“We broke the story of Stanford’s ridiculous organic food study the very night of its publication. Now, a month later, the media is catching on to the study’s flaws; New York Times Opinion columnist Mark Bittman apologized for hoping—in vain—that the study would have little impact on the media.
“That was dumb of me,” he says, “and I’m sorry.”
Narrow Definitions and Egregious Oversights
The study suggests that organic animal and plant products are no healthier than conventionally grown varieties. Bittman puts it beautifully: “By providing ‘useful’ and ‘counterintuitive’ information about organic food, [the study authors] played right into the hands of the news hungry while conveniently obscuring important features of organic agriculture.”
The study authors narrowly—and misleadingly—defined the word “nutritious” and “healthy,” and on numerous occasions contradicted themselves How can food that the authors admit “may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria” also be no more or less healthy than foods that don’t? How can foods that put less waste and toxins into the groundwater be no more or less healthy for us than foods that pollute our water and harm those—animals and human—who drink it? We already know of the many nasty effects of pesticides and dangers of GMOs.
Even within its narrow constructs, the study authors erred. Newcastle University researcher Kirsten Brandt last year published a similar analysis of studies to conclude that organic foods do contain more nutrients. How did Stanford miss this? By misspelling a critical class of nutrients found in produce that changed the results of the research: flavonols.