Jul 18 2014

New Organic Farming Meta-analysis – What Does it Really Show?

The Guardian’s headline reads: Clear differences between organic and non-organic food, study finds. While this article was better than most in including some caveats, it was clearly favorable to the conclusions in the study, and failed, in my opinion, to properly put the new study into an informative context.

How does this new study add to the literature looking at the safety and health effect of organic produce vs conventional produce?

First, the study is a meta-analysis of 343 prior studies looking at nutrient content, pesticide, and heavy metal contamination of produce. It is not a collection of any new data. A meta-analysis is very tricky to conduct well – it does not improve the quality of the data going into the analysis, only the statistical power. Further it introduces another layer of potential bias (another researcher degree of freedom) in which studies are chosen for the analysis.

This study used very open criteria, and therefore included more lower-quality studies (likely to be false positive or show the bias of the researchers) than other meta-analyses.

Whenever I am trying to quickly grasp the bottom line of any scientific question, I look for a consensus among several independent systematic reviews. If multiple reviewers are looking at the same body of research and coming to the same conclusion, that conclusion is likely reliable.

In this case, there are three other recent large systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the same research on the nutritional content and safety of organic vs conventional produce. The other three studies all came to the opposite conclusion as the current study. A 2009 review by Dangour et. al. concluded:

“On the basis of a systematic review of studies of satisfactory quality, there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs. The small differences in nutrient content detected are biologically plausible and mostly relate to differences in production methods.”

A 2010 review also by Dangour found:

“From a systematic review of the currently available published literature, evidence is lacking for nutrition-related health effects that result from the consumption of organically produced foodstuffs.”

 A 2012 review by Smith-Spangler et. al. found:

“After analyzing the data, the researchers found little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods. No consistent differences were seen in the vitamin content of organic products, and only one nutrient — phosphorus — was significantly higher in organic versus conventionally grown produce (and the researchers note that because few people have phosphorous deficiency, this has little clinical significance).”

Older reviews by other researchers came to the same negative conclusions. This latest review, therefore, is the outlier. While I don’t think that possible conflicts of interest are definitive in analyzing research, it is informative, especially when there are disagreements. The negative reviews of the data were independently funded. This latest study was partially funded by the Sheepdrove Trust, which funds research supportive of organic farming. If, for example, the only study out of several that was favorable to a particular drug was funded by the drug manufacturer, that would be significant.

It is likely that the inclusion of weaker studies biased the results of this latest analysis in favor of a false positive. The authors claim that they did an analysis and removing the weaker studies did not have a significant effect on the results, but I find this unlikely as removing the weaker studies would essentially make the current analysis more similar to the other analyses, which found no significant differences.

The reporting about this study, based on how it was presented, is also misleading in other respects. They claim that anti-oxidants have proven health benefits, but this is misleading. The effect of antioxidants on health is more complex, and I don’t think it’s fair to conclude that higher antioxidant levels are clearly beneficial.

The study also found that organic produce has lower levels of protein, fiber, and nitrates, but these findings were strangely missing from the abstract’s conclusions and from uncritical reporting about the study.

Regarding pesticides, there is agreement that the data shows higher residue levels of those pesticides tested in conventional produce. However, these levels are well below safety limits, so this likely has no health effect. Organic proponents argue that the cumulative effect is what matters, even if individual levels are safe, but this is pure speculation.

Further – these results are rigged and misleading. The studies only test for conventional pesticides, so of course there are more of these on conventional produce. They don’t test for organic pesticides, those used in organic farming. There is absolutely no reason to conclude that organic pesticides are safer than synthetic pesticides, their safety is assumed by organic proponents because they are “natural,” a clear example of the naturalistic fallacy.

The cadmium issue is similar in that, while levels were higher in conventional produce, the levels are still well below safety limits. Again organic proponents argue that the levels accumulate, but they have no evidence for this.


Three recent systematic reviews of hundreds of studies concluded that there is no significant difference in nutrient content between organic and conventional produce. Now this is one meta-analysis that concludes that there are higher levels of anti-oxidants (and lower levels of protein and fiber). The simplest explanation for the difference is that the independent studies were of better quality by being more exclusive of lower quality studies.

The pesticide issue is fearmongering, in my opinion, as the levels in conventional produce are well below safety limits. The analysis also ignores organic pesticides, without any justification, in my opinion.

Even if you believe that there are differences in organic vs conventional produce, it is not clear that any particular method of organic farming is the cause. There are many differences in practice, and combining them together philosophically into “organic” farming is misleading and counterproductive. Further, it is possible that the overall smaller size of organic produce simply concentrates some nutrients, but this does not mean the consumer is getting overall more nutrients.

I also agree with Richard Mithen, leader of the food and health program at the Institute of Food Research, who is quoted as saying:

“The additional cost of organic vegetables to the consumer and the likely reduced consumption would easily offset any marginal increase in nutritional properties, even if they did occur, which I doubt,” Mithen said. “To improve public health we need to encourage people to eat more fruit and vegetables, regardless of how they are produced.”

The higher cost of organic produce, due to the lower productivity or organic farming and the premium created by the marketing hype of organic food, could potentially lead to overall reduced consumption of fruits and vegetable, and therefore, ironically, be a net negative to nutrition.

Just eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and if you’re worried about the tiny residue of pesticides, wash them before eating (whether organic or conventional).

30 responses so far

30 thoughts on “New Organic Farming Meta-analysis – What Does it Really Show?”

  1. MikeB says:

    These comparisons make me laugh: There are so many variables in farming–which crops and which varieties, what soil and climate conditions, what methods during which seasons–that being able to sort “organic” from “conventional” factors seems impossible. Never mind, too, that “conventional” is a non-category, a fake designation like “pagan,” or “gentile,” or “infidel,” that simply means “not one of us.”

    So-called conventional farmers are as different from one another as–shall we say?–apple and oranges.

    The organic delusion is, unfortunately, here to stay.

  2. SteveA says:

    “To improve public health we need to encourage people to eat more fruit and vegetables, regardless of how they are produced.”

    I think this point is too often ignored. On one hand we have health campaigners telling people to eat more fresh produce, and on the other we have a largely self-serving organic community spreading fear about pesticides, artificial fertilisers and the like.

    Did anyone involved explain why this meta-analysis failed to reach the same conclusion as the previous studies? That should have been the starting point for any discussion of its findings.

  3. Mike – I agree. The entire premise is a flawed false dichotomy.

    It would be better to alter one variable and see what effect it has.

    However, given that organic is a thing (even though it’s more about marketing than anything else) it is reasonable to see if there is a consistent difference in produce identified as organic. The bottom line is that there isn’t – after hundreds of studies there is no clear signal here, just noise.

  4. Teaser says:

    Novella: The simplest explanation for the difference is that the independent studies were of better quality by being more exclusive of lower quality studies.

    Rebuttal: Difference is in the data included/excluded. Dangour omitted certain data where the Baranski study did not.

    From page 11-12 of the Baranski study:
    Dangour analysis omitted this data:
    1) Biodynamic-organic farms data.
    2) Field experiments investigating organic v conventional production protocols and crop composition.

    Baranski study included them for the following reasons:

    1) In the present study “biodynamic-organic” data sets were treated as organic, as biodynamic standards comply with the legal European Union organic farming standards. Data from comparative field experiments were also included as controlled experimental studies are less affected by confounding factors (e.g. contrasting soil and climatic and agronomic background conditions between farms that supplied organic and conventional samples) than farm and retail surveys.

    2) The reason for excluding field experiments carried out in the study of Dangour et al is that in the field experiments the organic plots were not certified according to organic farming standards. In the meta-analyses carried out in the present study, field experiments investigating associations between organic and conventional agronomic practices/protocols and crop composition were included, as the crop management practices rather than the certification process were assumed to affect crop performance and composition.

  5. Ekko says:

    Yes, I noticed that part as well. I’m wondering if Dr. Novella’s characterization of “lower quality studies” was based solely on the fact that these farms lacked certification or if there were other details to these field experiments that I missed.
    In any case, I became somewhat disillusioned with organic farming when I realized they also used pesticides. It’s a somewhat heterogenous label too when you don’t know if some use “natural” pesticides or not. According to this study, you get fruits and vegetables with higher amounts of polyphenols, but less protein and for more $$. In the opening abstract they try to link the polyphenols with less incidence of various diseases, which strains credulity and really requires its own meta-analysis. Personally, I prefer local farmer’s markets and have begun to care less whether it is organic or not.

  6. Teaser says:

    Novella: “While I don’t think that possible conflicts of interest are definitive in analyzing research, it is informative, especially when there are disagreements. The negative reviews of the data were independently funded. This latest study was partially funded by the Sheepdrove Trust, which funds research supportive of organic farming. If, for example, the only study out of several that was favorable to a particular drug was funded by the drug manufacturer, that would be significant.”

    Rebuttal: Since Sheepdrove Trust was mentioned as having a possible conflict of interest, I checked on the Dangour study
    for any possible conflicts of interest. I also looked further into the Sheepdrove Trust for conflicts of interest.

    The Food Standards Agency (FSA)(UK) commissioned the 2009 Dangours study. There is clear evidence of UK food
    industry collusion and the FSA. Using Steven’s conflict of interest axiom it is plausible to suspect a conflict of interest with the Dangour study. A search for – FSA conflict of interest – returned numerous results. I have quoted some farther below. The Dangour paper(s) did not reference FSA or the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). If they did I missed it. Given that there is a demonstrable conflict of interest with the FSA and the food industry the Dangour study might well be the outlier.

    The Baranski study acknowledges the Sheepdrove Trust in the paper with a disclaimer. Seemed like a typical boilerplate disclaimer. Who would publish a paper stating the results were influenced by a sponsor? There could be undue influence from Sheeptrove Trust. If there is influence it has not been called out anywhere I could find, perhaps the Soil Assn.

    Sheepdrove Trust Investigation:

    I could not find any negative information on Sheepdrove Trust. I did find they are an offshoot of Sheepdrove Organic Farm. Sheepdrove Farm is an active participant in the organic farming community. They appear to be active advocates for their industry.

    Information from their website:

    “For the founders, Peter and Juliet Kinderlsey, it’s something that has grown out of a passion for organic food, animal welfare, sustainability and wildlife”

    Now with its own eco conference centre, a great range of organic produce, on-site chicken processing, family butcher’s shops in London and Bristol, and home delivery across the UK, it’s one of the nation’s favourite organic food producers.”

    “…one of Britain’s largest and most influential organic farms…”
    The Telegraph

    “…the Kindersleys…have ploughed in…the most advanced ideas in organic agriculture to create Sheepdrove as it is now,

    a holistic model of environmentally responsible farming…”
    The Independent

    “…one of the pioneers of organic farming…”
    The Guardian

    “This farm is a beacon of the way things ought to be and hopefully, as a result of Peter and Juliet’s example, the way things will be.”
    Michael Meacher MP

    “…You have shown that the (organic farming) system can work anywhere…enormously impressed.”
    HRH The Prince of Wales

    Sheepdrove Trust financials

    FSA Investigation:
    The Dangour study backed by FSA (Food Standards Agency – UK). (Search: Dangour FSA)
    “In 2009 the FSA announced the findings of a study[2] it had commissioned from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) into the nutritional status of organically grown food as compared with conventionally grown food. LSHTM’s team of researchers, led by Alan Dangour, reviewed all papers published over the past 50 years that related to the nutrient content and health differences between organic and conventional food.”

    The Guardian, Rebecca Smithers and Tom Wall, 2 May 2013:
    FSA Chief Tim Smith’s move to Tesco (UK’s biggest retailer)
    “But Professor Erik Millstone, a food safety governance expert from Sussex University, said Smith worked for Arla Foods, Northern Foods, Sara Lee and Express Dairies before he was appointed to the FSA in 2008.”

    Kath Dalmeny, policy director of food charity Sustain, said there was a “revolving door” between government and industry jobs: “There are obvious benefits for a company employing someone with recent and senior government or civil service experience, whether it be insights into the direction of government policy or influential personal contacts to help win their business case – particularly to prevent regulation.”

    Dr Briffa,4 June 2010,drbriffa.com:
    “Unilever has, as it happens, appeared to enjoy a quite-cosy relationship with the Food Standards Agency here in the UK. For example the now-disbanded FSA Advisory Committee on Research was chaired by someone who received funding from Unilever, and a member of the committee also happened to be a full-time employee of Unilever. The last chairman of the FSA (Dame Deirdre Hutton) it turns out also had a substantial shareholding in a major food company. Guess which one? No, go on, guess.

    Only this week, two academics quit an FSA steering group over the FSA’s support of GM crops. One, director of the organisation Genewatch, “left in protest at the agency’s links with the agrochemical business, claiming that its so-called debates were nothing more than ‘a public relations exercise on behalf of GM companies’”. The other has accused the FSA of a ‘failure of institutional integrity’. You can read more about this fiasco here.
    Does this mean we should reject out of hand what our Governments and health agencies tell us. No. But when the advice does not fit the facts, it’s worth bearing in mind that industry has the capacity to exert influence at the highest level. It also, it appears, has the capacity to put profit before public health.”

    From Mail Online, Joanna Blythman, 3 June 2010 (dailymail.co.uk):
    “As part of its drive to rebuild Britain’s shattered public finances, the new coalition Government has pledged to reduce the number of bloated, expensive and undemocratic quangos that infest our public life. One of the first for the chop should be the Food Standards Agency, a £135 million drain on the taxpayer and a menace to the public. Originally set up to give protection to the consumer, it now acts as a mouthpiece for big business. In its eager embrace of the agro-chemical giants, the FSA has betrayed its founding principle to maintain food safety. The lack of ethics can be seen at its most glaring in the agency’s support for genetically modified (GM) foods.”

    From the FSA website. They disclose Gift and Hospitality activity of their members. Here are two samples. The
    spreadsheet format was garbled but its easy to get an idea of their contacts. I don’t see any organic food companies listed.

    Board of Directors Gift/Hospitality report
    Name Position Gift/hospitality Provided by Date received
    Tim Bennett FSA Chair Dinner / refreshments Food and Drink Federation Presidents Dinner 5/21/2013
    Tim Bennett FSA Chair Dinner Dairy UK 6/26/2013

    Charles Milne Director, Scotland Lunch, dinner, overnight accomodation for self and spouse. Scottish

    Association of Meat Wholesalers 4/20/2013
    Andrew Rhodes Director of Operations Dinner British Meat Processors Association / Dovecote Park 5/7/2013
    Stephen Humphreys Director of Communications Dinner Food and Drink Federation 5/21/2013
    Catherine Brown Chief Executive Dinner Chilled Food Association 6/24/2013
    Catherine Brown Chief Executive Dinner William Reed Directors Club Dinner 6/27/2013
    Name Position Gift/hospitality Provided by Date received
    Tim Bennett FSA Chair Dinner Farmers Weekly 10/3/2013
    Tim Bennett FSA Chair Dinner / refreshments Association of Independent Meat Suppliers conference

    Tim Bennett FSA Chair Refreshments Food and Drink Federation annual reception 12/11/2013
    Tim Bennett FSA Chair Lunch / refreshments Lithuanian Embassy 12/11/2013

    Catherine Brown Chief Executive Dinner Institute of Grocery Distributors (IGD) 10/8/2013
    Steve Wearne Director of Policy Sandwich lunch after speech/presentation Waitrose 10/9/2013
    Charles Milne Director, Scotland Dinner Food and Drink Federation 10/16/2013
    Catherine Brown Chief Executive Breakfast Sainsbury 11/20/2013
    Charles Milne Director, Scotland Lunch Scotbeef 11/23/2013
    Catherine Brown Chief Executive Lunch British Frozen Food and Beverages 11/27/2013
    Catherine Brown Chief Executive Breakfast Institute of Grocery Distributors (IGD) 12/3/2013
    Catherine Brown Chief Executive Reception Food and Drink Federation 12/11/2013
    Steve Wearne Director of Policy Reception Food and Drink Federation 12/11/2013
    Catherine Brown Chief Executive Lunch King’s Centre for Risk Management, Kings College London 12/16/2013
    Charles Milne Director, Scotland Joint of Beef ABP Plant Perth 12/27/2013

  7. MikeB says:

    Ekko: “I became somewhat disillusioned with organic farming when I realized they also used pesticides.”

    I went over the edge when I worked at an organic farm and had to attend a workshop in pesticides application!

    Not that there is anything wrong with that–I’m now a certified pesticides applicator and grow my own apples “conventionally,” which just means I use Integrated Pest Management. The problem is that just about every time someone from the organic cult opens their mouth something about “pesticides residues” comes out.

    I work with pesticides. I’m not the least concerned with these “residues” as I follow label instructions.

    The consumer, then, has almost literally nothing to worry about concerning these “residues.” Not that the organics acolytes will ever be convinced to shut up about it, though.

  8. grabula says:

    Teasers ability to cherry pick and confirm his bias are always entertaining. Maybe the problem on all those acupuncture studies is they aren’t looking into organic acupuncture?

  9. BBBlue says:

    Teaser and all –

    If you want to get a sense for Peter Kindersley’s motives (Sheepdrove Trust) and the way he thinks, check out the dialogue he had with a skeptic in comments regarding Mom’s Across America and their glyphosate survey.


    Spoiler alert: Séralini is a personal hero of his.

  10. Teaser says:


    What are Peter Kindersley’s motives? What way does he think?

  11. rezistnzisfutl says:


    I just noticed that Benbrook was one of the study participants. That says a lot, too.

  12. MikeB says:

    “Seralini” and “Benbrook,” sounds like “Wakefield” and “Burzynski.”

    Alas! when quacks’ names become more familiar than the legitimate!

  13. BBBlue says:


    “What are Peter Kindersley’s motives? What way does he think?”

    So you read through all his comments I referenced on Moms Across America and you couldn’t figure it out for yourself?

  14. Teaser says:

    @BBBlue Sheepdrove Trust was cited by Steven as a possible source of influence on the study results. The FSA is a festering welt of agribusiness-gov’t collusion compared to Peter Kindersley’s and his comments on some obscure website. I just don’t see the proof of a omnipotent pro-organic & antiGMO juggernaut that is corrupting results. If there is such a entity it certainly does not have the governmental ties and therefore power, that the agribusiness, or say Monsanto, has. It’s not even close. So in that context of governmental power relationships who is more suspect of undue influence? A successful organic farmer with limited governmental influence or multinational corporations staffed via the swinging doors to governmental agencies?

  15. BBBlue says:


    You seem like the kind of person who puts more stock in what others say about someone rather than forming an opinion based on their own words and deeds. Mr. Kindersley may have been writing on an obscure Website, but he wrote at length and revealed much about his understanding of science, reason, and critical thinking. He has also demonstrated a willingness to share his wealth and publishing savvy in support of pseudoscientific projects as long as they comport with his narrative regarding the evils of pesticides, GMOs, and conventional farming.

    I’ll do you a favor. Here’s the CliffsNotes version: You will find Mr. Kindersley’s picture next to the definition of the Dunning-Kruger effect in the dictionary.

    I think you and Mr. Kindersley would get along famously.

  16. Teaser says:

    #bbblue Here is my bottom line on this whole business. Intelligent people like yourself who believe in the integrity of the pro-GMO/agribusiness studies are either actively supporting the GMO industry or you are unwittingly being used to further the program. The science you support is corrupt and therefore nullified. Nature votes last!

  17. BBBlue says:


    There should be no “pro-” or “anti-“, just evidence and testing our understanding of it.

    “The science you support…”

    I wasn’t aware of an alternative. Nature = science? Praise Gaia!

  18. Certainly big agro as a pro-GMO stance, but I am unaware of any anti-organic sentiment on the part of big-agro.

    In fact, they are getting into organic farming because they can make more money per acre of land (even though it is less productive).

    In my opinion, the evidence (from actual statements from people on all sides) is that the ideological bias is orders of magnitude greater on the pro-organic side.

    In any case, we still have three reviews to one, and my assessment of the methods used leads me to believe the one is the outlier. I have also looked at many individual studies, and the best studies, in my opinion, show no significant nutritional difference, and any small differences are likely due to the smaller size of organic produce and are not worth the extra price.

    The pesticide residue issue is a total red herring. Residue levels are well below safety limits, and the whole thing is rigged because they are not measuring “organic” pesticides.

    The bottom line for me is that organic is a ripoff, and you’re better off buying cheaper fruits and vegetables and washing them. Buying heirloom varieties (which may mean buying local and seasonally) is advantageous because they tend to taste better and may have slightly more nutrition. However, this advantage will hopefully go away with GMO varieties that combine the best traits all around.

  19. Teaser says:


    “There should be no “pro-” or “anti-”, just evidence and testing our understanding of it.”

    While I agree in principle with this statement, Steven opened the door to citing undue influence on the results of a scientifically conducted meta-analysis. When a study is being influenced then the study becomes a tool of a side with a clear agenda. An investigation then into the backers motivation, be they pro or anti, depending on your perspective, is now open for debate. In this scenario you cannot claim one side has science on their side while the other does not. The science is corrupt at this point.


    “Certainly big agro as a pro-GMO stance, but I am unaware of any anti-organic sentiment on the part of big-agro.”

    I would count the dilution of USDA organic standards as industry driven and therefore anti-organic. Such dilution makes it way more difficult on the farmer who follows a stricter organic regimen compared to other less strict producers to differentiate their organic product. There is a current move in the USDA to strip the independent National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) of any effective power, further diluting what the label organic means. They are neutralizing the organic industry using governmental agencies. Obviously this is also happening the EU. So much for science and free market economics.

    From a ecological system standpoint conventional agriculture is not sustainable. Their products do not reflect the externalized costs of their production and shipping to market. If they did somebody in Cleveland would not be able to afford a head of lettuce grown in California. Whereas a locally produced head of lettuce would be very affordable and better product from a nutritional standpoint. If the cost of oil and gas were externalized the world would be a different place.

  20. SimonW says:

    Am right in recalling one of the other studied noted higher anti-oxidants, but since was focused on health benefits, and there was no evidence that this small difference mattered, it basically treated it as a null finding.

    Certainly I’ve seen similar results elsewhere, and it is biologically plausible (and clinically insignificant).

    So possible for studies with different questions to correctly reach differing answers, and all be right.

  21. MikeB says:

    “From a ecological system standpoint conventional agriculture is not sustainable.”

    First, what is “conventional” agriculture? As there is no “conventional” agricultural movement, no board of “conventional” standards, it can mean what one wants it to mean.

    Second, how would one know that this largely fictional concept is “not sustainable” without running a very complex series of numbers?

    It also seems to imply that “organic” agriculture IS sustainable. How would one know that?’

    These are the tropes of “organics.” One tires of hearing them.

  22. Teaser says:


    Oh rats, you nailed me. Check and mate.

    Sorry that you are tired of hearing the tropes of opposing viewpoints, me too.

  23. Niche Geek says:


    By “externalized costs” I presume you mean greenhouse gasses and other impacts of fossil fuel production and use. While I’m sympathetic to this argument, are you applying common sense or have you done the math?


    Equally important, would it be possible for you to direct me to the organic farming standard that requires the producer to sell their product locally and only locally? In my own local high-end grocery store I am far more likely to see organic produce shipped in than produced by local farmers. That includes California and Mexican organic produce and I’m a wee bit further north.

  24. Bruce says:

    “The higher cost of organic produce, due to the lower productivity or organic farming and the premium created by the marketing hype of organic food, could potentially lead to overall reduced consumption of fruits and vegetable, and therefore, ironically, be a net negative to nutrition.”

    I can safely say this was me about 5 or 6 years ago. I went on a “health” binge and spent a stupid amount of money getting one of those organic boxes of fruit delivered every week. Lots of “good for you” and “all natural” labels and forced me to eat whatever crappy fruit they were trying to get rid of that week. I gave up after the 5th box went bad within the first 3 days, meaning I had to throw away more than half of it, which at £15 a pop is not insignificant.

    It took me until a year ago to start eating fruit again regularly. I have an apple, orange and banana at work every day and on most weekends, bought cheaply from a well known large supermarket as part of the weekly shop, and my eldest son loves nothing more than to sit with me and share a non-organic cheap off the supermarket shelf orange.

  25. MikeB says:

    Bruce, nice story.

    If the pesticide thing was ever your concern with your organic binge, check out the data at the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program, a good use of taxpayer money if there ever was one:


  26. Teaser says:

    #Niche Geek

    I see your “newspaper article” and raise you a scholarly paper.

    You state:
    “Equally important, would it be possible for you to direct me to the organic farming standard that requires the producer to sell their product locally and only locally?”

    I neither cited or inferred any standard regarding organic food distribution restrictions. The issue with any produce is this: It’s been scientifically proven that the nutritional quality of any vegetable or fruit begins to decline the moment it is harvested. The consumer seeking to maximize the nutrient density of the foods they consume might conclude the local farmers market would be their best choice. As it turns out a fair number of the farmers at farmers market are organic farmers. Additionally my local CO-OP and high end grocery store, both make an effort to source produce from local/regional farmers. Both stores label where (state, country) and if known, what farm the produce was grown. In fact the CO-OP is outstanding in this respect. They will not carry products that do not meet the specified CO-OP standards.


    Two points in regards to the definition of conventional farming and sustainability:

    1a) I was using the same definition #BBBlue used when it said in regards to Mr. Kindersley.

    “…….they comport with his narrative regarding the evils of pesticides, GMOs, and conventional farming.”

    1b) I ran a simple search on Google with the words “conventional farming” and the phrase “conventional farming vs organic farming” auto populated the search field. Lo and behold the very first return was an article from the Washington Post with the headline “Organic vs. conventional farming: Which uses less energy?” Evidently there is widespread acceptance of the phrase conventional farming and what it implies. Sorry if I was less than clear.

    2) I ran a simple search on Google with the words “sustainable farming”[1] and the results led me to this wonderful paper from UC-Davis titled “What is Sustainable Agriculture?”[1]. Here is the introduction:

    “Agriculture has changed dramatically, especially since the end of World War II. Food and fiber productivity soared due to new technologies, mechanization, increased chemical use, specialization and government policies that favored maximizing production. These changes allowed fewer farmers with reduced labor demands to produce the majority of the food and fiber in the U.S.

    Although these changes have had many positive effects and reduced many risks in farming, there have also been significant costs. Prominent among these are topsoil depletion, groundwater contamination, the decline of family farms, continued neglect of the living and working conditions for farm laborers, increasing costs of production, and the disintegration of economic and social conditions in rural communities.(#MIKEB! THIS IS THE UNSUSTAINABLE ASPECT OF AGRICULTURE!)

    A growing movement has emerged during the past two decades to question the role of the agricultural establishment in promoting practices that contribute to these social problems. Today this movement for sustainable agriculture is garnering increasing support and acceptance within mainstream agriculture. Not only does sustainable agriculture address many environmental and social concerns, but it offers innovative and economically viable opportunities for growers, laborers, consumers, policymakers and many others in the entire food system.(#MIKEB! THIS SECTION DEFINES THE GOAL OF SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE!)

    This paper is an effort to identify the ideas, practices and policies that constitute our concept of sustainable agriculture. We do so for two reasons: 1) to clarify the research agenda and priorities of our program, and 2) to suggest to others practical steps that may be appropriate for them in moving toward sustainable agriculture. Because the concept of sustainable agriculture is still evolving, we intend the paper not as a definitive or final statement, but as an invitation to continue the dialogue.”


    [1] I am using the words “farming” and “agricultural” interchangeably. That could be confusing. Here is the definition of the word agriculture from the online Oxford Dictionary:

    Syllabification: ag·ri·cul·ture

    “The science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products.”

  27. Niche Geek says:


    Why are you putting quotation marks around “newspaper article”? Yes, it is a newspaper article which has no bearing upon its value. I referenced that piece because it was convenient and made the point eloquently: it isn’t so simple to intuit the environmental impact of agriculture. This is also true of your scholarly piece. I do note that the specific section to which you linked contains no data.

    That said, I don’t believe you’ve addressed my key concern: Organic farming and conventional farming use identical distribution mechanisms: trucks, trains and ships. While in transit, they both use refrigeration and gas storage techniques. That my local Whole Foods market is willing to sell me organic produce from Argentina while my farmers market has conventionally-grown peaches from my own province is evidence that Organic is, in and of itself, not sufficient to determine the overall environmental impact of the production of that piece of fruit.

  28. Teaser says:

    The article you cited seems to be examining only the carbon footprint of food. And I see that it is not that cut and dried between or organic and non-organic from that perspective. Carbon footprint is not the only externality to consider.

  29. Niche Geek says:


    I absolutely agree that carbon is not the sole exernality to consider. Unfortunately it is difficult to quantify many of these costs as your citation pointed out. Dr. Buttel’s work as an environmental sociologist appears to have been fairly extensive and his suggestions are interesting however that particular article does not provide us with tools to compare the impact of organic and conventional farming.

  30. grabula says:

    I see Teasers practicing his confirmation bias acrobatics? Training for the big competition are we Teaser?

    Thanks god your local co-op is a great source for why organic food rocks. I mean, nevermind the lack of anything defining what organic is (what organic farmer would have it any other way?), the studies showing no discernible advantages to organic farming on any level.

    Also, thanks for confirming you and Google both agree on what conventional farming is, your case grows stronger with each search.

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