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157 thoughts on “No Health Benefits from Organic Food

  1. daedalus2u says:

    How many cooks actually do cook meat to the proper temperature? All of the competent ones. Sort of like how many organic farmers only use manure composted properly? All of the competent ones.

    I can’t get the paper this post is about, but looking for data on bacteria and produce I found this.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15151224

    Which seems to paint a very different picture. If you look at table 3, 46 out of 476 organic samples and 2 out 129 conventional samples tested positive for E coli. The paper suffers from sparse data on conventional produce, but organic produce shows what seems to me to be pretty high levels of contamination. The authors try to make a big distinction between certified organic and non-certified. It isn’t clear to me whether that was a post-hoc analysis or a statistical fluke.

    They published more data here

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16924919

    The analysis sure seems to be skewed to trying to conclude that organic produce doesn’t have more E coli contamination. They even state:

    “Despite the fact that the overall proportion of E. coli-positive samples was higher for organic (7%) and semiorganic (8%) farms than for conventional farms (2%), we did not consider it appropriate to conduct a statistical analysis and draw any conclusions from this difference because of the disproportionately smaller number of produce types that appear to be more susceptible to contamination such as lettuces and leafy greens collected from conventional operations.”

    Organic 31 out of 473 = 6.55%
    Semiorganic 60 out of 911 = 6.59%
    Conventional 12 out of 645 = 1.86%

    I am not sure I understand that rationale. Because there are fewer types of produce susceptible to contamination on conventional farms compared to organic farms we won’t analyze the differences? It seems to be that is exactly when an analysis would be most useful. But then maybe they didn’t want to publish what the analysis would show.

    There is a technology that does reduce bacterial contamination on all foods, including raw foods, that of irradiation.

  2. Chris says:

    I use a meat thermometer. I also wash cantaloupe with soapy water before slicing into it. Raw meat is never put on the island counter top (which has a sink to wash veggies, and no raw meat is placed in that).

    I have some other habits to prevent cross-contamination because of listening to This Week in Microbiology (there are some in depth discussion of food poisoning).

  3. DevoutCatalyst says:

    I want my Star Trek replicator, do away with pests and farmers altogether, have clean beef, fresh Kerguelen cabbage, tillage radishes, fugu, humane foie gras, whatever — year ’round, or whenever the tricorder says my body mythology thinks things are in season. Nor more more organic food guilt trips nor senescent hippies’ smelly underarms. Perfection.

  4. ^ I was just dreaming about a scenario in which I finally end up with my celebrity crush, and how it would ultimately be a nightmare because all she’d want to talk about is organic produce and acupuncture.

  5. Chris says:

    I want a specific Star Trek transporter: one that targets aphids, spider mites and fungus gnats. After weeks of work in late spring, I had finally removed all of the aphids from my greenhouse plants (mostly peppers, hot and not hot, plus a basil plant). So they grew in the warmth without aphids for most of the summer, then I found some one there yesterday! So they were all moved to the deck. I just sprinkled the postal carrier as he delivered the mail under the deck while I was washing off aphids. I assured him it was just water, and he did enjoy the mist since it is a warm day.

    How do the aphids get to the second floor greenhouse? (it was a balcony off the master bedroom that we enclosed with a roof and three sides of windows, it had skylights but they were removed because it sounded like a drum when it rained… not something you want next to your bedroom) I am going to clean the greenhouse (it is also bookcases and a great place for reading, with a great view… and a reason I cannot use ladybug beetles), clean all of the pots, even bleach out the pea gravel used for drainage, and tomorrow pick up clean potting soil at a nursery sale. I will start seeds in November, and hope that no aphids find their way back.

    If the lemon trees need to be brought in during very cold weather, I will be keeping them downstairs and hope nothing migrates up the stairs. I love Meyer’s lemons, and I hope Dr. Novella has better luck with his banana tree than I have had with these potted lemon trees (they are loved too much by spider mites, their leaves fall off).

    I found that fungus gnats can be removed by putting yellow painted popsicle sticks covered in tanglefoot, and also by putting a layer of perlite on top of the soil that has been hit with the spray version of tanglefoot though this year I think I’ll use crushed white rock). It helps to see the bugs that fall back to the soil after they have a shower (in the master bath), and catches the gnats as they crawl out of the soil. Not only are they annoying when they fly around while the greenhouse as I am reading in there, they damage roots and even feed on leaves.

    This is part of my litany of tales of why organic gardening may be fun, it is not cheap nor is it easy.

  6. Narad says:

    How many cooks actually do cook meat to the proper temperature? All of the competent ones.

    I think this depends on what one means by “proper temperature.” I’m certainly not going to run a heritage turkey up to the USDA’s recommended 165°F.

  7. Mal Adapted says:

    I’m a little surprised that no one has responded to this assertion by Stanmrak:

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

    There are two testable hypotheses in that statement. Is there reliable evidence (beyond “looking around”) to support either of them?

  8. ConspicuousCarl says:

    daedalus2u on 08 Sep 2012 at 1:53 pm

    They even state:

    “Despite the fact that the overall proportion of E. coli-positive samples was higher for organic (7%) and semiorganic (8%) farms than for conventional farms (2%), we did not consider it appropriate to conduct a statistical analysis and draw any conclusions from this difference because of the disproportionately smaller number of produce types that appear to be more susceptible to contamination such as lettuces and leafy greens collected from conventional operations.”

    Organic 31 out of 473 = 6.55%
    Semiorganic 60 out of 911 = 6.59%
    Conventional 12 out of 645 = 1.86%

    I am not sure I understand that rationale. Because there are fewer types of produce susceptible to contamination on conventional farms compared to organic farms we won’t analyze the differences?

    Assuming their claimed facts, that logic makes sense to me.

    From a study I just fabricated about street gangs:

    5th-street gang (245 members): 24 traffic citations for not wearing seatbelts in year 2011
    7th-street gang (287 members): 1 traffic citation for not wearing seatbelts in year 2011

    One might conclude that the gang on 7th street does a better job of educating its members about seatbelt laws. But you wouldn’t want to make that claim and then have someone else point out that the 7th-street group is a motorcycle gang.

  9. Chris says:

    Mal Adapted, it probably was not worth responding to that old and boring trope. Apparently doubling the average lifespan in a century is not good enough for some.

  10. ConspicuousCarl says:

    Mal Adapted on 08 Sep 2012 at 5:34 pm

    I’m a little surprised that no one has responded to this assertion by Stanmrak

    Stan Mrak’s assertions are endless. A lot of people have resorted to ignoring him. Every time he shows up, I check to see if his moronic century theory of heart disease (in short, he credits the lack of heart attacks 100 years ago to the magical powers of eating lard, and ignores the fact that back then people died 25 years sooner due to infections and didn’t have time to get heart disease) is still on his website. Yes, the stupid is still there:
    http://www.antioxidants-for-health-and-longevity.com/best-cooking-oil.html

    And that’s basically the same argument you addressed. 100 years ago some guy dies at age 50 from an infection. Yesterday someone else died from a heart attack at 75. Stan Mrak describes that as “getting sicker”.

    It is ironic to bring this up here. Mrak thinks we are getting sicker because we are eating less lard, when in fact we are living longer because we aren’t dying from infections. The guy is just bat-side-down backwards on everything.

  11. daedalus2u says:

    CC, yes but the conventional and organic farms were growing the same fruits and vegetables. They had samples of each type of fruit and vegetable from both types of farms. It is just that the conventional farms had fewer instances of contamination than did the organic farms.

    They simply didn’t want to report the conclusion that their data led to.

    That paper is available for free, if you put the title into Google Scholar it will come up and can be downloaded as a pdf.

  12. tgifryday says:

    Hey Steven,

    What do you think of this response by Benbrook on Sept 4:

    http://www.organicconsumers.org/benbrook_annals_response2012.pdf

    Reading it, it appears to be fairly level-headed, though it does not offer too many answers of his own — or if he does through his own studies, it may be that his articles/findings just didn’t make it into the news.

    Philippe

  13. ConspicuousCarl says:

    daedalus2u on 08 Sep 2012 at 7:09 pm

    CC, yes but the conventional and organic farms were growing the same fruits and vegetables. They had samples of each type of fruit and vegetable from both types of farms. It is just that the conventional farms had fewer instances of contamination than did the organic farms.

    The passage you quoted seems to be saying that this is not the simple case, but rather that the conventional farms were not growing the same fruits and vegetables in the same quantities.

    “disproportionately smaller number of produce types that
    appear to be more susceptible to contamination such as
    lettuces and leafy greens collected from conventional operations.”

  14. mousethatroared says:

    CC – “And that’s basically the same argument you addressed. 100 years ago some guy dies at age 50 from an infection. Yesterday someone else died from a heart attack at 75. Stan Mrak describes that as “getting sicker”.

    It is ironic to bring this up here. Mrak thinks we are getting sicker because we are eating less lard, when in fact we are living longer because we aren’t dying from infections. The guy is just bat-side-down backwards on everything.”

    Yup, but it’s not just infections. There is also the difference in record keeping over time. In 1912, When cardio-vascular disease wasn’t recognized early or treated, many people just had heart attacks or strokes and died immediately or quickly at home. How were these deaths tracked?

    Also, food was fair less plentiful to the majority of people than it is today. So people ate less, they ate more staple foods, such as beans, potatoes, rice, etc to there’s a good chance they ate alot less fat over all in 1912.

    Another consideration is the protective effects of physical activity in CVD. Compare the physical activity level of the average rancher, farmer, factory worker, mason…even clerical worker in 1912 to that of the average software engineer, retail worker, factory worker today.

    Barbie says “Epidemiology is Hard!”

  15. mousethatroared says:

    Just as an aside, If you clarify that you are setting aside infection, malnutrition and occupational injury (public health, worker rights or environmental issues), people in 1912 were probably overall “healthier” than they are today.

    So as long as you make it clear that you are setting aside those issues, you can write a headline. “People Healthier in 1912 Than Today” and you would be just as accurate as an SBM headline.

  16. surfgeorge says:

    Steven Novella, in attempting to defend his claim that a 300% greater risk of exposure (which he has mistakenly claimed is only a 33% greater risk, thus mistakenly under-reporting the actual risk by 909%) to antibiotic-resistant bacteria in purchasing conventional chicken and pork as compared to purchasing organic chicken and pork, wrote:

    “Or it may be that any increased risk is offset by risks that are greater in organic food.“

    Would that be the magical mysterious undetectable-by-scientific-methods evil organic woo? Is that mentioned in the Stanford paper?

  17. Narad says:

    So people ate less, they ate more staple foods, such as beans, potatoes, rice, etc to there’s a good chance they ate alot less fat over all in 1912.

    The USDA (Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply, 1909–2000) gives 12.6% of total calories from fats and oils in 1909–1919 and 21.7% in 2000. Lard consumption was quite stable through the end of the 1950s.

  18. daedalus2u says:

    CC, if you look at the data they supply, it directly contradicts the impression of their statement.

    surfgeorge, why don’t you look at the papers I cited on fecal bacteria found on organic vs conventional produce. That produce is usually consumed raw, unlike pork and chicken which is cooked. Thus the risks of organic produce are higher than the risks of conventional produce.

  19. stanmrak says:

    @ConspicuousCarl

    Pitiful arguments, Carl. Apparently, you don’t even know the difference between ‘sick’ and ‘dead’. Living a few years longer drugged up on pharmaceuticals and suffering endless side effects from them isn’t an improvement in my book. And reducing the theory of heart disease to lard consumption is laughable. Nowhere do I assert that. But how do YOU explain the fact that the rate of heart disease continued to rise, even as saturated fat consumption decreased dramatically over several decades?

  20. @stanmrak, it must be difficult watching your entire world crash down around you. Haha!

  21. Narad says:

    And reducing the theory of heart disease to lard consumption is laughable. Nowhere do I assert that.

    “Before 1920, coronary heart disease was rare. Back then, people cooked with butter and lard, both high in saturated fat. However, by the 1950′s, the rate of heart disease had grown so dramatically that it became the leading cause of death among Americans.”

    1909–1919: Butter, 4.4%; lard & tallow, 3.8%
    1920–1929: Butter, 4.6%; lard & tallow, 4.2%
    1930–1939: Butter, 4.8%; lard & tallow, 4.2%
    1940–1949: Butter, 3.4%; lard & tallow, 4.3%
    1950–1959: Butter, 2.5%; lard & tallow, 3.8%

    Now, perhaps you would like to connect the “by the 1950′s” dots.

  22. surfgeorge says:

    @daedalus2u:

    As I have repeatedly said, as per Steven Novella’s request, I am only commenting on the Stanford paper and Novella’s misreporting of the data, his suggestions that run contrary to those of the CDC and the USDA FSIS, and his interpretation that there is “no health benefit”, or that it is not reasonable to conclude that there might be a health benefit, from not selecting a product that has a 300% greater risk of exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Well, that and the fact that no one associated with this site will call out Novella on his errors.

    daedalus2u wrote:

    “Thus the risks of organic produce are higher than the risks of conventional produce.”

    As I understand your words, you are claiming that the Stanford systematic review is wrong when they state “Escherichia coli contamination risk did not differ between organic and conventional produce.” Is that correct? What is your evidentiary basis for invalidating their findings? What other findings in the Stanford systematic review are invalid in your view, and why?

    My understanding is the the vast majority of food-borne illness involving meat (includng of course the chicken and pork referenced in the Stanford systematic review) are not due to inadequate cooking, but from prior-to-cooking cross contamination during unpackaging and preparation wherein hands, utensils, and surfaces are contaminated, and then other foods are cross contaminated. The claim that “cooking makes it safe” ignores this fact.

    I have emails to the CDC, USDA FSIS, and the Stanford systematic reviews lead author asking for clarifications on some of the specific data. I’ll be sure to share whatever I hear back from any of them, if I hear back.

  23. surfgeorge says:

    The Stanford systematic review abstract conclusion has two sentences:

    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.

    I want to compare Novella’s claim of “no health benefit” with the conclusion of the systematic review.

    The Stanford abstract conclusion makes no mention at all of “health benefit”, it simply states, in the first sentence, the concept “nutritious”. Would more “nutritious” be the only possible “health benefit” from organic products? There is no real reason to deduce that from what is written in the abstract conclusion. One could speculate on that, but one wouldn’t be affirming anything from the abstract. In fact, it’s possible (if I can play the “may”, “could”, “potential”, etc. game myself as Novella does) that the second sentence (re reduced exposure to pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria with organic products) of the abstract conclusion could be interpreted as suggesting that there could possibly be a health benefit to organic produce despite a lack of nutritional superiority.

    I wonder if we could write slightly modified versions of that first sentence of the abstract conclusion:

    original:

    The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.

    modification 1 (re “strong”):

    The published literature contains less-than-strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.

    modification 2 (re “significantly”):

    The published literature has strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious than conventional foods, but not significantly so.

    Of course the question is how is the term “significantly”defined, and since I don’t have a copy of the full paper yet, I don’t know the answer to that. But there is a systematic review of organic vs. conventional products that does conclude that there is a significant nutritional benefit to organic products, and that that significance likely has a clinical impact.

    I posted a link earlier, but no one has seen fit to comment on it. I should mention, that at least according to some commentors, this systematic review, covering largely the same original research as the Stanford review, used a more rigorous methodology of determining higher quality of original studies, and a higher standard for admitting them into the systematic review.

    I’ll post it again:

    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

  24. ConspicuousCarl says:

    stanmrak on 09 Sep 2012 at 5:36 pm

    @ConspicuousCarl

    Pitiful arguments, Carl. Apparently, you don’t even know the difference between ‘sick’ and ‘dead’.

    With your absurd argument about rates of heart disease before 1920, you apparently don’t know the difference between “living” and “dead”.

    Living a few years longer

    Two decades is not “a few”.

    drugged up on pharmaceuticals

    A dishonest attempt to confuse “drugged up” on recreational drugs vs. medication by insulin, lipitor, etc.

    and suffering endless side effects from them isn’t an improvement in my book. And reducing the theory of heart disease to lard consumption is laughable. Nowhere do I assert that.

    Nice try. You state that people used to eat loads of lard and other saturated fats, and look how they didn’t have heart attacks, and then you have an entire page on your website talking about the best source of saturated fat.

    Even you shouldn’t lower yourself to the cliche BS of slithering around your own position by claiming that you didn’t say exactly what you said.

    And here are some of your own exact words:
    “If you need to use any oil for frying or baking, saturated fats are the best,”

    But how do YOU explain the fact that the rate of heart disease continued to rise, even as saturated fat consumption decreased dramatically over several decades?

    Depending on how many you mean by “several”, I already did. We have more heart disease than we did 8 decades ago because we aren’t dying sooner from other causes. You still don’t get this, and it is pathetic.

    In the last 2-3 decades, one reason why people are not eating healthier is probably fake experts like you, who are always distracting people with nonsense.

  25. MY ONE PIECE OF DATA IS BETTER THAN UR DATAZ!

  26. daedalus2u says:

    There is not a thing called “nutrition” that if you get more of it you will be healthier.

    Organisms require multiple nutrients in different amounts depending on their physiology, what is going on with their health, and many other things.

    Other than due to gross deficiencies, it is very difficult to determine how “nutritious” a specific diet is for a specific person. The best diet advice remains: eat a lot of different things, not too much and mostly plants.

    Exactly why this diet advice is correct is not well understood. It is not due to consumption of specific compounds, so models that pretend it is are wrong.

  27. surfgeorge says:

    @daedalus2u:

    First you seem to be claiming that there is no known causal or necessary relationship between nutrition/diet and “health”, apparently in order to invalidate a systematic review (covering much of the same research that the Stanford review did, but with a possibly higher quality standard) that claims there is. That study claimed a nutrition-based health benefit from an organic diet as opposed to a diet of conventionally farmed foods. Apparently you don’t like that conclusion so you claim that nutrition is unrelated to health, and therefore even if the systematic review is correct, that there is a health benefit from nutritionally superior organic foods, that there really isn’t because nutrion has no causal bearing on health, except for gross deficiencies.

    Then you give nutrition advice you claim is valid and effects health.

    You can’t really have it both ways. Either nutrition effects health, however complex that might be. Or nutrition does not effect health, and if that is the case as you claim, you would not be so silly as to then venture some opinion on what kind of nutrition effects health. Would you?

  28. surfgeorge says:

    @SkepticalHealth:

    Are you asserting that one systematic review is “singular” data and another systematic review is “plural” data? Which is which, and why?

  29. weing says:

    What does nutritionally superior mean? You don’t have to eat as much of it to get the requisite calories and vitamins?

  30. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Part of the issue is proxy versus real health endpoints. The lit review seemed to compare mostly proxies – antibiotic-resistant bacteria, levels of specific vitamins in specific foods and pesticide levels. You can therefore take the results either way – they more found pesticides in non-organic foods and this is horrible, or they found traces of pesticides in non-organic foods that are unlikely to cause health problems and this is good. Where you go from these actual findings depends in large part on assumptions and (I would say more so in the case of pro-organic groups) ideology. If you assume pesticides are a universal evil that does harm, you’re going to proclaim organic food a win. If you assume pesticides are safe in small amounts, you can proclaim this a victory for an agricultural system that produces large amounts of food cheaply. However, neither type of food has been linked to higher or lower levels of morbidity or mortality – real health endpoints.

    For either “side” to proclaim this definitive or fatally flawed is engaging in rhetoric rather than science, if you are talking about the effect of organic food on human health. We just don’t know.

    Of course, since the organic food movement is based more on the naturalistic fallacy than on emprical measures, they automatically lose a lot of credibility right from the start – in my opinion anyway. Anybody eating organic now, when there’s no real science to support it, should just accept the fact that they’re doing it for ideological reasons (or at best an extreme application of the precautionary principle), not empirical ones. Nothing wrong with that, so long as you don’t treat it as a war (or argument) to be won.

  31. surfgeorge says:

    @WilliamLawrenceUtridge:

    So you’re asserting that a person choosing NOT to consume the product that is 300% more likely to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria is “doing it for ideological reasons (or at best an extreme application of the precautionary principle).” What would the comparative contamination level have to be for such a choice not be “ideological” or “extreme”?

    Your “opinion” painting “the organic food movement” with a broad brush to make it out to be monolithic is interesting. You are certainly entitled to your opinion, but I don’t believe it is warranted by looking at the diversity of writings by pro-organic advocates.

    Someone could make the same “fallacy oriented” and “ideologically rather than evidence oriented” claims against skeptics. Take for example this article by Novella: He misstates what a particular statistic applies to (only two items, not the dozens analyzed that would be under the “produce” label); he misstates the probability of contamination by a factor of 909% (my personal opinion is that that is an error that is statistically significant); he gives advice directly contrary to that of the CDC and the USDA FSIS without presenting any evidence that his assertion is more valid than the government agencies responsible for informing the public of how to prevent food-borne illness; he makes non-evidence based assertions that the increased risk of ARB exposure is either 1. inconsequential, or 2. there is some mysterious unnamed evil woo in organic products that makes the decreased risk of exposure with those products ineffective.

    See any fallacies or ideology in that?

    Oh, and we’re 6 days and 132 comments in, and not one single person associated with this site, nor any of the commentors supporting Novella’s views, have commented on his errors. Not one. Ideology? Or what?

  32. surfgeorge says:

    weing wrote:

    “What does nutritionally superior mean? You don’t have to eat as much of it to get the requisite calories and vitamins?”

    From the Newcastle University systematic review that I posted above:

    “Based on the assumption that increasing the content of biologically active compounds in fruits and vegetables by 12% would be equivalent to increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables by the same 12%…”

    Meaning that eating the equivalent number of calories of organic foods, as opposed to the same number of calories of conventionally farmed foods, the resulting increased 12% of the nutrients would yield a health benefit.

  33. daedalus2u says:

    surfgeorge, data is plural, datum is singular.

    The assumption that “nutrition” is proportional to quantities of biologically active compounds is not correct.

    I appreciate that those in the cult of organic want to somehow prove that organic is better so as to justify their organic fetish. There isn’t any mystical magical benefit that foods grown under organic conditions provide.

    Organic farming is not a science based idea. There aren’t any compelling ideas as to why organic foods should be better than non-organic foods. Organic proponents claim there is, but when they show the data it is not compelling.

  34. weing says:

    “Meaning that eating the equivalent number of calories of organic foods, as opposed to the same number of calories of conventionally farmed foods, the resulting increased 12% of the nutrients would yield a health benefit.”

    Assuming that there really is a 12% increase in nutrients (which ones?), what would that health benefit be? 12% less calories needed? Does that apply to poisonous plants too? If I were to grow belladonna organically, can others be poisoned with a fewer number of berries than conventionally grown?

  35. mousethatroared says:

    DU2 “Organic farming is not a science based idea. There aren’t any compelling ideas as to why organic foods should be better than non-organic foods. Organic proponents claim there is, but when they show the data it is not compelling.”

    And conventional methods of using antibiotics in feed to speed and increase growth of livestock in spite of warnings from the FDA and other science based organizations concerned with the “potential” increases in antibiotic resistant pathogens (ARP) IS science based?

    Actually, yes, it is. Conventional livestock and poultry coorporations are using science to improve their profit margins, therefore enabling them to lobby for the “rights” to continue the practice in Washington, contribute to politicians election campaigns (or PACs) and advertising that rally’s support from citizens. An overall good result for them using science (Hurray!)

    Science Based Farming at it’s best, I’d say. And the wonderful thing for those coorporations is that if increases in ARP cause negative public health consequences, much of the additional financial burden is not going to fall on them. It will fall on the public in the form of increased taxes, medical bills, sick days and suffering.

    But, of course, if I buy organic meat instead. I am purely an ideologue. I guess that’s true. My idea is that if enough people start buying organic meat or other meat that has been raised without production antibiotics., some of the large convention operations will see a beneficial market and start offering their own brand of meat grown without the use of production antibiotics* (the FDA’s recommended approach). Therefore we could possibly see at least a decrease in the use of production antibiotics and therefore a possible decrease in the risk of ARP effecting public health.*

    Clearly, I’m being irrational and emotional in my ideology.

    *This is what happens when you have an two economics professors in the family.

  36. surfgeorge says:

    @weing:

    “Assuming that there really is a 12% increase in nutrients (which ones?)”

    Read the abstract as posted. Clearly stated.

    “what would that health benefit be?”

    Read the abstract as posted. Clearly stated.

    “Does that apply to poisonous plants too? If I were to grow belladonna organically, can others be poisoned with a fewer number of berries than conventionally grown?”

    Probably. If you had read the abstract (why would a supposed critical-thinking skeptic need to read a systematic review before attempting to mock it and criticize it, when they already know, apparently by ideological means, that it’s wrong?) you’d know that:

    “Ecological and agronomic research on the effect of fertilization on plant composition shows that increasing availability of plant available nitrogen reduces the accumulation of defense-related secondary metabolites and vitamin C, while the contents of secondary metabolites such as carotenes that are not involved in defense against diseases and pests may increase.”

    and

    “A meta-analysis of the published comparisons of the content of secondary metabolites and vitamins in organically and conventionally produced fruits and vegetables showed that in organic produce the content of secondary metabolites is 12% higher than in corresponding conventional samples ( P< 0.0001)."

    therefore, IF the substance in belladonna that is toxic to humans is a secondary metabolite of the plant that serves as a defense against diseases and pests for the plant, organic is probably more toxic. I think it'd behoove you to apply for a research grant to test your hypothesis.

  37. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    So you’re asserting that a person choosing NOT to consume the product that is 300% more likely to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria is “doing it for ideological reasons (or at best an extreme application of the precautionary principle).” What would the comparative contamination level have to be for such a choice not be “ideological” or “extreme”?

    Yes, because the choice is not made based on a reasonable evidence base or end point. Your comment contains an assumption that 300% more antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a number that has meaningful health consequences. To date, I am not aware of any science supporting that assumption. I could be wrong of course. But ultimately the choice to eat organic is not an empirical or evidence-based one. There’s nothing wrong with making ideological decisions in the absence of evidence (at least nothing wrong with it when the only impact is to your wallet and nobody dies). But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still an ideological choice.

    Your “opinion” painting “the organic food movement” with a broad brush to make it out to be monolithic is interesting. You are certainly entitled to your opinion, but I don’t believe it is warranted by looking at the diversity of writings by pro-organic advocates.

    My opinion is very much my opinion, you don’t need to put it in quotes. The organic food movement certainly isn’t monolithic. I was a member for many years (in the fact that most of the fruits and vegetables I bought were organic). But meta-analyses like this one illustrate that the movement is not evidence-based in terms of health impact. Which is fine, there are lots of reasons to eat organic. I just don’t think any of them are actually supported empirically.

    Someone could make the same “fallacy oriented” and “ideologically rather than evidence oriented” claims against skeptics. Take for example this article by Novella: He misstates what a particular statistic applies to (only two items, not the dozens analyzed that would be under the “produce” label); he misstates the probability of contamination by a factor of 909% (my personal opinion is that that is an error that is statistically significant); he gives advice directly contrary to that of the CDC and the USDA FSIS without presenting any evidence that his assertion is more valid than the government agencies responsible for informing the public of how to prevent food-borne illness; he makes non-evidence based assertions that the increased risk of ARB exposure is either 1. inconsequential, or 2. there is some mysterious unnamed evil woo in organic products that makes the decreased risk of exposure with those products ineffective.

    As I say above, the antibiotic resistant bacteria argument is, at this point, at best an extreme application of the precautionary principle. At best. Ironically, organic food has been associated with an increased risk of death – E. coli from an organic sprout farm in Germany killed 31 people last year. Rather than worrying about antibiotic resistant bacteria on food, not yet found to have had an impact on human health as far as I’m aware, I would be more concerned with E. coli that has acutally killed people.

    See any fallacies or ideology in that?

    Meh, the overall conclusion of the meta-analysis remains unchanged – no evidence that eating organic has any meaningful health consequences.

    Oh, and we’re 6 days and 132 comments in, and not one single person associated with this site, nor any of the commentors supporting Novella’s views, have commented on his errors. Not one. Ideology? Or what?

    Probably because you come across as a strident, ideological nit-picker engaging in the kinds of logical fallacies and ad hominen attacks we see all the time here. And unlike antivaccination lunacy, the overall health impact of this area is pretty close to nil. I would like to think Dr. Novella has better things to do.

    @MTR

    And conventional methods of using antibiotics in feed to speed and increase growth of livestock in spite of warnings from the FDA and other science based organizations concerned with the “potential” increases in antibiotic resistant pathogens (ARP) IS science based?

    Well, in a sense. It does increase food yields. The glut of food available in the world today means we forget the food insecurities of centuries past. Cheaper meat, for better or for worse, is a commodity that people want. It’s delicious, filling, provides valuable protein and vitamins and is the centrepiece of many meals. We’re now seeing the consequences. I personally would love to see more expensive meat that is not based on health-endangering and often inhumane rearing practices – but I still love pig and I haven’t been arsed to look into a regular supply of (quite expensive) heirloom pork.

    I think a lot of this discussion seems to be because of the is-ought dilemma, the distinction between empiricism and ethics (which is my terribly loose understanding of the is-ought dilemma anyway). At this point we don’t even know the “is”, we don’t know if organic food or antibiotic-fed beef have any empirical consequences. We can’t move into an “ought”, a moral, ethical, political or economic statement about what we should do, on any sort of empirical grounding yet. So instead, people rely on preferences, assumptions, rhetoric and ideology to inform what they buy. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just wrong to cloak your taste and assumptions in science when the science isn’t actually there.

  38. surfgeorge says:

    @daedalus2u:

    Thanks for the spelling information. I knew that. Really.

    I was responding to SkepticalHealth, who had written: “MY ONE PIECE OF DATA IS BETTER THAN UR DATAZ!” (an attempt at humor using the lolcats format?) after I posted the Newcastle University systematic review that concluded there is a health benefit from organic as opposed to conventionally farmed foods, and thought perhaps, since it’s unlikely that they had read it (if they follow the mode of most of the posters here) that perhaps they were unaware that it was a systematic review that had included several hundred papers.

    daedalus2u wrote:

    “The assumption that “nutrition” is proportional to quantities of biologically active compounds is not correct.”

    So the conclusion that “nutritional deficiency diseases” are attributed causally to an insufficient “quantity of biologically active compounds” is incorrect? I think if you can prove that you will win some kind of award or something. Congratulations!

  39. surfgeorge says:

    WilliamLawrenceUtridge wrote:

    “Yes, because the choice is not made based on a reasonable evidence base or end point. Your comment contains an assumption that 300% more antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a number that has meaningful health consequences. To date, I am not aware of any science supporting that assumption. I could be wrong of course. But ultimately the choice to eat organic is not an empirical or evidence-based one. There’s nothing wrong with making ideological decisions in the absence of evidence (at least nothing wrong with it when the only impact is to your wallet and nobody dies). But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still an ideological choice.”

    and

    “As I say above, the antibiotic resistant bacteria argument is, at this point, at best an extreme application of the precautionary principle. At best.”

    I contend that the data in these two recent studies, and other studies, is sufficient evidence that a reasonable person is justified in considering a 300% increased risk of contamination in a product as an unwarranted risk. And that such a choice is neither “ideological” nor “an extreme application of the precautionary principle”. Everyone is free to interpret the evidence against antibiotic resistance bacterial disease transmission in their own way, and have whatever standard of “proof” they choose, but this evidence, in my view, warrants reasonable discretion and is neither irrational nor ideological. To the people who want to continue to expose themselves to that greater degree of risk, I hope you’re correct in your assumptions.

    Chicken as Reservoir for Extraintestinal Pathogenic Escherichia coli in Humans, Canada

    Emerging Infectious Diseases Vol. 18, Number 3 March 2012

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

    Food-Borne Origins of Escherichia coli Causing Extraintestinal Infections

    Clin Infect Dis. (2012) doi: 10.1093/cid/cis502 First published online: May 21, 2012

    http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/06/07/cid.cis502.abstract

    WilliamLawrenceUtridge wrote:

    “Probably because you come across as a strident, ideological nit-picker engaging in the kinds of logical fallacies and ad hominen attacks we see all the time here.”

    Now that’s funny! Even the slightest bit of something that others would gleefully label as some well-deserved insolence is now labeled “ideological nitpicking”! I love it! Please list “the kinds of logical fallacies and ad hominem attacks” I’ve posted. I’m curious. Really. Name one ad hominem. Is “Novella under-reported the risk of exposure by 909%” ad hominem?

    WilliamLawrenceUtridge wrote:

    “Meh, the overall conclusion of the meta-analysis remains unchanged – no evidence that eating organic has any meaningful health consequences.”

    It makes no difference to you, nor is it significant nor worthy of note or correction, that there are errors and ideologically-based evidence-free claims by the author in his reporting and interpretation of a systematic review on a blog called “Science-Based Medicine”. Your agreement with the conclusions some aspects of the systematic review overrides any concern about inaccuracy or ideological claims. Good to know.

    WilliamLawrenceUtridge wrote:

    “I personally would love to see more expensive meat that is not based on health-endangering…”

    What is “health endangering” about meat?

  40. surfgeorge says:

    @WilliamLawrenceUtridge:

    I apologize for my error. I ought to have phrased that last question:

    What is “health-endangering” about animal “rearing practices”?

  41. mousethatroared says:

    WLU – Yes, I did say it was science based farming, didn’t I?

    “At this point we don’t even know the “is”, we don’t know if organic food or antibiotic-fed beef have any empirical consequences. We can’t move into an “ought”, a moral, ethical, political or economic statement about what we should do, on any sort of empirical grounding yet. So instead, people rely on preferences, assumptions, rhetoric and ideology to inform what they buy. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just wrong to cloak your taste and assumptions in science when the science isn’t actually there.”

    Actually that’s why I keep pointing out the FDA’s recommendations. I’m under the impression that the science IS there. The empirical data IS there saying that the use of antibiotics for production increases the risk of ARP in the public.

    So we know the is. The problem is the ought.

  42. Narad says:

    But meta-analyses like this one illustrate that the movement is not evidence-based in terms of health impact. Which is fine, there are lots of reasons to eat organic. I just don’t think any of them are actually supported empirically.

    Would you include, say, organophosphate exposure among banana-plantation workers as lacking adequate empirical evidence of harm?

  43. weing says:

    Regarding antibiotic resistant bacteria. I am a bit skeptical here. Bacteria have been around for over 3 billion years. They’ve been exposed to and survived all sorts of chemicals in that time. We’ve been trying for less than a hundred years. If they could talk, they could easily say, been there, done that. I don’t think we make much difference.

  44. mousethatroared says:

    @WLU – but if my efforts and the efforts of other people who are interested in the issue are helpful, maybe you’ll be able to get your no production antibiotic pork slightly cheaper and more conveniently someday. (I don’t know if I want my pork to my heirloom, though, I’ll take the new stuf) :)

  45. mousethatroared says:

    weing – So MRSA isn’t real? or just not serious? You lost me.

  46. weing says:

    MTR. It’s real all-right, and serious. I just suspect it has been around longer than we think.

  47. mousethatroared says:

    Weing – Oh thank god, I was afraid you had gone off some sort of denialist deep end. But, what you appear to be saying is contrary to what I learned in biology and what doctors have told me. “Over use of antibiotics can lead to more antibiotic resistant bacteria.”. Are you saying that’s not established science or that you are skeptical of this bit of established science?

  48. weing says:

    I am skeptical of it. I am not sure it is that established. It is more taken for granted. I do recall reading about studies done on bacteria found in excavations that were resistant to current antibiotics. I’ll have to do a search for this. One may have had something to do with Henry Hudson. They tried to explain it by the content of iron in the specimens. But that’s just off the top of my head.

  49. mousethatroared says:

    Interesting – Thanks weing!

  50. kahnfu says:

    Sorry but I believe you should reconsider your position on this study, after you have considered the fact that one of the major financial contributors to the Freeman Spogli Institute is the Cargill Corporation. (http://www.cargill.com/corporate-responsibility/environmental-sustainability/environmental-partners/stanford/index.jsp) They have an obvious incentive to slant the results of this study against any suggestion that organic foodes are better than conventional. See (http://www.cornucopia.org/2012/09/stanfords-spin-on-organics-allegedly-tainted-by-biotechnology-funding/)

    There were apparently many flaws in the way the study evaluated its data. For example:

    - The nutritional analysis appears to favor specific nutrients that were found in similar levels in both conventional and organics, and ignores nutrients that occur in higher levels in organics. Studies of conventional versus organic nutrient levels have been done, and according to at least one published survey of these studies (http://www.ncl.ac.uk/afrd/research/publication/168871), organic produce contain about an average of 12% more nutrients than conventional produce. See also http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/13/stanford-organics-study-public-health_n_1880441.html

    - The amounts of pesticides and other harmful chemicals in the food were not considered in the analysis. Both organic anc conventional foods have these (organic in trace amounts), and naturally conventional foods have much higher levels. But in the analysis the amount and number of kinds of pesticide found was not factored in; only whether or not any pesticide at all was found. See (http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/09/five-ways-stanford-study-underestimates-organic-food)

    - The comparative percents of conventional versus organic foods containing pesticides was also misrepresented; the report states that conventional food is 30% more likely to contain them. But the numbers in the details of the report show that 7% of organic foods sampled contained pesticides compared to 38% of the conventional foods. That’s a factor of more than FIVE times greater chance of conventional food containing the pesticides, not to mention that they are in much higher levels on each conventional product compared to organic.

    Also, check this article:
    …”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…”
    http://www.naturalnews.com/037108_Stanford_Ingram_Olkin_Big_Tobacco.html

    You might as well believe all the “scientific” studies that the tobacco industry used to publish which used statistics to show that smoking cigarettes is not harmful to your health.

  51. Narad says:

    You might as well believe all the “scientific” studies that the tobacco industry used to publish which used statistics to show that smoking cigarettes is not harmful to your health.

    Yah. And you state this right after using Mike Adams as a source.

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