Occasionally, we write about research findings that seem counter-intuitive or just too good to be true or otherwise just a little “off” – findings that often seem a little suspect due to their being funded by industry. (See this and this and this and this, for instance.)
Last week on her Food Politics blog, Marion Nestle sounded a similar note of caution about the latest study to show “clear differences” between organic and conventionally grown food. This study – a very large meta-analysis – found that organics have more antioxidants, less pesticide residue and less cadmium than conventionally raised crops.
It was also, notes Nestle, funded by an organization with a stake in the game: the Sheepdrove Trust, which “supports initiatives which increase sustainability, biodiversity and organic farming, for example research into organic seed production and nutrition.”
“This study,” Nestle writes,
is another example of how the outcome of sponsored research invariably favors the sponsor’s interests. The paper says “the Trust had no influence on the design and management of the research project and the preparation of publications from the project,” but that’s exactly studies funded by Coca-Cola say. It’s an amazing coincidence how the results of sponsored studies almost invariably favor the sponsor’s interests. And that’s true of results I like just as it is of results that I don’t like.
It’s an important reminder. “Following the money” isn’t just for those corporations or organizations you disagree with. A conflict of interest is a conflict of interest. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the results of industry funding studies are not to be believed. Even critics of the new study note that the differences between organic and conventional are real. How meaningful they are is just one possible point of contention. (Nestle mentions some others in her post.)
It means the proverbial grain of salt is called for.
All that aside, opting for organics is about more than nutrient composition or density. It’s about reducing pesticide exposure. It’s about supporting sustainability and environmental stewardship. When combined with eating locally, it’s about supporting small scale farmers and local economies. When you grow your own, it’s a way to connect with the soil, the Earth; to honor our connection with nature.
These are key benefits, too, for both our health and well-being.
For more on the current state of the research on organic vs. conventional – and the debates that swirl around it – see this excellent article at Vox.
Image by Jeff Kraus, via Flickr