Study Confirms Safety of Organic Food
(Beyond Pesticides, June 18, 2004) A recent study published in the May Issue of the Journal of Food Protection found no difference between organically grown and conventionally grown foods when comparing the amount of food-borne pathogens on produce.
The authors of the study tested produce samples from 32 organic and 8 conventional farms in Minnesota during 2002 and analyzed the samples for the prevalence of Escherichia coli (E. coli), Salmonella, and E. coli O157:H7, a deadly strain. Less than 5 percent of the produce from conventional and organic farms showed contamination with any of the pathogens in question. Salmonella was detected on only two pieces of organic produce out of a total of almost 500, and E. coli O157:H7, the deadly strain, was not detected at all.
Although the study found higher levels of the non-threatening E. coli in certified organic produce (4.3%), it was at a level not statistically different from the conventional samples. All the organic farms in the study used aged or composted animal manure as fertilizer, which could explain the statistically insignificant higher levels. All the results were based on produce at the “pre-harvest” level—before washing at the wholesale level and washing at the home of the consumer.
The conclusions of the study confirm that certified organic produce is safe and poses no more risk of containing food-borne pathogens than conventionally grown foods. The Hudson Institute, a right-wing think tank led by Dennis and Alex Avery, is using the study to discredit organic food, according to The Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit, public interest group focused on small farms. As a result, at least two small right-wing online news sources (Cybercast News Source and NewsMax story) reported The Hudson Institute’s version of the study, which is that the prevalence of E. coli was significantly higher in organic produce, which The Cornucopia Institute critiques as erroneous and full of spin. The difference between the two views appears to stem from the authors of the study grouping together both certified organic farms and farms that were not certified but claimed they used organic processes.
Recent studies have found that organic food is not only safe but also a healthier alternative to conventional agriculture, which contains high residues of pesticides. A University of California at Davis study, published in the February 26, 2003 edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found greater nutritional attributes in organically grown food compared with produce grown conventionally. The research suggests that the beneficial qualities in organic food may result from the lack of insecticides and herbicides used (see Daily News story). Another 2003 study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives and described in, found additional benefit to eating organic by examining levels of metabolites of organophosphate pesticides in children who ate conventional foods compared with children who ate a diet of organic food. Children with organic diets contained significantly less metabolites of these toxic pesticides in their blood and urine (see Daily News story).
TAKE ACTION: To learn more about what production processes and materials are allowed and not allowed in certified organic food, see the USDA National Organic Program. If you cannot buy all organic and would like to know which fruits and vegetables contain the highest and lowest residues of pesticides, see EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” report.