A Meta-Meta-Analysis

A Stanford University meta-analysis (a study of other studies [which makes this post a sort of meta-meta-analysis and will commence the world turning in on itself]) released today questions whether there are any health benefits to eating organic produce or meat. It is worth reading about the study – here are reports from The New York Times and BBC News.

Maybe in some cases there is no added nutritional benefit to eating an organic vegetable over its conventional counterpart. Maybe in some cases, a ripe conventional vegetable will actually be more nutritious than an unripe organic vegetable. But the analysis still confirms some very practical, health-related benefits of organic food: less pesticide residue on produce; meat less likely to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria; milk with more omega-3 fatty acids; more phosphorous; more phenols.

While organic food retains the edge in terms of personal health, there is simply no contest in terms of environmental sustainability, an issue not addressed in the meta-analysis. Organic growers cannot use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. They cannot use genetically modified organisms. They cannot use growth hormones or antibiotics on their animals. But organic is not simply defined in negatives and prohibitions. It also requires growers to manage soil fertility in a way that restores nutrients to the soil and in effect ensures future harvests and healthy land. This is done through cover cropping, crop rotations, and compost, whereas conventional farming reaches an artificial, fleeting fertility created by chemicals that end up polluting our air, water, and bodies. Read the organic standards here.

So when we eat organic, we eat not just for personal health (although that idea still stands, despite the doubts expressed by the Stanford researchers), but we eat for the health of the land, and for the sustainability and fertility of the soil on which we rely for our continued presence on this earth. We eat organic to support the smaller growers who work to restore fertility to the land. Ultimately, we eat organic because we still know deep down that everything in the food system is connected: healthy soil means healthy plants and animals, which eventually means healthy humans.

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