The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

September 4, 2012

Study suggests organic foods yield mixed benefits; advocates say results ‘skewed’

Standing behind his table of produce at the Webb City Farmers Market, Chris Sharpsteen said he has a good reason for using primarily organic growing methods.

“I do it because I eat this stuff, too,” he said after bagging up a few Mountain Fresh tomatoes for Penny Scearce, a Joplin resident. “Why put anything in your body that you don’t have to?”

Sharpsteen was alluding to chemical pesticides and fertilizers used in conventional farming.

Several shoppers — Scearce included — at the market Tuesday said they try to buy organic produce when they can, but a study released this week by Stanford University could lead consumers to believe doing so has little impact.

“Here’s the thing,” said Sue Baird, executive director of the Missouri Organic Association. “You can always do studies. But it’s real interesting how you can skew results of studies. We have a lot of big corporations involved in (nonorganic farming).”

In the Stanford study, researchers analyzed thousands of reports and then narrowed them to 237 that most rigorously compared organic and conventionally grown foods. Of those, 17 compared the health of consumers who were eating organic versus conventionally grown foods, while the remainder looked at the properties of the foods.

Stanford researchers — who said they did not use any outside financing — wrote that “the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.”

The report said conventionally raised meat does harbor more antibiotic-resistant bacteria than organic meat, and that consumers of nonorganic chicken or pork are 33 percent more likely to ingest strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria than those who eat organic meat.

The study also concluded that the consumption of organic foods “may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.” The report said organic produce has a 30 percent lower risk of containing detectable pesticide levels, but that the amount measured from conventionally grown produce was within safety limits.

Reaction was mixed at the farmers market.

Marilyn Clark, a Webb City resident who visits the market regularly with her granddaughter, said the thought of eating produce that has come in contact with pesticides or fertilizers makes her “uneasy.”

But she doesn’t limit her family’s produce consumption to solely organic.

“I don’t specifically go after them,” she said. “In other words, if I see produce that looks like quality, I will buy it even if it isn’t from an organic vendor. I know what I’m getting here at the market is clean and fresh.”

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