The propaganda is out: organically grown food is no better for you than conventional food according to a recent study published by Stanford University scientists. The first question to ask whenever considering scientific studies is, “who funded it?” Numbers can be manipulated, massaged, and murdered (thrown out, that is), so knowing whose agenda paid for the study is useful information. In this case, I haven’t discovered the source of funding, but according to Nourishing the Planet, a project of the Worldwatch Institute, plenty of number manipulation was involved in reaching such a conclusion.
There are earlier studies which have reached very different conclusions. One, known as the Forman E. Bower study and done at Rutgers University, is startling in the huge differences it found in the nutrient levels of organic vs. conventional foods. For example, organic spinach had twice as much calcium, four times as much magnesium, and eighty-three times as much iron (1584 vs. 19 parts per million). Organic tomatoes had five times as much calcium, ten times as much magnesium, and almost 2,000 times as much iron (1983 vs 1 ppm).
Another study entitled “Nutritional Quality of Organic vs. Conventional Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains” and published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2001 reviewed all the available comparative studies (41 at that time) and found that organic crops had higher average levels in all 21 nutrients analyzed. For example, Vitamin C averaged 27% higher, magnesium 29% higher, and iron 21% higher. I don’t know who funded these 41 studies, either, but it is interesting that the media has never picked up on any of these the way it did on the Stanford study.
If you eat to nourish your body, organic food is still the better bet. What these studies really tell us is that the root cause of the obesity epidemic is a lack of adequate nutrients – especially minerals – in conventionally grown foods. In Nature’s design, sugar is linked to minerals. Think of iron-rich molasses which is extracted from sugar cane. Sweet flavors are an indicator – in an unprocessed food such as an apple – of good nutrient values, which is why people so often crave sugar. It’s their body’s way of asking for more minerals, because after millions of years of evolution, your body knows that where the sugar is, the minerals should be too.
In organic growing systems, minerals (and virtually all other nutrients) are kept in circulation by the soil biology. Plants don’t extract nutrients from soil so much as they trade for nutrients through the complex relationships they develop with fungi, bacteria, and other microbes. Conventionally grown foods lack minerals because the chemistry they rely on kills the soil biology while leaching out minerals at the same time. Plant roots in conventional systems have fewer relationships, fewer trading partners, and, therefore, have to work harder themselves, but get lesser results.
As a gardener, it is often easier to relate to the plants and to focus on them. Fall in love with your soil, however, and your plants will grow and thrive.