that determined? Wouldn’t it be “prudent” to opt for the least exposure possible, even if there is some agreed upon statistical notion of “significant risk”?

    Am I correct in believing that you would consider the results of this study Agroecosystem Management and Nutritional Quality of Plant Foods: The Case of Organic Fruits and Vegetables (www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07352689.2011.554417), which includes “A meta-analysis of the published comparisons of the content of secondary metabolites and vitamins in organically and conventionally produced fruits and vegetables” and a computer modeled benefit outcome, to be “not clinically significant”?

    Thank you.

  49. stanmrak says:

    @skepticalhealth…

    The word “natural” is a term used by Big Food (NOT genuine organic producers) to label ‘conventional’ food and mark it up at a much higher price; it fools the majority of consumers – surveys show that most people think that the ‘all-natural’ label is better than organic! “All natural” has no official definition. Foods that are labeled ‘all natural’ can contain pesticides, GM ingredients, almost anything you’d find in any other foods. “USDA Organic” must meet government standards that are the highest in the industry. I don’t mind paying more to ensure I’m eating higher-quality food. Here’s how it’s done with cereals, where “all natural” brands usually cost MORE than organic:
    http://www.cornucopia.org/2011/10/natural-vs-organic-cereal/

    Penn and Teller… seriously? Pathetic would be the best word to describe their attempts at scientific reasoning, regardless of what topic they go after. What is your example about their taste-testing doing on a “science-based” website? If they had found a different conclusion, would you consider their techniques “scientific”? I doubt it. The answer is in your avatar… I’ve found that anyone who calls himself a skeptic should be automatically treated with skepticism.

  50. mousethatroared says:

    Steven Novella
    “Regarding resistant bacteria – the two differences found in this review between organic and conventional food were higher pesticide residues and increased antibiotic resistant bacteria on conventional food. However – there is no evidence that either of these factors is clinicaly significant, that they pose any negative health consequences for the consumer. So the headline remains accurate.”

    So you disagree with the FDA when they state…?

    “The development of resistance to this important class of drugs, and the resulting loss of their effectiveness as antimicrobial therapies, poses a serious public health threat. ”
    and
    ““It is clear that there has been a dramatic increase over the years in the numbers of strains of enteric bacteria of animal origin which show resistance to one or more antibiotics. Further, these resistant strains are able to transmit this resistance to other bacteria. This resistance has resulted from the use of antibiotics for growth promotion and other purposes in farm livestock” (Ref. 1, p. 60). The report also noted, “There is ample and incontrovertible evidence to show that man may commonly ingest enteric bacteria of animal origin” (Ref. 1, p. 60).”" (from previous report)

    http://www.fda.gov/downloads/AnimalVeterinary/GuidanceComplianceEnforcement/GuidanceforIndustry/UCM216936.pdf

    Or do you think that the organic livestock industry is endangering public health with the use of antibiotics as much as the conventional livestock industry?

  51. Calli Arcale says:

    Chris — have you seen the show “The Good Life” (or, in the US, “Good Neighbors”)? It’s a sitcom about a couple in Islington who decide to become subsistence farmers. The husband quits his job, and they convert their back yard into a farm — complete with chickens and goats, IIRC. Their good friends and neighbors, however, have retained a more typical lifestyle, and much comedy ensues from their interactions, and with the struggles of trying to sell enough produce to pay for the utilities and next year’s seed and all that. In the final episode, the husband does go back to work, having decided that it’s more trouble than it’s worth, but they do some really good and interesting explorations of the challenges of trying to live that way.

    surfgeorge — I don’t think Novella is arguing that increasing antibiotic resistance is benign. What he’s arguing is that if proper food safety protocols are followed, it’s not relevant to the safety of a particular food item. If you’re washing your vegetables properly and cooking your meats properly, the resistant bacteria shouldn’t cause you food poisoning. After all, resistant bacteria don’t actually make you any sicker than the old kind; they’re just harder to treat. The problem of antibiotic resistance is much bigger than just whether the individual food items are safe; it’s the bacteria hitching a ride with the farm workers or getting on wild animals which move it around and entering the community. It’s a problem to have these bacteria in the food supply, but that’s not the only place they’re ending up from this practice — they’re getting into the community, and are well on their way to becoming ubiquitous.

    And that gets to my general beef about the organic label; by focusing us on this label, it runs a risk of diverting our attention from the bigger problems that are systemic through the entire industry. Rather than just creating a label for livestock fed without routine antibiotics (just antibiotics when sick), we should be demanding an actual ban on the practice altogether. Because just buying organic isn’t going to make enough of a dent in the practice to slow down the spread of MRSA and its ilk. Not when so many others are still feeding antibiotics to their cows and chickens and such. But if we buy organic, we think we’ve done our part, and we can stop worrying. That’s actually not true; we’ve done something that promotes more responsible farming, but that’s about the extent of it. Antibiotics in the feed have a proven benefit to farmers: it actually makes the animals fatter, by changing their gut ecology. They’re not going to quit without a reason.

  52. I specifically stated “for the consumer” – I have been very clear that I am talking about what the research in question was looking at – those consuming organic vs conventional food.

    Your are talking about the broader ecological effects of generating antibiotic resistant bacteria – which is a legitimate but distinct issue, so you are tilting at a straw man.

    I agree that antibiotic resistant bacteria is a large problem and we should take steps to minimize it.

  53. mousethatroared says:

    Your headline says “No Health Benefits from Organic Food” It does not say “No INDIVIDUAL Health Benefits from EATING Organic Food.”

    When you say Health Benefits, that could just as easily mean Public Health as Individual Health or it could be interpreted as both. The creation of antibiotic resistant bacteria increases the risks to every bodies health.

    IMO – Your headline is overselling your actual conclusions.

    Just as a cooking safety aside, I’m not sure if that washing meat to prevent cross contamination is true. The USDA site recommends against it.

    http://www.fsis.usda.gov/FACTSheets/Does_Washing_Food_Promote_Food_Safety/index.asp

  54. stanmrak says:

    It seriously concerns me that most of the public knows little or nothing about genetically-modified foods, and doesn’t realize that GM ingredients are in 70% of the food they eat.

    The arguments made for the use of GM agriculture include claims such as:
    1. GM technology will save the population of third-world countries from starvation.

    2. It will produce greater crop yields and more profits for farmers.

    3. It will reduce the use of pesticides.
4. It will produce more nutritious food.

    5. GM technology has been tested and demonstrated to be completely safe.

    In addition, the biotech industry insists that there is essentially no difference between GM produce and conventional produce, so labeling foods as GM isn’t necessary, and would only “confuse” the consumer.

    These claims of the superiority of GM technology are widely promoted by big biotech firms like Monsanto, who stand to profit the most if they can push their GM agenda through. These companies typically have a terrible history of toxic contamination and public deception. (Monsanto was responsible for Agent Orange, the active ingredient of which is now being used on soybean crops). GM technology gives them patents that will allow them to control the world’s food supply, which is their true goal.

    The head of the Dept. of Agriculture and head of Food Safety are both ex-Monsanto lawyers. Monsanto has infiltrated Washington DC to such a degree that they control the research and information that gets out, so most of what you read in the mainstream media is propaganda. In fact, they have made it ILLEGAL to use Monsanto seeds to do any research at all if you’re an independent lab!

    GM food technology has now been in use for about 30 years, enough time to assess some actual real-world results. What does the data show about the claims being made in support of genetically-modified agriculture?

    GM foods won’t solve the food crisis. A 2008 World Bank report concluded that increased biofuel production (crops grown for fuel rather than food) is the major cause of the increase in food prices.

    GM has not increased the yield potential of any commercialized crops. In fact, studies show that the most widely grown GM crop, GM soy, has suffered reduced yields.

    GM crops have produced an overall increase, not decrease, in pesticide and herbicide use compared to conventional crops. American farmers’ overuse of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds. To fight them, farmers are being forced to spray fields with even more toxic herbicides.

    GM foods have not been shown to be safe. GMOs have been approved without adequate safety studies.

    Eating genetically modified (GM) foods may cause disease and infertility. There are many reports about livestock having a variety of illnesses, including reproductive problems, when fed genetically modified feed.

    GM crops are a long-term economic disaster for farmers. GM seed prices in America have increased dramatically, cutting average farm incomes for U.S. farmers growing GM crops.

    GM crops cross-pollinate and spread into the environment, contaminating other non-GM crops. Realistically speaking, there’s no way to quarantine GM plants from any others.

    If you want to know more, start here: http://www.responsibletechnology.org

  55. mousethatroared says:

    Also, to what purpose would I build a strawman to tilt at? I feel like this is an accusation that I am being disingenuous. I am not. Antibiotic resistant bacteria has been a concern of mine for awhile. It is a concern that I have raised repeatedly on this blog and other places, due to the fact that my sister and brother have both had serious MRSA infections that required hospitalization.

    When I read your headline it gave me a very different impression than the actual content and I don’t feel it completely represents all the “health” issues surrounding conventional versus organic food.

    Now if you had said something like…Organic Food Label Should be Scrapped and Replaced with Something Useful. I’d be right onboard.

    But I’ve had my say and I’ll leave it at that.

  56. While the headline is short, I don’t think it’s misleading because the most direct and common interpretation is what I meant. Further I expect that people will read my actual blog post, not just the headline. I think you’re going out of you way to quibble now.

    I was very clear about context throughout my post and chose my words carefully. I effectively demonstrated that criticisms of the content of my post were straw men, so now it comes down to quibbling about my headline.

  57. Regarding washing meat – the USDA recommendations are reasonable. The goal is the same, as I stated, to reduce cross contamination. What I was saying is that washing is used to reduce cross contamination on hands, other food, and cooking surfaces – obviously those are the things that need to be washed. I also rinse off meat to get the bacteria-laden juices in the packaging down the drain, rather than dripping over my cutting board. If you do that carefully and clean up afterward, I think it achieves the goal. In terms of bacteria on the food itself, cooking properly is what you need.

    Interestingly (I have looked into this in detail) there is no real consensus of which kind of cutting board is best to use. They can all harbor bacteria and may be difficult to adequately clean, so I like to minimize potentially contaminated liquid (like from meat) getting onto and into my cutting board as much as possible, and I don’t use a board I used to cut meat to process other food until it has been through the dishwasher.

  58. I did say the organic food label is counterproductive. It’s a false dichotomy. We should focus on the evidence base for each individual practice in terms of health, nutrition, sustainability, safety, and the environment. “Organic” is philosophy based.

    I consider the issue of breeding antibiotic resistance as ecological or environmental, not an issue of the health of the consumer of organic produce. It’s hard enough to account for every potential misinterpretation of what I write in the body of my posts, let alone a short headline.

  59. Harriet Hall says:

    @stanmrak,

    If I wanted to know more about GM crops, I wouldn’t go to an obviously biased site like that for my information.

  60. surfgeorge says:

    @Calli Arcale

    Thank you for your response.

    I agree with you that “I don’t think Novella is arguing that increasing antibiotic resistance is benign.” I never asserted nor implied anything even vaguely of that nature. I believe that’s a strawman, or maybe a red herring. I’m simply asking for the parameters or criteria that make a 33% greater exposure NOT “clinically significant”, nor a source of “any negative health consequences for the consumer”. Those are Novella’s words, and he is asserting that the study is valid and supports that view. I’m asking for either 1. evidence that such increased levels of exposure pose no increased health risk, or 2. an explanation of the statistics that determines what level of greater exposure IS considered to be a health risk. I’m assuming, of course, that SOME level of increased exposure would be considered a health risk. Otherwise, why measure or mention exposure and the idea of “risk” at all? For example, if “statistically” 100% increased exposure is considered to be the level at which there is a “health risk”, then would one be comfortable exposing oneself to the risk if the study determines that the increased risk is “only” 99%? 90%? 50%? Why opt for ANY level of increased risk, even if not statistically clinically significant?

    You wrote: “If you’re washing your vegetables properly and cooking your meats properly, the resistant bacteria shouldn’t cause you food poisoning.” (This study, at least in the abstract only mentions antibiotic resistant bacteria in the context of chicken and pork.) That’s the theory. So you and Novella are claiming that bacterial contamination, even at the levels found in this study (including the increased levels in conventionally raised chicken and pork), pose no increased risk to consumer health BECAUSE if treated properly no health risk ensues? And, you seem to be saying, if that were the case, that everyone always treated these bacterially contaminated meats “properly”, there would theoretically never be any cases of food-born illness. If these things are so benign and non-problematic you have to wonder why in the world there are standards about the amount of bacterial contamination allowable/not allowable in food. Why would anyone care what kind or how much bacterial contamination there is in “meat” if all you have to do is treat it properly and there are no problems? I’m sure that is what the “meat industry” would like to see: no standards at all, because if treated properly even the most contaminated product “has no negative health risk to the consumer”. Please explain to me how the meat industry would allow such a non-science based standard against irrelevant contamination to be enforced which costs them at least tens of millions of dollars per year in recalls. There MUST be some threat at some level to someone or the contamination standards wouldn’t exist. Unless there’s a conspiracy of some kind by some powerful secret vegan cabal imposing scientifically unwarranted costly strictures on the meat industry.

  61. mousethatroared says:

    @Stephen Novella – It is, of course, your headline and article. Individual experiences will ultimately color one’s reading of many headlines. It’s rather subjective. I felt I should voice my opinion (reading) and concerns. If you regard my comment as quibbling, then I probably haven’t done a good job getting my concerns across, but who knows maybe it’ll click in a future discussion.

    Thanks for discussing the issue and clarifying your thoughts to me.

  62. Chris says:

    Callie Arcale:

    Chris — have you seen the show “The Good Life” (or, in the US, “Good Neighbors”)?

    Yes. And I try to do Rosalind Creasy style of edible landscaping, as opposed to the more recent urban farming phenomena. You will not see chickens or goats in my yard, but you will see greens and herbs planted between rose bushes.

    At the present we are in our sixth week without rain, and the only ornamental plants that get watered are those near certain edibles. Fortunately roses and herbs do not need much water.

  63. mousethatroared says:

    SN “Interestingly (I have looked into this in detail) there is no real consensus of which kind of cutting board is best to use.”

    Arghhh, don’t start me on cutting boards, there is no end to that little research project.

  64. Chris says:

    Food Safety ;-)

    And New York Times article: Farm Use of Antibiotics Defies Scrutiny.

    Plus:

    Science. 2012 Aug 31;337(6098):1107-11.
    The shared antibiotic resistome of soil bacteria and human pathogens.
    Forsberg KJ, Reyes A, Wang B, Selleck EM, Sommer MO, Dantas G.

    All three subjects probably merit their own article on SBM.

  65. stanmrak says:

    @Harriet Hall

    If I wanted to know more about GM crops, I wouldn’t go to an obviously biased site like that for my information.

    Do you really think that there are unbiased sources of information? If you understand human nature, you’d realize this isn’t possible.

    Relax, there’s nothing wrong with bias, and EVERYONE is biased – yes, even the writers here. And since EVERYONE is biased, you really can’t point fingers. It’s pot vs. kettle.

    The fact that you don’t recognize your own bias casts doubt on everything you claim.

  66. Harriet Hall says:

    @stanmrak,

    OK, so all sources of information are biased. Now explain why you choose to get your information from a source with an anti-GM bias rather than a pro-GM bias. And why choose one ahead of time: why not compare the information and arguments from both pro- and anti- sites before you make up your mind?

  67. weing says:

    “There MUST be some threat at some level to someone or the contamination standards wouldn’t exist.”

    I guess not everyone enjoys their food deep-fried.

  68. surfgeorge says:

    @weing

    Well, what’s wrong with those people? “What? No deep fat?…” Futuristic scientist lamenting the 20th century ignorance of what is truly healthy, in Sleeper by Woody Allen. (27 second scene here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yCeFmn_e2c)

    I’m still waiting for someone to explain how a 33% greater risk of exposure (in the conventional chicken and pork compared to the organic) to antibiotic resistant bacteria is “not a greater health risk”, and how that is documented in the study. Or, please explain what percentage greater exposure WOULD constitute “a greater health risk” and how that percentage was arrived at.

  69. Sullivanthepoop says:

    I asked before and I will ask again, what mechanism would make GM food unsafe or even different than the foods we have been modifying for a millennium? Also, most crops were chosen originally because they are hermaphrodites. That way it is easier to get the offspring you want, but there is some chance for new genetic traits. Not saying there is no cross pollination but it is probably not as great as you are thinking.

  70. Sullivanthepoop says:

    To surfgeorge: Most bacterial infections are not acquired through the food we eat because of the way it was grown. When recent E. coli outbreaks were traced back it always leads to packaging or handling. The people most at risk from soil and animal bacteria are the farm workers. Proper handling can cut down enormously on the regular exposure you get from foods.

  71. surfgeorge says:

    @Sullivanthepoop

    Yes, I’m aware of what you say.

    But neither the meta-analysis, nor this review of it by Novella address any farm worker issues (nor slaughterhouse worker exposure issues, nor any exposures to antibiotic-resistant bacteria other than through chicken and pork at the previously mentioned 33% higher rate for conventional as opposed to organic), and Novella has made clear that he does not want to deal with any peripheral issues not directly addressed by the meta-analysis by the Stanford group.

    So that’s what I’m asking about. The meta-analysis by the Stanford group. The subject material of Novella’s column. What is the source material for the conclusion that a rate increase of 33% exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria “is not a greater health risk”? How could a greater exposure risk NOT be “a greater health risk”? Is it the word “health”? Is it the word “risk”? Is it the word “greater”? Is it the word “not”?

    I’m believing, and I could certainly be wrong, that the only reason the authors of the meta-analysis looked at and included data about exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and the rates of exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria is because exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria is a health risk. If it’s not a health risk, why bother to measure it in the first place, much less dedicate 50% of the abstract conclusion to noting decreased exposure with organic chicken and pork?

    Why would the two sentence “conclusion” of the abstract have one sentence that reads “Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria[.]” if there were no sort of risk reduction of any kind? So there is a “reduction of exposure”, but no “reduction of risk”?

    All things being equal (exposure duration, type, concentration, etc.), isn’t there an infection rate per exposures? Per 1000 exposures to organic chicken and pork don’t data show an infection rate of x% for the organic chicken and pork? Wouldn’t the group consuming the conventional pork and chicken having the 33% greater risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria exposure have an infection rate of x plus .33x per cent for the same number of exposures (of which 33% greater number are contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria)? If not, why not?

  72. Dingo199 says:

    @stanmrak
    So how would you respond to advice to “Find out more about GM foods by going here: Monsanto.com”?

    PS – you gotta love the testimonials on the Institute for Responsible Technology’s website – featuring Mike Adams and Joe Mercola (who even manages to get in a pimp for one of his own products at the same time).
    With testimonials like theirs, can they claim to have even a shred of credibility?

  73. Dingo199 says:

    So non-organic produce has a 33% higher risk of contamination with antibiotic-resistant organisms…..
    …..Relatives and absolutes, people.

    The organic lobby would have us believe their produce is entirely safe and unaffected by this issue.
    If that is so, then 33% more of zilch is still zilch. Of course that’s not the case, so there must be an underlying problem in organics wrt this issue, no?

    Focussing on this “33% more” number allows them to ignore the fact that their own produce is by definition “unsafe”

  74. I think it is more accurate to state that antibiotic resistant bacteria in food is a potential health risk. It remains to be determined if it is an actual health risk. It may be that these bacteria are not necessarily virulent and rarely cause infection. Or it may be that any increased risk is offset by risks that are greater in organic food. The review found no significant difference in E. coli contamination, a major source of food poisoning.

    There are lots of variables that can render a potential risk not an actual risk.

  75. stanmrak says:

    @Harriet Hall

    stanmrak,

    OK, so all sources of information are biased. Now explain why you choose to get your information from a source with an anti-GM bias rather than a pro-GM bias. And why choose one ahead of time: why not compare the information and arguments from both pro- and anti- sites before you make up your mind?

    Actually, I do. This is a topic that I’ve been researching for several years, from both sides. There’s plenty of scientific evidence for the harm of GMOs, but it doesn’t get out because these same corporations control the media. Your assumption that I haven’t looked at both sides further illustrates your bias.

    Furthermore, it appears that the entire article may be a hoax. These kind of stories in the mainstream media usually are. I’ve done enough research to spot a bogus story like this one right off the bat. Usually, I don’t investigate because it’s just not worth the time. Fortunately, other people are more diligent. Here’s what I found:

    The Stanford organics study may be a complete fraud. Its authors apparently are front-men for the biotech industry which has donated millions of dollars to Stanford. One of the key co-authors of the study, Dr. Ingram Olkin, has a history as an “anti-science” propagandist working for Big Tobacco. Olkin has a history of collaboration with tobacco industry giants to silence critics speaking out about the dangers of cigarettes. One such entity, the Council of Tobacco Research (CTR) has been openly exposed as paying off publication companies and journalists with more than $500,000 as far back as 1968 in order to generate pro-smoking propaganda.

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tobacco_Institute#Stealthy_techniques)

    Stanford University has also been found to have deep financial ties to Cargill, a powerful proponent of genetically engineered foods, and an enemy of GMO labeling Proposition 37. Stanford University has accepted $5 million in donations from Cargill in order to expand Stanford’s Center on Food Security and the Environment (FSE). (“Food security” is a euphemism for genetically engineered crops). Much of the research conducted there is done to try to advocate GMOs. It’s definitely in Cargill’s interest to smear organic agriculture. They don’t have to win the argument – all they have to do is create DOUBT with bogus research like this so that the argument continues and they can keep doing what they’re doing.

    In the end, why would you trust corporations like Cargill and Monsanto to be concerned about your health? Look into their history and past behavior and you’ll see why you shouldn’t.

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      @stanmrak,

      I don’t “trust corporations.” I go by the only reliable source of information, science, and I am very wary of the ways in which scientific studies can produce faulty results. I ask for evidence, and I don’t accept your non-evidence-based assertions that corporations control the media, that the article may be a hoax, that the research is bogus, or that there is a conspiracy at work. It seems to me you are the one who is “creating doubt” to support your bias.

      As for your claim to have evaluated both sides: You have reached a conclusion different from the conclusion reached by most scientists who have studied all the available evidence. I see no reason why we should choose to believe you instead of them.

  76. daedalus2u says:

    The issue of antibiotic resistant organisms on meat is a concern, and even non-antibiotic resistant organisms on meat can cause disease, and for that reason meat is cooked, and cooking kills those bacteria both resistant an non-resistant.

    However produce is not always cooked. Lettuce and other salad ingredients are not cooked. I have seen no data on the relative presence of coliform or pathogens on organic vs conventional produce.

    My expectation would be that organic produce would have higher levels because animal manure is very often used as fertilizer. Organic regulations specify that manure be composted or that wait times be instituted, but synthetic fertilizers have no bacteria and so bacteria from animal feces is not an issue.

    Under “organic” regulations, any type of manure is considered “organic”, irrespective of what the animals were fed. That included GM feed, that includes antibiotics, it used to include arsenic until very recently.

    The antibiotics in animal feed end up in animal manure. If that manure is used as fertilizer, the antibiotics will end up in the soil and the bacteria associated with that soil will become antibiotic resistant.

    Since meat is cooked, the more likely risk is from produce that is not cooked. Produce grown in soil fertilized with animal feces seems more likely to me to have higher levels of bacteria from those feces.

  77. mousethatroared says:

    DU2 – “Since meat is cooked, the more likely risk is from produce that is not cooked. Produce grown in soil fertilized with animal feces seems more likely to me to have higher levels of bacteria from those feces.”

    So as long as I maintain laboratory safety conditions in my kitchen, then conventional meat is just as safe to consume as organic meat, potentially(?).

    Yup, that IS comforting.

  78. surfgeorge says:

    Oh poor ignorant naive me. Here I’ve ranting about the “33% increased risk of exposure” to antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB) in conventional, compared to organic, chicken and pork (CP) as being a potential or possible health risk, and it turns out it’s actually a 300% (three hundred percent) relatively greater risk of exposure. Three hundred percent!

    How could I have been so stupid?! I only had access to the abstract of the Stanford article, so in my ignorance of statistical terminology I mistakenly thought that a “risk difference” (RD) of 33% meant that one was 33% more likely to be exposed to ARB when handing, preparing, consuming the conventional foods (CP). NOW I know that “risk difference is merely the subtracting of one absolute or actual risk from the other absolute or actual risk. The absolute or “actual” contamination rates according to the Stanford study are about 48% of samples of conventional, and 16% of samples of organic. When you do the subtraction you have the
    summary absolute RD of −32.8%. So I apologize, I was off by a factor of nearly 10 (33% vs. 300%) in ascribing the risk of ARB contact when using normal relative risk terminology that most of us are familiar with.

    So, if I may, in “practical” terms nearly one out to two (1 out of 2) times you purchase conventional CP you are bringing home ARBs, while fewer than one out of six (1 out of 6) times you purchase organic CP you will be bringing home ARBs.

    Fortunately for me I was able to find help understanding the statistical terminology from a brief 12 page paper:
    Initial Reflections on the Annals of Internal Medicine Paper “Are Organic Foods Safer and Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives? A Systematic Review”.

    There it is pointed out that the same statistical metric (RD) is used in reporting the risk of pesticide exposure. The paper also makes a few other points that might not be obvious to other uneducated people like myself.

    So the risk of exposure is 300% greater. Is there any increased risk of a negative health consequence from this 300% greater exposure?

    I’ll address that in my next comment.

  79. Quill says:

    “It’s hard enough to account for every potential misinterpretation of what I write in the body of my posts, let alone a short headline.”

    Dr. Crislip wisely noted today that everything is subject to change. Except, it seems, a headline on SBM.

    As Louis Lyons once quipped, “This is the sort of thing that happens when Yale men hold that they can make headlines.”

  80. mousethatroared says:

    SH “It’s all about packaging. I admit that I fell for it on multiple occasions. I bought some “grass raised” ground beef, and I thought it tasted better than the store bought stuff. Turns out it was the fat content. I always buy the leanest beef I can because of the saturated fat, but the grass raised crap had a very high fat content. So it passes itself off as “organic” and “natural”, but in reality it’s much more unhealthy for you than the lean meat from the store.”

    Are you sure your are correct in this? I’m not one for grass fed beef (can’t afford it) but my understanding has always been that it is lower in fat/saturated fat, thus there are always special cooking instructions to prevent drying out (nothing like a $15 steak that tastes like beef jerky).

    Oh here’s an article I found in search. To be honest, I can’t make heads or tails of it, or whether it’s worthwhile, but maybe it would amuse you (either way).

    http://www.nutritionj.com/content/9/1/10

    Hmmm, Possibly they’ve just started pushing more fatty cuts to off-set the drying out .

    also SH ” (with all those antibiotics!! oh no!)”

    (sigh) Yes, sure it’s all fun and games until someone end up in the hospital on IV antibiotics. (She said in her best “mom” voice)

  81. surfgeorge says:

    Steven Novella wrote:

    I think it is more accurate to state that antibiotic resistant bacteria in food is a potential health risk. It remains to be determined if it is an actual health risk. It may be that these bacteria are not necessarily virulent and rarely cause infection. Or it may be that any increased risk is offset by risks that are greater in organic food. The review found no significant difference in E. coli contamination, a major source of food poisoning.

    There are lots of variables that can render a potential risk not an actual risk.

    ***********

    So using the best available science-based evidence your conclusion remains that purchasing, preparing and consuming conventional chicken and pork (CP), having a 300% greater probability than organic CP of containing antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) does not constitute a greater health risk to a consumer?

    Your best science-based evidence leads you to use the words and phrases “potential”, “remains to be determined”, “may”, “not necessarily”, “may” (again), and “can”. Let’s put it this way: Has there ever been a single case of ARB infection in a human traced to CP?

    That looks a lot like speculation rather than science-based evidence. Wait, I’m going out on a limb and calling it speculation. Without presentation of evidence. What is your evidence for your statement that there might be any “risks that are greater in organic food” germane to this question? Citations please!

    In your review you state: “There was a 33% greater chance of isolated a multi-antibiotic resistance bacteria on conventional produce.” I pointed your first error of using the word “produce”, which would apply to the hundreds of foods tested, versus only two, chicken and pork, to which it actually applied. And it was because you wrongly stated that “There was a 33% greater chance” of contamination exposure that I was misled into believing that there was a 33% greater chance of contamination exposure, rather than the actual true 300% greater chance of exposure. So you either confused the “risk difference” (RD) with the relative difference, or intentionally misrepresented the data. You also asserted in a comment that one should wash meat, directly in contradiction to the USDA, which in their information on food borne illness clearly states “Washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb, or veal before cooking it is not recommended.” Is the USDA not providing science-based information? Where is your science-based information to support your contradiction to the USDA recommendations?

    Let’s do a thought experiment, suppose Burzynski or Mike Adams or Joe Mercola (or any other target) wrote a review of a study and made the above errors you’ve made. Do you think that every evidence-based critical thinking skeptic contributor on this site would have remained silent? Like they did when I pointed these things out and asked for clarifications? What are your excuses for silence? What are your (other site contributors) excuses for not applying your critical thinking skills to this review? It looks like a case of a priori bias that would be found inexcusable were it displayed by someone of a differing view. I am truly seriously deeply stunned and disappointed and frustrated when I see such an apparent lack of interest in holding yourselves to the same standards you regularly expect of others and excoriate them for not doing so.

    So, despite your errors, and the all the weasel word speculations of “it may be this or it may be that” you have no actual evidence that it isn’t a health risk to be exposed 300% more frequently to ARBs. Yeah, I know, you can’t prove a negative. But there has to be some correlation, if not causation, between exposure and infection, right? If you’re not exposed, you won’t get infected. You can only get infected if you are exposed. Right? Like with cigarette smoke and lung diseases, correlation, but no causation. Or has there never been a single case of food borne infection of an ARB from chicken or pork? Never? If there has been even a single infection traced to such a source, how can you say in an evidenced based manner, that increased exposure does not at least correlate with increased likelihood of infection?

  82. surfgeorge says:

    By the way, I’ve written to Dr. Smith-Spangler for a clarification on this specific issue, but haven’t heard back yet. I’m guessing she might have a few emails ahead of mine in her inbox.

    I’ve watched the video presentation by four of the authors on the AIM website, and they do reference the ARB in CP (as it was one of their three conclusions). After stating the higher rate of contamination found in the conventional as opposed to organic CP, the comment is a rather vague “The effects of this on human health is really not well understood”.

  83. mousethatroared says:

    @surfgeorge

    http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/18/3/11-1099_article.htm

    but really we should be “conservative”* with our response. :)

    *see Mark Crislip’s article today.

  84. daedalus2u says:

    @surfgeorge You are making the mistake of assuming that if something can be measured and is statistically significant, then it must be clinically significant.

    The only organisms that cause disease are pathogens. Non-pathogens do not cause disease. Antibiotic resistant non-pathogens are problematic because they can transfer genetic material with pathogens and form antibiotic resistant pathogens.

    The main risk from meat is pathogenic bacteria. These can be antibiotic resistant or antibiotic susceptible. Cooking meat kills both kinds, which is why meat is usually cooked.

    The E coli outbreak in Europe that killed 50 people was from uncooked sprouts from an organic farm.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Germany_E._coli_O104:H4_outbreak

    That strain was not antibiotic resistant, it was simply so virulent that it killed people before they could be treated.

    When fecal matter is used as fertilizer, contamination of food with fecal-borne organisms is always a possibility. It isn’t just human fecal matter that carries pathogens.

  85. Quill”
    “Dr. Crislip wisely noted today that everything is subject to change. Except, it seems, a headline on SBM.”

    ..and also, it seems, opinions on a headline on SBM. :)

  86. surfgeorge says:

    @daedalus2u

    I make a lot of mistakes. I make an effort not to make too many unwarranted assumptions.

    I understand that there are pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacteria.

    I am restricting all my comments and questions to directly relate to the material in the Stanford paper and Novella’s commentary on it, since that is his preference. And it’s complicated enough trying to get a straight answer out of any site contributors on this relatively simple question without going off on all the available tangents (and there are many, and I believe they deserve a science based analysis and critical thinking skills applied to those analyses and commentaries in support of, or opposed to them).

    You seem to acknowledge that it is at least possible for there to be pathogenic antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and that they could exist in the rates described in the Stanford paper as being 300% greater in the conventional CP compared to the organic CP. Is that correct?

    Do you know if there has ever been a human case of (pathogenic, obviously) ARB infection traced to CP? Please answer that question and point me to the source.

    According to the USDA there are 48 MILLION cases of food borne illness in the U.S. alone, PER YEAR, and 3,000 deaths. It seems as if there is a huge pool of potential data wherein one might conceivably find a case or two of ARB infection traced to CP, IF someone were looking for it. I have no idea if anyone has. IF just under 50% of all chicken and pork consumed contain ARBs (as per the Stanford data), and IF ARBs have infectious capability (you claim there are pathogenic ARBs), THEN there are hundreds of millions, if not billions of opportunities for human infections from ARBs annually, just in the U.S. alone. To a layman such as myself, it seems highly improbable that such a frequency of exposure to an infectious agent would result in zero infections. But that could be a mistake. I’d want to see evidence that it is a mistake, and not some “it may” be this or “can” be that non-evidence-based speculation.

    The point being, that if there is even one single infection from CP borne ARBs (and since Novella can speculate, I’m going to: I’m speculating that there are hundreds, if not thousands, or tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of such infections annually in the U.S. alone), THEN Novella’s assertion that there is no good reason or science-based evidence supporting choosing an organic as opposed to conventional food product is FALSE. Unless, there is evidence that would assert that a 300% greater exposure to an infectious agent has the same rate of infection as a 300% lesser exposure to the same infectious agent.

    I’d want to see that paper: “No Correlation or Causal Connection Between Rate of Exposure to Infectious Agents and Infection by Infectious Agents”. I looked for it. I couldn’t find it.

    How simple can I make this? Please respond in kind.

    1. IF a human can contract an infectious illness due to ARBs in CP, and
    2. IF a higher rate/frequency of exposure to ARBs results in a commensurately higher rate of infection, and
    3. IF the rates of exposure in the Stanford paper asserting 300% greater risk of exposure with conventional CP compared to organic CP are correct,
    4. THEN, IF a person wants to lower their risk of infection from CP, they could do so by choosing organic as opposed to conventional CP. And,
    5. THEN , IF a person considers reducing the probability or likelihood of contracting an infection as having what that person might consider to be a “health benefit”,
    6. THEN choosing organic CP is a sound, science-based choice, and
    7. THEN it is incumbent upon people claiming “no health benefit” from organic CP products to support that claim with facts instead of rhetoric.

    Okay, 7 isn’t real. Just kidding. Sort of.

  87. passionlessDrone says:

    Surfgeorge is making a valid point. The headline could have just as easily have read Studies on oragnic versus conventional eating underpowered, inadequately designed to make conclusions regarding health outcomes. It is fun to beat up on the crunchies and their hippie ilk while getting to strut about how smart we are, but this is a case of selective skepticism.

    Earlier in this thread, perhaps in response to me, Stephen Novella said, “Regarding the amount of evidence. . .”

    How many times has this forum been used as a vehicle to try to inform people that it doesn’t matter how many studies something like accupuncture, or homeopathy, or X exposure to Y cancer risk might have that might sound good, it is the quality of evidence that makes the difference. Suddenly, quality of analysis isn’t important.

    The reason that this seems to be bothering me is the display of a kind of an inverse to the naturalistic fallacy, a perfectionism of progress fallacy; the idea that because there are no quality studies, and we can’t think of ways that changes to our environment might cause unforseen problems, it is, therefore, incumbent that people with concerns about pesticide exposure ‘prove’ their points are valid. My take is that since everyone is participating in the experiment of conventional eating, we might want to be a little more pro-active about figuring out if it is having effects we haven’t considered; especially if the point being made is that we are “only” eating a “safe” amount of pesticides.

    For a long time, lead was considered safe for use a a pesticide, paint additive, and gasoline additive. Then, it was considered safe for use as a paint additive and a gasoline additive. Then, it was considered safe as a gasoline additive. Now, we believe that any detectable level of lead is associated with cognitive disturbances. At any given time in the timeframe described, the flacid explanation given by Stephen Novella, that the current evidence does not support a link between lead in X with cognitive problems had the same validitiy. This was a function of underpowered analysis, not a function of lack of effect.

    The same thing could be said of the widespread adoption of cesearean sections as a convenience delivery method or administration of tylenol to infants, two practices with literally decades of use that are only now being found to be associated with adverse health outcomes.

    I don’t know if eating organic is healthier or not; but I do know that a dispassionate analysis of our actions in the past tells us that we aren’t as good at predicting the consequences of our actions as we’d like to think we are. Chris raises valid points regarding our ability to feed everyone on an organic model; but that doesn’t tell us anything about whether we are changing ourselves in different ways. Anyone who tells you they have the answer to that question isn’t being forthright, or is very confused on the state of our knowledge; this post manages to escape making that admission, but it is the reality.

    - pD

  88. daedalus2u says:

    It depends what your default is. If your default is that organic is mystically magically better than conventional, you would want to see data disproving that. If your default is that organic and conventional are essentially the same, the absence of compelling data showing a compelling difference doesn’t change your default.

    Our a priori default should be that organic is essentially the same as conventional. The same plants are grown in soil, plants only absorb inorganic nutrients, NPK and trace minerals are all inorganic. If plants only absorb inorganic nutrients, it shouldn’t matter what the source of those inorganic nutrients is. It would be extraordinary if there were large differences. The data shows small, equivocal or no differences. The data is based on very small samples.

    What is more important than antibiotic resistant organisms is pathogens. If the levels of pathogens were the same on conventional and organic products, then we could look at what the levels of antibiotic resistant organisms are. But we don’t have data on the levels of pathogens on conventional vs organic. The sprouts that killed 50 people in Europe were organic. The organism was also not antibiotic resistant.

    You are trying to infer something that the data doesn’t inform on. The data is limited to meat products (the 50 deaths I reference were do to produce), the data didn’t measure pathogens (it was pathogens that killed the 50 people), the people were killed by antibiotic susceptible organisms.

    If someone wants to be safe while eating meat, the more important consideration is too cook it and follow proper safety handling procedures. If you do that, the risk from either conventional or organic becomes very small. To the extent that a specific piece of meat is properly cooked, the risk from that particular food item is zero, independent of whether it is organic or conventional. To the extent that people think that organic is mystically magically safer, and so relax on food safety handling, then organic can be less safe than conventional.

    I would like to see some data on antibiotic resistance in produce from organic and conventional. That is going to depend on the source of the animal feces the organic produce growers use. If they use antibiotic-laden animal feces (as organic regulations allow them to do), then the chances of AR organisms and AR pathogens is higher than for conventional produce fertilized with synthetic fertilizers which don’t contain antibiotics, bacteria or pathogens.

  89. mousethatroared says:

    DU2 – I thought Extraintestinal Pathogenic Escherichia coli – might be, you know, a pathogen.

    http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/18/3/11-1099_article.htm

  90. surfgeorge says:

    @ daedalus2u who wrote:

    “You are trying to infer something that the data doesn’t inform on.”

    I’m disappointed you didn’t present your arguments in a simple IF, THEN format, but…

    And, again, following Novella’s request, I’m only commenting on what is in the Stanford paper and Novella’s commentary on it.

    I assume that was directed at me asking for evidence about the rate of infection from ARBs in CP and how the differing rates of contamination in the Stanford paper would NOT warrant a prudent decision to avoid a 300% greater contamination exposure in conventional CP by choosing organic CP. So you are asserting that there is not data on this question, is that correct? No data on whether any human has ever been infected by an ARB from a CP source, AND that there is no data as to whether a 300% more frequent exposure to ARBs in CP might result in a greater likelihood of infection compared to the 300% lesser exposure. Is that correct? If there is no data, why does Novella make the statements he makes about “no health risk”? If there is data, where is it? I just want to read it. Someone here must have some better answer than (mostly) total dead silence. Maybe not.

    daedulus2u wrote:

    “If someone wants to be safe while eating meat, the more important consideration is too cook it and follow proper safety handling procedures. If you do that, the risk from either conventional or organic becomes very small.”

    Are you implying that the 48 million cases of food borne illness in the U.S. annually are due to incompetence? Eating raw meat? One in six Americans don’t know how to handle food? I suppose that’s possible. Or that all these people ARE handling food properly and that a mere 48 million cases of food borne illness annually is “small”? Or, I’ll let you phrase it: What IS your explanation for 48 million cases of food borne illness annually in the U.S.?

    I can’t find a statistic regarding the specific food sources (i.e. meat, dairy, eggs, vegetables, fruits) of these illnesses. But the CDC does have this:

    “[W]e estimate that 31 of the most important known agents of foodborne disease found in foods consumed in the United States each year cause 9.4 million illnesses, 55,961 hospitalizations, and 1,351 deaths.”

    and then:

    “[N]ot all agents of foodborne disease are known or can be counted as a “known agent of foodborne disease.” These other agents, which we call “unspecified agents,” include:

    known agents with insufficient data to estimate the agent-specific burden;
    known agents not yet recognized as causing foodborne illness;
    microbes, chemicals, or other substances known to be in food whose ability to cause illness is unproven; and
    agents not yet described.

    As a group, we estimate that these unspecified agents in food consumed in the United States, cause an additional 38.4 million gastroenteritis illnesses, 71,878 hospitalizations, and 1,686 deaths each year.”

    So according to the CDC the vast majority (80.3%) of the 48 million annual cases of food borne illness annually in the U.S. are caused by essentially unknown agents. Maybe the ARBs in PC are in the group “not yet recognized as causing foodborne illness”? So it is at least possible, possible, that at least a case or two of those 38.4 million unknown cases could be caused by ARBs in conventional PC.

    Okay, let’s ASSUME there is no data about this question, therefore there can be no science or evidence-based unequivocal decision regarding health risk concerning the choice about choosing a 300% greater exposure or not. If the evidence is out, why would one choose the greater exposure? Expense? Taste? Philosophy? Shruggie?

    I believe that at least some people would be logically and rationally warranted, given the “no data at all” assumption, or the fact that over 80% of food borne illness is cause by unknown agents, to provisionally conclude that it would be prudent, for health reasons (assuming you consider that bacterial infections and death are health issues), due to the probability of 300% lesser exposure, to choose organic PC.

    I’d really appreciate someone directly addressing the specific question at hand even though I understand the desire to place a response in some larger context having nothing at all to do with the Stanford study and Novella’s interpretations of it.

  91. surfgeorge says:

    @passionlessDrone

    Thanks for the support.

    I know it’s the weekend, this post is days old, we’re more than 90 comments down a long, long list, but this thing has taken on a life of it’s own for me, because I’m so flabbergastingly disappointed by what appears to be some sort of either an allegiance to a member of the club, or an unwillingness to subject one’s own claims to the same critical scrutiny others of differing views are subjected to here. I REALLY don’t get it. No response at all, not even “trivial” or “minor”, or “unimportant” or “everyone makes mistakes, you know what he meant”, or “no one has time to answer the ignorant questions you ask”, or “we don’t care”. None of which would fly for one second if the same type of mistakes and unsupported claims were made in a review of a paper written by Mike Adams or Joe Mercola or whomever populates that target list of “uncritical thinkers”. It’s really stunning to me. Really.

    Maybe one person will read this far and get the point.

    As an aside on another personal note, I have no vested interest in organic agriculture. I do buy some things that happen to be organic because I just like them better taste-wise, they keep longer, or they are less expensive (yes, you read that correctly LESS expensive… yea for the farmers’ market!). And I certainly have no vested interest in touting any sort of organic animal product: I’m an ethics-based vegan. This is all about accuracy, honesty, and fair and impartial evaluation of claims made by a public writer.

    @daedalus2u who wrote:

    “I would like to see some data on antibiotic resistance in produce from organic and conventional. That is going to depend on the source of the animal feces the organic produce growers use. If they use antibiotic-laden animal feces (as organic regulations allow them to do), then the chances of AR organisms and AR pathogens is higher than for conventional produce fertilized with synthetic fertilizers which don’t contain antibiotics, bacteria or pathogens.”

    I’d like to see that data too. FYI I ought to mention (since others have stressed the “organic manure contamination issue”) that although organic regulations allow animal manures (usually requiring some length or condition of composting) they do not require them. “Veganic” farming uses no animal products whatsoever, so there is no possibility of animal product and attendant bacterial or otherwise contamination. /End of off topic comment.

  92. noitall says:

    Oh the so-called skeptics have all been fooled again by big-tabbaco style quack science!!
    But you are all so clever….

    http://naturalsociety.com/stanford-organic-study-big-tobaccos-anti-science-propaganda/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+naturalsocietyblog+%28Natural+Society%29&utm_content=FaceBook

    “Over the last several days, the mainstream media has fallen for an elaborate scientific hoax that sought to destroy the credibility of organic foods by claiming they are “no healthier” than conventional foods (grown with pesticides and GMOs). NaturalNews and NaturalSociety have learned one of the key co-authors of the study, Dr. Ingram Olkin, has a deep history as an “anti-science” propagandist working for Big Tobacco. Stanford University has also been found to have deep financial ties to Cargill, a powerful proponent of genetically engineered foods and an enemy of GMO labeling Proposition 37.

    The New York Times, BBC and all the other publications that printed stories based on this Stanford study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine have been victims of an elaborate scientific hoax carried out by corporate propagandists posing as “scientists.”

    Read more: http://naturalsociety.com/stanford-organic-study-big-tobaccos-anti-science-propaganda/#ixzz25phJyEE1

  93. daedalus2u says:

    Not all food borne illnesses come from chicken and pork. When chicken and pork are properly cooked, they do not cause food borne illnesses.

    The only data on AR bacteria was from chicken and pork. If chicken and pork had AR bacteria and was properly cooked those bacteria would be killed and could not cause disease.

    There are foods that are consumed uncooked, typically produce is consumed raw. That would include lettuce, carrots, mushrooms, celery, radishes, and sprouts. Because produce is consumed raw, it is a potential source of bacteria, pathogenic and non-pathogenic.

    There is no data on the presence or absence of bacteria on conventional produce or organic produce. Since organic produce is grown on land that is fertilized with animal feces, there are potential transmission routes by which bacteria from animal feces could come into contact with organic produce.

    Produce that is not grown on land that is fertilized with animal feces has fewer potential routes for contamination with bacteria found in animal feces.

    Organic regulations allow feces from animals that have been fed antibiotics to be used as fertilizer. Processing of animal feces for use as organic fertilizer does not remove all antibiotics. Therefore food grown in soil fertilized with animal feces has a greater likelihood of being contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria as well as bacteria found in animal feces.

    I cited an example where organic sprouts killed 50 people due to contamination with fecal bacteria. That was 50 people dead, many more were sick, many developed kidney failure. Was the presence of fecal bacteria in those organic sprouts due to contamination from the use of animal feces as fertilizer? That is unknown. We do know the fecal bacteria did not come from synthetic fertilizers because synthetic fertilizers do not contain fecal bacteria.

    How could veganic farming possibly work? Nitrogen could be provided by N-fixing plants, but phosphate and potassium can’t be spontaneously generated from air? Grow plants on soil fertilized with animal manures and then use those plants as sources of P and K? Add another layer of inefficiency? Veganic farming has to be a tiny (and even less efficient) subset of organic farming.

  94. Narad says:

    Are you sure your are correct in this? I’m not one for grass fed beef (can’t afford it) but my understanding has always been that it is lower in fat/saturated fat, thus there are always special cooking instructions to prevent drying out (nothing like a $15 steak that tastes like beef jerky).

    SH did specify packaged ground beef, where you’re basically buying by fat content.

  95. Quill says:

    Karl Withakay noted that I wrote:

    “Dr. Crislip wisely noted today that everything is subject to change. Except, it seems, a headline on SBM.”

    And cheekily followed with “..and also, it seems, opinions on a headline on SBM. :-)

    Not everywhere true. While Dr. Crislip’s opinion on his six-bits remains as unmoved as the cork in the parson’s wine mine has grown even less favored with this uncorrected janglin’ jingle of a HuffPo kind. Ah well. I suppose doctors can be as irked with maladroit statements in medicine as former journalists & editors are with the same kind of thing in headlines. :-)

  96. surfgeorge says:

    @ daedalus2u who wrote:

    “Not all food borne illnesses come from chicken and pork. When chicken and pork are properly cooked, they do not cause food borne illnesses.”

    1. I never asserted that all food borne illnesses come from chicken and pork. I’m addressing the issue of Steven Novella’s incorrect reporting of what the Stanford paper said about the risk of contamination of ARBs being 300% higher in conventional than in organic chicken and pork, and questioning his assertion of “no health benefits” that by choosing a product that results in less exposure one is not making a valid choice effecting one’s “health”. I’m also questioning his speculations, rather than evidence-based assertions, as to why a 300% greater exposure “may not” be a greater health risk.

    2. Yes, “properly cooked” chicken and pork are not vectors for bacterial infection, antibiotic-resistant or otherwise. How many people cook with a timer and thermometer to insure the correct temperature has been reached in the center of their chicken or pork for the appropriate time? The main issue is not the cooking process anyway, it’s cross contamination of handing the product before it is placed in the cooking utensil. Any liquid from the chicken or pork that is transferred in the grocery bag, on the refrigerator shelves, human hands, washing the product (despite Novella’s contradictory advice to the USDA and CDC recommendations… I guess those government agencies aren’t up to speed on science-based contamination risks like Novella), utensils, cutting boards, counter tops, plates, etc. is the main pathway for contamination and resultant illness. The 48 million cases of food borne illness per year (I’ve now seen estimates that suggest the real number, including unreported and undiagnosed cases, is closer to 76 million per year) are not all from people under-cooking contaminated food. Many are from uncooked vegetables and fruits that have been cross contaminated, usually in the washing and/or packaging processes, but I’m attempting to restrict myself to the issues raised in the Stanford paper. I have requests in to the CDC and the USDA FSIS for a breakdown of the numbers re which specific foods are suspected of causing what percentage of such bacterial infections. I doubt that they’ll have very accurate data on that, if any at all.

    3. You asked about veganic farming. Veganic isn’t necessarily organic, it just means that no manure, blood meal, bone meal, feather meal, nor any animal product is used. In practice it seems anecdotally that most farmers using exclusively veganic materials tend to be of the “build the soil” vs. “feed the plant” schools. Nitrogen fixing rotating cover crops, no-till methods, composting plant materials and a whole host of plant and mineral soil amendments are available (many of which are used in conventional smaller scale farming). If you want to see a brief list, it’s here (this person is veganic organic, and I’ve heard from others that the Gentle World farm in New Zealand is very beautiful and very productive): http://www.veganpoet.com/articles/vegan-organic-gardening.htm

  97. surfgeorge says:

    daedalus2u wrote:

    “There is no data on the presence or absence of bacteria on conventional produce or organic produce.”

    From the Stanford paper abstract:

    “Escherichia coli contamination risk did not differ between organic and conventional produce.”

  98. mousethatroared says:

    Thanks Narad, I missed the “ground” in beef.

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