For the Birds
Organic foods are more expensive, but they taste better. They are also supposed to be better for you – more nutritious, with lots of health benefits, right?
Two recently released studies question this conventional wisdom about nutritional and health benefits of organic foods.
Newcastle University in England released results of a three-year study on food preferences of wild animals. It is sometimes claimed that they prefer organic food over food produced conventionally – with pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Newcastle University Researchers tested that claim by offering birds a choice of two bird feeders – one filled with birdseed grown using methods organic, and the second filled with the product of modern industrial agriculture. The type of seed used in both feeders was identical. The only difference was the method used to produce the seed.
The birds demonstrated a definite preference. They flocked to the feeder with the conventional seed, eating the organic seed only as a second choice. The researchers switched contents of the two feeders on several occasions, but the birds followed the conventional seed regardless of the feeder it was in.
Why? Researchers believe it is due to the protein content of the two different varieties of seeds. Seed grown using conventional farming methods have more protein than seed grown organically. Wild birds have a tough time surviving when food gets scarce. They bet their lives on their food choices. Even a bird brain opts for food with more protein under those circumstances.
Two reviews of research on the benefits of organic food conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Health in 2009 and 2010 underscore the Newcastle University results. In the 2009 review 162 studies on the effects of eating organic food that were conducted over the last 50 years were examined. The review found that organic foods held no nutritional benefit over identical, conventionally-grown foods.
Going organic is not necessarily friendlier to the environment, at least according to a study recently conducted by two Earth science researchers at Stanford University. They found that high-yield conventional farming produces much more food per acre than organic farming, giving it a much smaller carbon footprint. How much less? Modern industrial farming techniques produce one-sixth to one-third less greenhouse gasses per pound of food than organic farming.
Organic food may have benefits for those sensitive to pesticides. Nor do these studies address the issue of taste or flavor. But you do not have to feel guilty about skipping organics for conventionally-grown food if price is the issue. Especially in today’s economy, when price is more of a concern than it has been in better times.
Links to the studies: