Are Organics More Nutritious? Again? Sigh.

The latest study arguing that organics are not more nutritious than conventionally grown crops once again makes big-time news.

The last time I wrote about a study like this, I posted the British newspaper headlines.

Never mind the media hype. Here’s what the authors conclude:

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.

Isn’t reducing exposure to pesticides and antibiotic use precisely what organic production is supposed to do?

Organics is about production methods free of certain chemical pesticides, herbicides, irradiation, GMOs, and sewage sludge in plant crops, and antibiotics and hormones in animals.

This meta-analysis confirms that organic foods have much lower levels of these things. I’d call that doing exactly what it is supposed to.

But what about nutrients? I can’t think of a single reason why organics should have fewer nutrients than conventional crops, and plenty of reasons why they might have a bit more if the soils are rich enough.

Plants make their own vitamins. The vitamin levels should not be expected to differ significantly. The mineral content might.

But even if organics do have higher levels of nutrients, so what? Will people eating them be healthier as a result?

Just as with supplements, additional nutrients do not make healthy people healthier.

The only reason for organics to be about nutrition is marketing. Nutrition turns out to be a better selling point than lower levels of pesticides and antibiotics. It also makes better headlines, apparently.

But aren’t those lower levels—in production and in the body—good reasons to buy organics?

I think so. You?

Marion Nestle is the author of What To Eat and is the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. Nestle blogs regularly at Food Politics.

4 replies »

  1. Of course I like the idea of lowering our exposure to antibiotics and pesticides. And we probably don’t have a definitive answer as to the nutrient content in organics yet. Some studies seem to point in the direction of higher levels of antioxidants, etc. However, in the end it is very much about cost and availability. Where we live organics are either extremely hard to find or are prohibitively expensive. So, even if I would love to use them all the time, we are seldom in the position to do so.

  2. The use of organics goes beyond just “nutrition” and encompasses a whole earth/humane farming philosophy. Unfortunately corporate industrial agriculture, through it’s political money influence, is bastardizing the term just to sell THEIR product, minus the philosophy. Registered “organics” are constantly being diluted and additive “enhanced” so that eventually the organic shopper will loose confidence and commitment in the term.

    You can get a better understanding of this corporate raiding at:

  3. It disturbs me that we lack enough compelling science-based evidence to drive making better nutrition available to those who cannot afford today’s high priced organic food. I would welcome much more actual science and much less anecdotal or doctrinaire thinking on this subject. Meanwhile, I feel fortunate to be able to afford organic groceries.

  4. the antibiotics angle is one that largely escapes attention. that should change.

    nice post parts of this sound a bit fundamentalist nutritionist to me.

    the only reason for about organics to be about nutrition is marketing???

    not sure where people marketing the nutritional value of organic products lies in the big list of planetary problems, but my sense is not too high up