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Organic Food More Susceptible To 'Health Halo,' Study Finds

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ORGANIC FOODS HEALTH HALO
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Not only do organic foods have a reputation for being "healthier," but a new study shows people think they are also better tasting and of greater value than their non-organic counterparts.

Cornell researchers found that people generally consider organic food all-around better than comparative non-organic foods, the small new study, published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, showed.

For the study, researchers asked 115 people at a mall in Ithaca, N.Y., to taste and evaluate three kinds of foods -- yogurt, cookies and potato chips. They were offered two kinds of each food -- one that was supposedly organic, and one that was not organic. However, the participants had no idea that the organic and the non-organic foods were actually exactly the same.

Researchers found a huge bias among the participants for the organic foods, with people saying they'd pay as much as 23.4 percent more for the supposedly organic food than the non-organic food.

People also said that there were fewer calories in the supposedly organic cookies and yogurt, and that the supposedly organic versions of these foods also tasted like they had less fat than the supposedly non-organic versions. The volunteers also reported thinking that the supposedly organic versions of the cookies and chips were more nutritious than the non-organic versions.

However, some were more likely to be duped by the labels than others. Researchers found that people who read food labels regularly, people who practiced environmentally friendly habits (like recycling) and people who regularly bought organic were less likely to think that the organic foods were automatically better in taste, calorie count, etc., than people who didn't practice these behaviors.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a food can only be labeled organic if it is 95 percent or more organic. The actual term "organic" means that the food has not been genetically engineered and has not been exposed to irradiation, synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge.

However, whether organic food is actually healthier is still hotly contested. A review of studies published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine from Stanford University scientists showed that by and large, organically grown food is not more nutritious than non-organic food, and the only difference people who eat organic foods may experience is a lower exposure to antibiotics and/or pesticides, the Associated Press reported.

That study was highly controversial -- even garnering a Change.org petition to have the study retracted. Rosie Mestel summed up the controversy in a Los Angeles Times piece:

The scientists weren’t studying genetically modified foods (though if GMO foods were in the conventional data, one might think that GMO-caused health factors would have revealed themselves in the results). And they weren’t studying high-fructose corn syrup -- they were only reviewing fruits, vegetables, eggs, grains, dairy, poultry and meat. Not processed foods.

The article, in other words, wasn’t about the entirety of everything that people think is wrong about the way our food is grown and produced today. It wasn’t even about every type of difference between organic and conventionally grown food.

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