The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) -- a professional organization of more than 60,000 pediatricians -- has released a new report finding no evidence that organic foods provide nutritional benefits that children cannot get from conventionally grown foods.
Although the report does say organic foods have lower pesticide levels, it concludes parents should be focused on feeding their kids a healthy diet, organic or not.
"What's most important is that children eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products, whether those are conventional or organic foods. This type of diet has proven health benefits," Janet Silverstein, co-author of the report and a member of the AAP's committee on nutrition, said in a statement.
The market for organic foods has exploded in recent years, hitting nearly $29 billion in 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association. But a major concern for many parents is price: The new report states that organic foods typically cost between 10 to 40 percent more than conventional products.
"Many families have a limited food budget, and we do not want families to choose to consume smaller amounts of more expensive organic foods and thus reduce their overall intake of healthy foods like produce," Silverstein said.
Shara Greenspan, a registered dietitian with the Komansky Center for Children's Health who did not work on the report, told The Huffington Post that parents who cannot afford to feed their children only organic foods, but who feel it is important, should pick and choose.
"You might want to buy organic berries, because they can be difficult to wash," she said.
Another strategy Greenspan recommended is focusing on foods that children like most and eat often. For example, if a child really likes apples, parents could make it a priority to buy those organic, and worry less about other foods.
"It really comes down to family philosophy, and the way you want to buy foods," Greenspan said. "Do you have to buy organic? Certainly not. Is it more expensive? Definitely. But if you can't afford it, there are other ways you can try and minimize intake of these pesticides and fertilizers." In general, she recommended parents make an effort to buy foods from a variety of sources and, when possible, fruits and vegetables that are grown locally and in-season.
The AAP report also found no "clinically relevant" differences between organic milk and conventional milk in terms of nutrition, bacterial contamination levels, or exposure to bovine growth hormone. It also stressed that children should not drink raw milk, which can contain harmful bacteria, including various species of Salmonella.
The new statement comes on the heels of a controversial study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in September which found scant evidence of health benefits in eating organic foods. That report was panned by many critics, including the president of the Environmental Working Group, who said it did a disservice to public health.
While the new AAP report did not find any nutritional benefits to organic foods over non-organic options, it did emphasize that organic produce contains fewer pesticide residues than conventional produce and that eating organic foods reduces kids' exposure to those pesticides. But it said it is currently "unclear" whether that reduction will make a difference in children's health.
"At this point, we simply do not have the scientific evidence to know whether the difference in pesticide levels will impact a person's health over a lifetime, though we do know that children –- especially young children whose brains are developing –- are uniquely vulnerable to chemical exposures," Dr. Joel Forman, a member of the AAP council on environmental health, said in a statement.