Organic Food Is Not Better for You

Published July 1, 2007

This article is the thirteenth in a continuing series excerpted from the book Smoke or Steam? A Guide to Environmental, Regulatory, and Food Safety Concerns, by Samuel Aldrich, adapted and serialized by Jay Lehr.

It is unfortunate that the term “health food” has become established in food marketing. It implies that other food is not healthy or is less healthy.

The centerpieces of the “health food” movement are crops grown without commercial fertilizers, pesticides, or genetic engineering; meat and milk from livestock with no growth hormones; and foods without preservatives that have not been irradiated for protection against viruses and bacteria.

These constraints, officially approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in December 2000 for food to be labeled “organic,” were put into place in 2002.

In taking this action the department does not indicate that organic food is better in any way. The standards are merely to ensure uniformity for persons who desire a single standard for the term “organic.”

Misleading Claims

Many organic farming enthusiasts claim organically grown food has better flavor and is more nutritious, and they either directly state or imply it is more healthful. Here is a representative quotation from an advertisement for organically grown foods:

“This is not a scare ad. If you can read–let alone smell, taste, and breathe–you are probably scared enough. Because you know that a flood of poisonous chemicals have invaded your family’s diet, robbing your food of its flavor and wholesomeness. Robbing you of your health and perhaps years of life as well.”

Dr. William Sebrell, former director of the National Institutes of Health, in testimony at a hearing convened by New York State Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz in 1972, stated he knew of “no acceptable medical benefits or nutritional advantages, to be obtained from the use of organic foods.” He also stated he knew of no disadvantages, thus implying the medical and nutritional qualities were the same for organically grown and conventionally grown food.

Falsehoods Debunked

Dr. Jean Mayer, a Harvard University nutritionist, was quoted in the August 27, 1973 issue of U.S. News & World Report as follows:

“Question: Will the recent trend to natural foods–those grown without chemical fertilizer and pesticides–lead to better nutrition?

“Answer: I don’t think so. The reason is that this effort is unscientific and full of internal contradictions. With regard to fertilizers, if we don’t use them throughout the world we’re going to starve. You just cannot produce the amount of food we need in the world without fertilizers.

“Also, there is no evidence that this alters unfavorably the quality of food. Whatever you feed the plant, it eats the same thing, whether it’s organic or inorganic.”

High Price of Misinformation

Most organically grown food is neither more nutritious nor less than conventionally grown food. Yet organic is more expensive to grow, yields less food per acre of cultivation, and has a shorter shelf life.

Misleading assertions that organic food is better for you simply rob people of their disposable income and lead to more environmental degradation to sustain the inefficient growing techniques.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is science director for The Heartland Institute. Samuel Aldrich is an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois. His groundbreaking book for laymen, Smoke or Steam? A Guide to Environmental, Regulatory, and Food Safety Concerns, is available from The Heartland Institute for $12. The table of contents of the book, containing 211 topics, can be viewed at