That Flawed Stanford Study
By Mark Bittman
Opiniator (The New York Times)
I tried to ignore the month-old “Stanford study.” I really did. It made so little sense that I thought it would have little impact.
That was dumb of me, and I’m sorry.
The study, which suggested — incredibly — that there is no “strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods,” caused as great an uproar as anything that has happened, food-wise, this year. (By comparison, the Alzheimer’s/diabetes link I wrote about last week was ignored.)
That’s because headlines (and, of course, tweets) matter. The Stanford study was not only an exercise in misdirection, it was a headline generator. By providing “useful” and “counterintuitive” information about organic food, it played right into the hands of the news hungry while conveniently obscuring important features of organic agriculture.
If I may play with metaphor for a moment, the study was like declaring guns no more dangerous than baseball bats when it comes to blunt-object head injuries. It was the equivalent of comparing milk and Elmer’s glue on the basis of whiteness. It did, in short, miss the point. Even Crystal Smith-Spangler, a Stanford co-author, perfectly captured the narrowness of the study when she said: “some believe that organic food is always healthier and more nutritious. We were a little surprised that we didn’t find that.” That’s because they didn’t look — or even worse, they ignored.
In fact, the Stanford study — actually a meta-study, an analysis of more than 200 existing studies — does say that “consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”
Since that’s largely why people eat organic foods, what’s the big deal? Especially if we refer to common definitions of “nutritious” and point out that, in general, nutritious food promotes health and good condition. How can something that reduces your exposure to pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria not be “more nutritious” than food that doesn’t?
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