Organic foods may cause illnesses, one study finds

Daily Sundial

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There is a high risk that organic foods can lead to food borne illnesses, according to a 2004 study conducted at the University of Minnesota.

Alex Avery, director of research at The Hudson Institute Center for Global Food Issues, said organic food popularity comes from successful marketing strategies used by organic food advocates and the growing consumer trust that organic foods are healthier.

“Consumers are told that non-organic foods are unsafe and that (they) taste better,” Avery said. “It’s been more or less swallowed uncritically (by) the press, and a lot of organizations (write) stories that are favorable (toward organic foods). Consumers believe the marketing.”

Avery said he is skeptical that organic foods are healthier, because the study revealed that organic crops are three times more likely to be contaminated by E. coli.

“The science on food safety is clear, and scientific research indicates organic foods are less safe since they contain fungal toxins and bacterial contamination,” Avery said.

The study also reported that samples from organic farms that used manure or compost less than 12 months old had a prevalence of E. coli 19 times greater than that of samples from conventional or non-organic farms.

The pathogens found in organic manure samples contained bacteria and fungal toxins, such as the carcinogenic aflatoxin, which causes birth defects, Avery said.

According to Arran Stephens, president and founder of Nature’s Path Foods Inc., organic food relies on healthy soil, which produces healthier crops, and often makes organic foods more expensive.

“Organic products contain little or no chemical pollution,” Stephens said.

Organic foods are expensive to produce, which contributes to their high cost for consumers.

Farmers use composted manure to manage soil fertility with crop rotations so nutrients do not get “mined” out of the soil, Stephens said.

Organic farms have a harder time killing weeds, since they do not use fossil fuels to burn their weeds, Avery said. Conventional farmers use pesticides or herbicides, which are considered more effective than those fertilizers containing non-effective copper used by organic farmers, he said.

Avery said the production costs for organic products is expensive, but not worth the high price because, he said, conventional food is less expensive and poses less of a health risk.

“(It is) harder on (organic farm) worker(s’) health, and the organic pesticides are more naturally derived where farmers lose more of their harvest (and) where crop (profit) yields are lower, adding up to a 20 to 150 percent higher cost (for consumers).”

Stephens said organic food is far healthier and worth paying a higher price.

“We feel, when considering the true cost of production and the true value to the consumer of a superior product, that in fact organic is less costly to our health and the health of the planet,” Stephens said.

Senior Tiffany San Miguel, biology and Asian American studies major, said she sometimes eats organic food because it is a healthy alternative to fast food. She likes that it is not processed and does not contain pesticides.

Stephens said the higher price of organic foods should not deter people from buying them and eating healthier.

“If we know what value we get from what we purchase and put in our bodies, and we consider that value when making purchasing decisions, we will automatically move away from highly-refined junk foods, like fried snacks, soda pop, candy (and) fast food burgers,” Stephens said.