Organic or Non-Organic: It’s Not Just About the Nutrients

You may have read, and heard, recently about the latest study out comparing organic to non-organic foods.  The bottom line is that the researchers who conducted the study have concluded that there is virtually no difference in the nutrient content of the organic foods as compared with non-organic, or conventional foods.

That finding may (or may not) be true, but it’s not the point.  There is a big difference between “nutrient” content and “nutritional” content and that is what we need to look at – the bigger picture!

Nutrition is the interaction of the food and the organism.  To have good nutrition means much more than just taking a vitamin pill and feeling like you’re getting all your RDA’s of nutrients.  Organic food has nutritional benefits over non-organic food simply because of what they don’t do to it!  Besides the common use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers in conventional farming and ranching, a much more ominous practice is the liberal use of antibiotics to grow fatter animals faster.  These antibiotics are not limited to the animal – they enter into the system of anyone who ingests the meat from that animal.  As Michael Pollan points out so perfectly, “You are what you eat eats.”  Think about that one.

I recently read an article that came across my radar about the epidemic of obesity in children.  (If you would like to read it please go to; or Google “obesity in children + antibiotics” and you’ll get a number of articles on the subject.)  This particular study was making the link between antibiotic use and the rising number of overweight children.  The author summed it up by saying:

  • Antibiotics kill good bacteria as well as bad, and some of the good bacteria could help keep us lean.
  • Exposure to antibiotics before six months was related to heavier children later in life.
  • The study was inspired by farmers, who have known for some time that using antibiotics produce heavier cows.

It’s that last bullet point that really got me….

But, back to the original study.  The Stanford researchers who were compelled to release their findings on the lack of evidence that organic foods are more beneficial than non-organic foods also stated that the differences they did find involved “pesticides and antibiotics.”  In fact, the research team found “a notable difference with antibiotic-resistant germs, a public health concern because they are harder to treat if they cause food poisoning.”

Further, the study also stated that “specialists long have said that organic or not, the chances of bacterial contamination of food are the same, and Monday’s analysis agreed. But when bacteria did lurk in chicken or pork, germs in the non-organic meats had a 33 percent higher risk of being resistant to multiple antibiotics, the researchers reported Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. “

And, that finding comes amid debate over feeding animals antibiotics, not because they’re sick but to fatten them up!

Interesting.  So, the conventional practice of feeding animals antibiotics to quickly fatten them up (I always thought they were given because of gut inflammation from eating the wrong diets) – not only contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance but to obesity in humans as well.  A pretty big “nutritional” issue.

However, having your food marked as “organic” is not always a guarantee of quality either.  There is a lot of elasticity these days in the terms organic, natural, free-range and grass-fed.  Unfortunately, there will always be producers that will stretch the limits of certification requirements.  On the other hand, there are several conventional producers who have stopped using growth-hormones, antibiotics and other dangerous practices by choice –not by law – due to consumer demand and, hopefully, in response to the mounting evidence that these practices are truly not good for us.

By the way – The USDA certifies products as organic if they are produced without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, or routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones.  Non-organic foods have “allowable” or so-called “safe levels” of these substances.  But the question is – if someone offered you a glass of water and sprinkled in just a pinch of pesticide – a safe amount – would you drink it?  Would you feed it to your child?