Stanford releases literature review of organic foods

Labeling for products that meet the USDA-NOP s...

Earlier this week, a journal on Internal Medicine released a review from Stanford University which concluded that there are no significant health or safety benefits of choosing organic over conventionally grown foods.

This is different from previous papers in that it is a review of recent, relevant studies, instead of a research study in itself. The group from Stanford looked at 237 studies analyzing the benefits and dangers of eating organic vs conventionally grown food products. What they found upset many proponents of organics who use health reasons for their choices.

Study on benefits of organic foods is misleading, consumer group argues – CBS News

Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and ProduceNew York Times

Study Says Organic Isn’t Healthier? Here’s Why It Still May Be Worth The Cost – Forbes

I won’t muddle through the details of the review or debate the details. This is only one paper covering a very complex topic, but I think it is important to share and learn from. Here is a link to the actual article, released September 4, if you care to read.

The Stanford School of Medicine released a summary article on the findings. Here is the link to that page. I think this is well worth taking the time to read.

[The] comprehensive meta-analysis of existing studies comparing organic and conventional foods did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives, though consumption of organic foods can reduce the risk of pesticide exposure.

“Our goal was to shed light on what the evidence is,” said Smith-Spangler. “This is information that people can use to make their own decisions based on their level of concern about pesticides, their budget and other considerations.”

“She also said that people should aim for healthier diets overall. She emphasized the importance of eating of fruits and vegetables, “however they are grown,” noting that most Americans don’t consume the recommended amount.”

“What I learned is there’s a lot of variation between farming practices,” said Smith-Spangler. “It appears there are a lot of different factors that are important in predicting nutritional quality and harms.”

Organic food mela
(Photo credit: Flickr)

Of course I think it’s very important to plan for yourself a healthy, balanced diet, mixed with adequate physical activity.

My friend Aimee, who is a mom in Wichita, KS, wrote a piece yesterday on her blog, Everyday Epistle, that does well to address the issue of how we define Organics.

Access to food choices, including Organics, should not be taken for granted. The value of production or integrity of the farmer isn’t defined by one label or another. Know your farmer or connect with many of them across the globe through online resources. Learn what your food terms and classifications mean to better understand your food choices.


  1. Ryan, thanks for bringing this report up. It has been quoted in the media in a variety of ways giving the consumer all manner of possible interpretations. It doesn’t seem, to me, to have shed much new light on anything. As you say time and again, knowing the farmer and production methods beats a label. So often though we consumers don’t know the facts. A rule of thumb I use is that if the organic price (before any discount) is less than 1 and 1/2 times the regular price, I figure the farming methods aren’t all that different so I’ll buy regular and save the money towards the purchase of something I feel more strongly should be organic, like apples or berries. What I’m really striving for is to change my diet to be more seasonal, more local/direct and more humane (which is usually coincident with local/direct in my experience).

    1. Thanks for the comment Leslie. It is difficult to really understand these studies without a previous knowledge of the terms and scientific background. That’s why I think it’s really important to utilize University Extension programs who work to disseminate these studies to the community and can help find those who can explain what they mean in easier to understand terms. I get confused by studies like this all the time and part of my job is currently to review research like this.

      I’m not sure if I agree that “local” always coincides with terms like humane or quality. Local is relative and just because a farmer doesn’t market local, doesn’t mean he/she produces any less of a product. I have a blog post ready for next week using my family as an example of this and will explain more. keep an eye out for it.

      1. That’s a good point Ryan about the implications (or assumptions) for a label like ‘local.’ I look forward to your next post!

  2. Interesting article. Studies usually perplex me as so many of them impart so many different messages. Medical studies drive me crazy as one month you should eat this or that and the next study will tell you not to do it. Same with RX studies. We eat our own beef and know it is healthy. We try to buy local vegetables and fruits. Otherwise, I buy what looks great at the supermarket be it organic or not. Most of the time I do not change our eating habits by the studies because we would be constantly having to change as each new study comes out!!

  3. Thanks for the call out, Ryan. I wondered how that post got so popular on my little site 🙂

    There are people strongly for and against the conclusions of this study. What troubles me is most folks are stuck in the middle trying to figure out what’s okay to eat and feed their families. That’s why this conversation is so important and why we need to keep telling the truth byte by byte…

  4. Reblogged this on Agricultural with Dr Lindsay and commented:
    Ryan at Agriculture Proud has a post I wanted to share…
    A literature review released by Standford University indicates that organic foods do not offer significant safety or health benefits over conventionally produced food. It is important to understand all of the facts so you can make the best decisions for your family when it comes to purchasing food.

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