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Study Doesn't Find Organic Health Advantage

STANFORD, Calif. — Organically grown produce and meat do not provide more health benefits than those grown by conventional methods, according to a new paper by a team of Stanford researchers.

The paper, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, analyzed the findings of 237 studies, including 17 studies measuring the health effects of organic foods on humans and 223 studies comparing the nutrients and contaminants in foods.

The Stanford group found no significant difference in the vitamin content in organic versus conventional produce and meat. At the same time, certain nutrients were found in much higher levels in organics, including phosphorus in produce and omega-3 fatty acids in milk and chicken.

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The researchers also concluded that pesticide residue was 30% more likely to be found on conventional produce, but 7% of organic produce contained pesticide residue and all traces of pesticides fell within legal allowed limits. A limited number of studies found that there were significantly lower levels of pesticides in children’s urine samples in those that followed organic diets versus those on conventional diets.

There is no difference between organic and conventional produce when it comes to contamination from bacteria like salmonella and campylobacter, the paper concluded, but it is possible organics carry a higher risk for E. coli contamination. At the same time, bacteria resistant to three or more antibiotics were far more commonly found in conventional chicken and pork than in their organic counterparts.

None of the studies examined by the researchers focused on the long-term health effects of organic food. 

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