Study finds little health benefit to eating organic, danger of misusing antibiotics

A study of the benefits of eating organic foods did little to support the idea that an organic diet is better for human health. It did, however, highlight one way in which conventional agricultural practices are dangerous. That deserves at least as much attention.

The Associated Press reported that a team of doctors at Stanford University found little evidence that an organic diet offers greater health benefits. The study did find that eating organic fruits and vegetables can reduce the intake of pesticides, but the amounts found in conventionally grown foods were less than levels considered hazardous.

Dena Bravata, a doctor of internal medicine and a senior researcher at Stanford, took up the project because so many of her patients had asked her about organic food. Her conclusion is that in terms of individual health, “there isn’t much difference.”

She also said, “There are many reasons why someone might choose organic foods over conventional foods.” Taste is one. Anyone who has ever compared a truly fresh tomato to one shipped cross-country knows that. Interest in local food takes that into account, as well as local economies and helping the environment. Imagine the carbon footprint of fruit grown in Chile or Australia and consumed in Southwest Colorado.

But the most compelling finding the study reported had to do with meat. The Stanford study agreed with the idea that the risk of bacterial contamination is independent of whether food is organically produced. What it did find is that bacteria found in conventionally produced meat was 33 percent more likely to be resistant to multiple antibiotics.

No wonder. The practice of dosing animals with antibiotics for nonmedical reasons amounts to a breeding program for super germs. The animals might gain more weight, but the bacteria that survive the antibiotics are those with resistance to the drugs. Keep repeating the process, and the result is the growing number of increasingly hard-to-treat infections.

Eliminating the nonmedical use of antibiotics in animals would not satisfy those who favor strictly organic foods. But it would save lives.