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Should You Go Organic?

I returned from Trader Joe’s with several bags full of
organic produce and frozen goods today.
It cost me substantially more than it would have at a regular grocery
store, but I figured it was worth it since the food was probably of higher
quality.  It also seemed that I might be
helping small farmers by purchasing goods there, which pleased me.  And yet I had this nagging feeling that maybe
this was a marketing ploy… that the “experience” of Trader Joe’s was what I was
really buying.

Dr. Clark
directed me towards this interesting, if not controversial blog about organic foods.  In it, the author explains the “real story”
behind Trader Joe’s:

Trader Joe’s is a
supermarket chain specializing in organic, vegetarian, and alternative foods
with hundreds of locations throughout the United
States, centered in organic-happy Southern
California. Shoppers appreciate its image of healthful food in a
small-business family atmosphere. Really? In 2005 alone, Trader Joe’s racked up
sales estimated at $4.5 billion. The company is owned by a family trust set up
by German billionaire Theo Albrecht, ranked the 22nd richest man in the world
by Forbes in 2004. He’s the co-founder and CEO of German multi-national ALDI,
with global revenue in grocery sales at $37 billion. According to Business
Week, the decade of the 1990’s saw Trader Joe’s increase its profits by 1000%.… Trader Joe’s customers are willing to pay
their premium prices to get that healthful image. But they should not kid
themselves that they’re striking a blow at big business and supporting the
little guy.

Ok, so maybe I’m not
helping the little guy.  But isn’t it
healthier to eat organic food?

From Canada’s
Department of Agriculture
(hat tip to Moof for finding this reference):

·  Some studies have shown traces of pesticide
residues in both food sources, regardless of production method.

·  Nutritional value of plants depends on
genetics, availability of water, amount of sunlight, maturity when picked, how
long it took to come to market and whether it was properly handled and
refrigerated. Numerous laboratory tests have not found any substantial
nutritional differences in organically and conventionally grown produce.

·  In blind taste tests, consumers generally
cannot differentiate between organically and conventionally grown food.

·  Organic produce is marketed as pure and
healthy. Conventionally produced goods are equally safe and nutritious due to
strict regulations and guidelines.

In a recent
article in the Chicago Tribune
, raw foods were not found to be as healthy
as initially suspected.  The natural
sprouted plant enzymes that are supposed to be really good for you are actually
destroyed by stomach acid and never absorbed in the body.  A raw food diet lacks Vitamin B12, which can
cause dangerous deficiencies.

A study by the Center for Global Food Issues found that
although organic foods make up about 1 percent of America’s diet, they also account
for about 8 percent of confirmed E. coli cases.
For a long list of organic food contaminations, check out the Canada Free Press.

What about hormones
given to animals to increase milk production or bulk them up?

In theory, this is the most concerning and potentially
convincing reason to preferentially select organic meats.  I could imagine that eating animals pumped
with hormones could have a negative impact on humans – though the research I
found from the WHO and Cornell
did not support my initial fears.  They write:

Studies indicate that
if correct treatment and slaughter procedures are followed, the levels of these
hormones may be slightly higher in the treated animal’s meat or milk, but are
still within the normal range of natural variation known to occur in untreated

FDA scientists have
concluded that eating foods with slightly higher levels of rbGH would not
affect human health. This is because the amount of rbGH that is in milk or milk
products as a result of treatment of the animals is insignificant compared to
the amount of growth hormone that is naturally produced by our bodies. Also,
rbGH is a protein hormone and is digested into smaller fragments (peptides and
amino acids) when eaten. The rbGH hormone used on dairy cattle is effective in
promoting growth in cows, but does not work in humans. Scientists know that
rbGH is not recognized as a hormone by human cells.

Well, isn’t organic
farming better for the environment?

The Canadian Department of Agriculture states that organic
farming methods lead to increased soil erosion, lower crop yields (which
require more acres to produce the same amount of food), and require more
pesticides.  Although regular farming
methods use different pesticides than the organic variety, neither types of
pesticides are particularly safe for humans.
Organic pesticides such as
may be a risk factor for developing Parkinson’s Disease – though
more research is needed to fully elucidate this risk.

So should you go

If you enjoy the flavor or the food quality of certain
produce (and don’t care about price) then purchase it gladly.  Make sure you wash it well (organic or not)
and peel the skin if you have any doubts about remaining pesticides.  Buy food directly from local farmers when you
can, support free range farming (it’s so much kinder to the animals), and don’t
believe the hype about organic foods automatically being healthier or more
nutritious for you.

Conclusions: organic food is not necessarily more
nutritious, it still may contain harmful pesticides, it is more likely to
contain harmful bacteria, there’s no convincing evidence to suggest that
hormones or antibiotics given to cattle have a negative impact on meat eaters,
and one thing’s for certain: organic food costs at least 20% more than
non-organic.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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5 Responses to “Should You Go Organic?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    What happened to the old adage… first do no harm? 

    Aren’t doctors supposed to insist that before allowing a therapy to be introduced into the marketplace, one must prove that it does no harm.  That’s right, there should be overwhelmingly convincing evidence that a therapy is safe.  You seem to have taken the opposite view… research must prove ‘using antibiotics and hormones’ is harmful before you are willing to entertain the idea that it’s use should be curtailed.   Seems contrary to all guidelines for evaluating drug therapies that I’ve ever heard of……

    Shame on you…..

  2. ValJonesMD says:

    Dear Readers of Dr. Val:  Alternate viewpoints are welcome on my blog – ad hominem attacks from anonymous commenters are not.  If you believe that the conclusions drawn by the World Health Organization are in error, then please supply the counter evidence to further this discussion.  I’m happy to moderate a lively debate, but I will delete any further comments that are unnecessarily hostile.  Please also note that the remarks about Trader Joe’s are not my own – they are a quote from another blogger.

  3. DeanMoyer says:

    Dr. Val,

    I found your post about the organic grocery industry to be refreshing and insightful. You did an excellent job of pulling together the various sources into one place and thus providing a well-organized starting point for further research.

    It’s a shame when certain individuals take it upon themselves to browbeat an information provider in some misguided attempt to suppress what amounts to nothing more than information. It’s one thing to disagree and quite another to hurl insults or attack another person’s reputation.

    We all want wholesome and safe foods for our families and none of us wish to be taken advantage of by corporate profiteers. Your article provides valuable information that I personally am grateful to have access to.

    I believe the majority of your readers are intelligent enough to realize the value in what you’ve presented here. Anyone truly interested in natural health and organic farming will examine the facts presented, follow-up with their own research and ultimately make up their own minds.

    Irresponsible journalism bends under pressure and goes along with the crowd. The responsible journalist is the one with the courage to ask the hard questions and is not afraid to present an alternative viewpoint.

    Thank you for being one of the responsible journalists.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thoughts about the following comment by Dr. Marla Weiss’s comment (President and Founder of “I think for women who have had breast cancer, it is particularly important to avoid purchasing meat or chicken that has been hormone fed.”

  5. youngold says:

    You sound like a “huckster”  for  the  corner deli  and “Camel cigarettes”.  I am  old enough  to  remember when  doctors  advertised  cigarettes ( sure you can find an old man of  90  that  somked  for  70 years….but  you can also  find  1 million people  that  die every year   prematurely,  from  lung cancer  and heart  disease  directed  attributed  to  smoking…..and when being  fat  was  considered  healthy.  I will spend the  additional money  to have  hormone  and  pesticide free  foods.  Most  doctors  have  no  education  in  nutrition;  they are  trained  to  cure  disease…NOT PREVENT IT !!!!  There is  overwhelming research   published  through-out  the  world  regarding  the  benefits  of  eating  organic food.  Most  intelligent educated  logical  human  beings  will agree..unless you have a financial  interest   other-wise !!!!!!

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