By Dr. Mercola
Are organic foods healthier, and therefore worth the extra expense? The scientific debate over this issue has raged on for many years now. I believe the answer is clear-cut, at least if you believe that toxic chemicals have the capacity to harm your health...
Two years ago, meta-analysis by Stanford University1 received widespread media coverage, and with few exceptions, conventional media outlets used it to cast doubt on the value of an organic diet.
This despite the fact that the analysis—which looked at 240 studies comparing organically and conventionally grown food—found that organic foods are less contaminated with agricultural chemicals. In an effort to further clarify the 2012 findings, a group of European scientists evaluated an even greater number of studies, 343 in all, published over the last several decades.
Organic Foods Have Higher Levels of Important Antioxidants
Just like the Stanford study, the new analysis2, 3, 4, 5, 6 also found that while conventional and organic vegetables oftentimes offer similar levels of many nutrients, organic foods have fewer pesticide residues. They also have on average 48 percent lower levels of cadmium,7 a toxic metal and a known carcinogen—a clear bonus, if you ask me.
One key nutritional difference between conventional and organics however, is their antioxidant content. According to the featured findings, organic fruits and vegetables can contain anywhere from 18-69 percent more antioxidants than conventionally-grown varieties. According to the authors:
"Many of these compounds have previously been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers, in dietary intervention and epidemiological studies.
Additionally, the frequency of occurrence of pesticide residues was found to be four times higher in conventional crops... Significant differences were also detected for some other (e.g. minerals and vitamins) compounds." [Emphasis mine]
Antioxidants are a very important part of optimal health, as they can control how fast you age by fighting free radicals. So the fact that organic foods contain far higher levels of them vouches for the stance that organic foods are healthier in terms of nutrition, in addition to being lower in pesticides.
Co-author Charles Benbrook notes8 that one reason you're advised to eat more fruits and vegetables is in fact to get more antioxidants into your diet. "And if organic produce provides more of them, we think that's a big deal," he says. I couldn't agree more.
There are also a number of other studies that support the claim that organically grown produce contain higher levels of nutrients in general. For example, in 2010 PLOS ONE published a study9 that was partially funded by the USDA, which found that organic strawberries were more nutrient-rich than non-organic strawberries.
Nutrient Content in Food Has Dramatically Declined
Ironically, LA Times10 noted that "It's not entirely clear to scientists whether the human body can absorb the extra antioxidants in organic foods and put them to use." To me, this line of reasoning shows a remarkable depth of ignorance, if not outright deception.
The nutrient content of foods has dramatically declined across the board since the introduction of mechanized farming in 1925. For example, as explained by Dr. August Dunning, chief science officer and co-owner of Eco Organics, in order to receive the same amount of iron you used to get from one apple in 1950, by 1998 you had to eat 26 apples!
Were people prior to the 1950s eating foods that were "unnecessarily" nutrient-dense? Was most of their diet superfluous, in terms of the amount of nutrients a body can get by on?
The idea that your body wouldn't put the extra nutrients to good use is just plain silly! You did not suddenly develop a new set of genetic instructions over the past 60+ years that allow your body to thrive on toxins and "not know what to do" with antioxidants! So please, do not fall for that kind of nonsense.
One of the primary reasons food doesn't taste as good as it used to is also related to the deterioration of mineral content. The minerals actually form the compounds that give the fruit or vegetable its flavor. All of these issues go back to the health of the soil in which the food is grown.11
Healthy soils contain a huge diversity of microorganisms, and it is these organisms that are responsible for the plant's nutrient uptake, health, and the stability of the entire ecosystem. The wide-scale adoption of industrial agriculture practices has decimated soil microbes responsible for transferring these minerals to the plants.
In 2009, the American Association for the Advancement of Science featured a presentation on soil health and its impact on food quality,12, 13 concluding that healthy soil indeed leads to higher levels of nutrients in crops.
Agricultural chemicals destroy the health of the soil by killing off its microbial inhabitants, which is one of the primary problems with modern farming, and the reason why the nutritional quality of conventionally-grown foods is deteriorating. As reported by Scientific American14 back in 2011:
"A landmark study on the topic by Donald Davis and his team of researchers from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry was published in December 2004 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
They studied U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits, finding 'reliable declines' in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the past half century.
Davis and his colleagues chalk up this declining nutritional content to the preponderance of agricultural practices designed to improve traits (size, growth rate, pest resistance) other than nutrition... The Organic Consumers Association cites several other studies with similar findings: A Kushi Institute analysis of nutrient data from 1975 to 1997 found that average calcium levels in 12 fresh vegetables dropped 27 percent; iron levels 37 percent; vitamin A levels 21 percent, and vitamin C levels 30 percent."
Contemporary Industrial Agriculture Decimates Soil Microbes
The photographic adventure of NPR commentator and science writer Craig Childs offers a clear view of the death and destruction brought on by modern agriculture—genetic engineering-based monoculture in particular. Childs decided to replicate a photo project by David Liittschwager, a portrait photographer who spent years traveling the world dropping one-cubic-foot metal frames into gardens, streams, parks, forests, and oceans, photographing anything and everything that entered the frame. Around the world, Liittschwager's camera captured thousands of plants, animals, and insects within the cubes, with entirely different "worlds" of plants and animals living as little as a few feet away from each other.
However, when Childs set up his camera among the genetically engineered corn stalks on a 600-acre farm in Iowa, he found NO signs of life with the exception of an isolated spider, a single red mite, and a couple grasshoppers...
The fact of the matter is that the "faster, bigger, cheaper" approach to food is slowly draining dry our planet's resources and compromising your health. The earth's soil is depleting at more than 13 percent the rate it can be replaced. We have already lost 75 percent of the world's crop varieties over the last century. Over the past 10 years, we've had 100 million tons of herbicides dumped onto our crops, polluting our soil and streams. And genetically engineered (GE) crops are now speeding up the destructive process by completely altering the composition of soil bacteria in the fields where such crops are grown.
Pesticide Exposure May Be Greater Than Reported, Thanks to GMOs
It's worth noting that certain types of pesticides are not even counted when researchers assess pesticide contamination on food. The soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), produces Bt toxin—a pesticide that breaks open the stomach of certain insects and kills them. This pesticide is actually permitted in organic farming, where it's applied topically. It's known to photodegrade over time, making it fairly harmless by the time the food reaches your plate.
However, genetically engineered "Bt" crops, such as Bt corn, are equipped with a gene from the Bt soil bacteria. These plants actually produce the Bt toxin internally, in every cell of the plant, from root to tip. This plant-produced version of the poison is thousands of times more concentrated than the topical spray. It cannot be washed off, and it does not photodegrade. This internal Bt toxin is not counted in pesticide counts, yet it's present in every single kernel!
The Health Hazards of These Pesticide-Producing Plants
Monsanto and the EPA consistently claimed that the genetically engineered Bt corn would only harm insects. The Bt toxin produced inside the plant would be completely destroyed in the human digestive system and would not have any impact at all on consumers, they claimed. These claims have since turned out to be false. In 2011, doctors at Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec found Bt-toxin in the blood of:15
- 93 percent of pregnant women tested
- 80 percent of umbilical blood in their babies
- 67 percent of non-pregnant women
The study authors speculated that the Bt toxin was likely ingested via the normal diet of the Canadian middle class—which makes sense when you consider that genetically engineered (GE) corn is present in the vast majority of all processed foods and drinks in the form of high fructose corn syrup, corn oil, and other corn products. They also suggested that the toxin may have come from eating meat from animals fed Bt corn, which most livestock raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are. Other research16 has revealed that the Bt toxin produced in GE plants is toxic to humans and mammals, and triggers immune system responses, including:
- Elevated IgE and IgG antibodies, which are typically associated with allergies and infections
- An increase in cytokines, which are associated with allergic and inflammatory responses. The specific cytokines (interleukins) that were found to be elevated are also higher in humans who suffer from a wide range of disorders, from arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease to MS and cancer
- Elevated T cells (gamma delta), which are increased in people with asthma, and in children with food allergies, juvenile arthritis, and connective tissue diseases
Why Spraying Antibiotics on Fields Is a BAD Idea
As suggested earlier, some pesticides have antibiotic properties, and very effectively and aggressively kill off the microorganisms in the soil. Glyphosate is a perfect example, and is one of the primary pesticides used on other types of GE crops, particularly those known as "Roundup Ready." These crops are engineered to withstand otherwise lethal doses of the chemical. The idea is that by being "immune" to the chemical, only weeds will be killed off, allowing farmers to liberally spray their fields.
But when farmers spray glyphosate on their fields, not only are they destroying the fertility of the soil, they're also promoting chemical resistance in the field AND antibiotic resistance in the human food chain... Indeed, weeds have developed resistance to glyphosate, making the weed problem an ever-worsening one. But that's not all. Livestock raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are routinely fed GE feed—typically GE corn and soy—which destroys the animal's gut bacteria and promotes disease.
And, feces from animals raised in CAFOs are used as fertilizer on crop fields, which scientists now admit is yet another way antibiotic-resistant disease appears to be promulgated! Modern agriculture is truly stuck in a vicious circle where the "garbage in-garbage out" motto rules supreme...