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More Organic Debate Silliness

The latest silliness in research and reporting: Organic foods aren't any better for you than industrially-grown foods.

That's the big headline most folks will use to guide their decisions.

In truth, this study is an analysis of numerous other studies--a study of studies--and admits some of its own shortcomings while ignoring others.  Some of those shortcomings will be, of course, buried in the reporting. And I doubt any reporter reading the press release will recognize the others.

Shortcoming the first is its treatment of nutrient-content studies.  That's always been a piece of silliness regarding organic research, and leads me to wonder why so many researchers of organics seem disconnected from basic agricultural knowledge.  To research nutrient content, you must take into account five things: soil quality, water availability, ripeness at time of harvest, length of time between harvest and testing, and variety grown.  Soil quality and water availability determine, among other things, the food's mineral content.  Ripeness and lag time determine vitamin and antioxidant levels. And this is just one example of how different varieties have different nutritional values.

Shortcoming the second is the length of time the study's studies spans.  Not a single one exceeds two years.  That such limited information was deemed adequate for even qualified conclusions highlights the fundamental failing of most health research: short term studies are used to make a lifetime's worth of choices.

Let's say a set of 20-somethings are given ten million dollars each.  Researchers follow their spending habits for six months.  At the study's end, researchers conclude there is no evidence unbridled spending leads to financial problems.  After all, each study participant still has money in the bank.  But if those study participants take that conclusion to heart, a two-decade study would out the short-term study's fallacy.

Healthy eating doesn't work like surgery or aspirin.  It's a long term investment.  Our favored research methods aren't structured for longterm studies.  Really, how do you judge the impact of eating organics over a lifespan when you can't control for environmental factors?  And if we do, should we wait for the results--results that will come out in time for kids born in 2080 to utilize?

Shortcoming the third is the type of medical issues the study's studies looked at.  One example given is a study finding no link between a pregnant woman's intake of organics and the incidence of "allergic conditions" among their children.  Umm, yeah, I'd expect that study to show little, if any link.  A few more dead-end studies like that, and it would certainly look like organics have no health benefits whatsoever.

What we do know is this:
Organic proteins sources (meat, eggs, dairy) have higher levels of Omega-3, essential fatty acids we need for basic cellular health.  Populations found to be deficient in Omega-3 include children with ADHD, adults suffering from chronic depression, and elderly adults with Alzheimer's.  Increasing Omega-3 intake has been linked to reversal of many chronic conditions as well.

Organic produce has a lower chemical load, both on the food and in the growing process, leading to lower chemical exposure for the entire population.  That's a positive thing since longterm research does indeed connect certain pesticides to ADHD, birth defects, and developmental delays.  We also know industrial farmers, and backyard gardeners who use chemicals, have a higher risk of Parkinson's.  I don't find this surprising, since many farming chemicals were originally derived from weaponized nerve gas.

So the study's actual conclusions are more along the lines of, "faulty research demonstrates the need for longterm studies with better parameters."

Sure, we could argue a long time about whether this study or that supports the benefits of organics, and whether or not the research showing longterm damage from chemical exposure is really-o truly-o as frightening as it seems.  But I haven't seen any controversy over exposure to agricultural chemicals improving my health; it's pretty well established those chemicals aren't curative.  Avoiding them is, then, the least controversial choice.

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Blair MacGregor
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