A new scientific study recently captured the headlines: “Why Organic Food May Not Be Healthier for You!”.
The study claims that conventional produce in the grocery store, for the most part, “does not exceed allowable limits of pesticide residue set by federal regulations.” Since the main difference between organic and conventional produce is chemical pesticides, the report concludes that conventional food is just as good for you as organic food.
This report elicited a strong reaction from organic food groups.
If you buy organic food, please don’t be frustrated by this report. It was not intended for you.
Meta-Analysis of Bad Science
The report was not a scientific health study, but a meta-analysis; a summation of the findings of 237 other scientific studies.
Of the 237 studies in the meta-analysis, only 17 were based on health. And even the 17 health studies had so many problems that most of them should have been thrown out. Problems with the other studies in the analysis continue to emerge.
As soon as the report was published, it was torn to shreds by scientific peer review. I’m sure the beleaguered researchers who put the report together will be more careful in the future, considering the wave of scientific scorn that rolled over their findings.
In all fairness to the people who issued this report, they admitted that there were problems with their study, that the findings were not conclusive, and that more research is needed in this area. But, of course, the disclaimers did not make the headlines.
The Media Doing What They Do
The mainstream media picked up this story because it was good copy. Food health is a popular topic, and this report was certain to be controversial. It was issued by a university professor, so it had the aura of scientific credibility. The story set up a debate with two clearly defined and opposing positions that would happily argue with each other.
As the two sides went back and forth, the story stretched through several news cycles, and generated a lot of editorial copy. The report was not good science, but it made a great news story.
The Real Reason for the Report
This study was not meant to convince organic food buyers to switch to conventional; that is not going to happen. This report was designed to reinforce attitudes among conventional food consumers that their food is safe.
Conventional food consumers across America, millions of paying customers, constantly hear negative news stories about chemicals and other hidden dangers in their food. These folks push their carts down the aisles of grocery stores every day, and are just trying to live their lives, and want to hear good news for a change about the food they feed their families.
This report was meant to give those people a reassuring pat on the back as they reach into the bin for their produce, that the food they put in their cart will not hurt them.
A news headline like “conventional food just as good as organic” is a simple and powerful message for people who don’t want to think about the “allowable level of pesticide residue” in the food they are eating.
Like I said, this report was not meant for you.