The intelligent reporting of National Public Radio on the news of the day is without peer. Shows like ‘Morning Edition’ look at important issues of the day and conduct frank discussions.
And then I heard a story that made my blood boil because it was so, so un-NPR-like. While my attention was piqued at the mention of organic food and its effect on health, I was stunned by the actual report.
The show begins benignly enough, telling us that many people have come to embrace the $29 billion organic industry. The host talks about buying organic food because he believes it’s healthier. His experts quickly shoot that argument down with the new study released by Stanford University in California. According to the reporters on the show, the new study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine has found scant evidence that there are health benefits to eating organic foods.
While the researchers cite 200 peer-reviewed studies that brought them to their conclusions, further research has shown their own words to be contradictory. NPR admits, in its own report that “It's important to note, though, that such studies have a really hard time uncovering subtle effects of our environment, or what we eat, on our health. Too many other powerful influences get in the way. Also, these studies only followed people for a very short time — about two years or less. That's hardly enough time to document any particular health benefit.”
Since most of the studies cited looked at the foods themselves and the nutrients they contained, it’s sort of like looking at the food in a bubble. Look, I am the first one to question how organic something can be with acid rain, pesticide run-off and other pollution and the study actually made me feel better, showing that conventional produce shows 38% pesticide residue, while organic showed only 7%. That’s huge! To diminish that result and bury it in the report is irresponsible.
The report said “As you might expect, there was less pesticide contamination on organic produce. But does that matter? The authors of the new study say probably not. They found that the vast majority of conventionally grown food did not exceed allowable limits of pesticide residue set by federal regulations.” Seriously, federal regulations are what we base the safety of our food on? The same federal regulations that allow for GMO’s and not require labeling and are in bed with the very people who manufacture the pesticides that are poisoning our food and planet?
The researchers defend their study saying the point of it was to compile data and give objective information, so people can decide for themselves whether or not to make the choice to eat organic food. But their study has done nothing more than confuse and frustrate the consumer.
On one hand, they say that previous studies have looked at specific organic foods and found that they contain higher concentrations of certain nutrients like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They point to the fact that organic meats were less likely to be contaminated by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They add that organic milk showed much higher concentrations of the essential fatty acid, omega-3, vital to heart health. Organic produce also contained higher concentrations of phenols, essential to preventing cancer.
And yet, they say that organic makes no difference.
They say that the crop plays a role, that ripeness plays a role; that the variety and weather influencing a particular crop play a role. And all of that is true. Farming and producing natural foods is not necessarily an exact, objective science, but one that relies on nature.
According to the New York Times, critics of the study say that it’s impossible to come to an objective solution with this study since the researchers lumped all manner of organic foods together and tried to come up with a singular conclusion.
Here is what I find the most disturbing about the report done by NPR. While it opened a floodgate of research for me, it did nothing more than confuse most of the people listening. Organic foods have more than lived up to their reputation and more than deliver on human and planetary health.
Glaringly absent from this report (and I realize there is a time limit on these shows, but they opened this can of worms) was the fact that commercial foods, particularly meat and dairy products are produced with the use of growth hormones and antibiotics (as well as the ‘safe’ levels of pesticides and herbicides). There was no discussion of GMO’s and their contamination of our crops with DNA from other species and pesticides or role organic food plays in preventing this taint.
I realize that this piece was specifically on whether organic food is better for our health, but the question is bigger than that. The question is whether the food being produced conventionally is still natural, wholesome food or is it so chemically altered that it barely resembles food in its natural state? GMO’s, hormones, DNA and other un-natural additives will not be visible to the naked eye. A strawberry will still look like a strawberry. The elephant in the room is not having the discussion of long-term effects of what we are doing to food on human and planetary health.
And if you think there are no effects on human health, I guess you have not been paying attention to how quickly our collective vitality has changed. In the last fifty years, we have seen a decline in health that runs concurrent with the rise in the consumption of less than natural foods.
Maybe it’s me, but this kind of shoddy reporting on NPR will do nothing more than confuse people and feed ultra-conservative wing nuts and multinational corporations the fuel they need to further denigrate the use of organic production methods for our collective health and perpetuate the image that wholesomely produced organic foods are in the realm of elitist, liberal hippies and not the birthright of all human beings everywhere. The cycle of junk food will continue and those responsible for stealing our health will continue with business as usual.