As Stonyfield Farm President and CE-Yo, I believe that a new study dismissing the health benefits of organics does in fact mislead an increasingly savvy public by ignoring documented health and environmental benefits of organic.
The supreme irony is that this study is getting an enormous amount of media attention in part because of heightened consumer awareness of where our food comes from, thanks to the popularity of the documentary "Food, Inc." and the discussion it's triggering across the country. "Food, Inc." lays bare just how bankrupt and dangerous our current food system really is, and what we are allowed to know about it. The result is that consumers are looking more critically than ever at studies like this.
I agree with the Organic Center (TOC), a non-profit industry think tank, that the authors of the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency (FSA) study used old data and flawed logic in reaching the conclusion that organic food is no healthier than conventional. TOC alleges that the UK study actually downplayed the positive findings which favored organic food and did not measure important nutrients such as antioxidants.
There are compelling studies that have shown organic foods higher in beneficial antioxidants, substances or nutrients in our foods known to slow or prevent heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer. A 2007 Newcastle University (UK) study concluded organic fruit and vegetables contained up to 40% more antioxidants than non-organic varieties; organic milk contained more than 60% more antioxidants and healthy fatty acids than conventional. A 2007 study by the University of California found organic tomatoes had elevated levels of up to 97% of two types of antioxidants.
Of greater concern to me is the fact the FSA ignores the environmental and related health benefits of an organic farming system that avoids the use of millions of pounds of toxic persistent pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer and other chemicals that leach into soil, water and air.
The man leading the FSA review actually stated the differences in nutrient content found between organic and conventionally produced food were "unlikely to be of any public health relevance." Tell that to the people who suffer a variety of health issues shown to be linked to pesticide use. Public health is exactly what's at stake here.
I believe studies like the FSA report need to look beyond the dinner plate and recognize that organic farming's avoidance of chemicals offers health benefits beyond nutrition.
People choose organic foods not only for their well-documented nutritional superiority, but also because those foods come from a system of sustainable agriculture that avoids the use of toxic, persistent pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that pollute our soil, water and air, as well as our food.
According to USDA organic standards, no artificial hormones or antibiotics are allowed for use on organic dairy farms. Organic regulations also prohibit the use of toxic and persistent chemicals for growing and maintaining pasture and in the production of grain and forage-based feeds. Energy intensive synthetic chemical nitrogen fertilizer is also prohibited in organic farming.
There are about 120,000 milking cows on organic dairy farms in the US, and these farms avoid the use of an estimated 40 million pounds of fertilizer and 758,000 pounds of pesticides on the 761,000 acres of farmland now used to grow organic feed or organic pasture.
That means millions of pounds of chemicals NOT leaching into our soil, air and water. Chemicals that have been linked in study after study to health concerns ranging from premature births to the onset of Parkinson's Disease.
I believe that consumers are savvy enough now to be taking in all of this information as they are making informed, educated decisions about their own health, their family's health, and the health of the planet.
These UK findings will be challenged by consumers who more than ever are educating themselves on how food is grown and processed.
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