Many GMO-advocates are probably aware of the fact that genetically modified crops contain higher levels of pesticide residues than conventional crops. But what about organic vs. GMO when it comes to nutrient content? You can argue with a biotech scientist all day long, and they’ll tell you there is no difference, but they are flat wrong. It’s no straw man – there is real evidence that organic produce is better – in a number of ways.
You can blame it on a Stanford study that started this whole debacle. Their meta data did tell us that:
“. . . published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.”
An agricultural scientist, Dr. Kirsten Brandt questioned Stanford, though, in making this assumption. She feels that many of the nutrients in plants were overlooked, some were undervalued, and the overall nutritional density of a plant was not really considered based on their criteria. When she looked at their meta-data, she came to a different conclusion altogether.
She found it puzzling that the Stanford researchers chose to:
“include [nutrients] where the difference was smallest to begin with” while omitting others “that were just as well-described in the papers they included.”
The Stanford authors also said there was no difference in flavonol content, which was in direct contradiction to what Brandt found. At closer inspection, she realized they had simply misspelled (yes, authors from Stanford made a spelling mistake!) ‘flavanol’, masking the truth about organic produce and their nutrient density. The team had actually calculated the difference in total flavonols, a different nutrient, and reported the result with the swap of an “o” for an “a.”
Unlike the Stanford paper, Brandt’s analysis found that organic produce contained significantly more vitamin C and “secondary metabolites.”
While these secondary metabolites aren’t directly responsible for a plant’s growth, maturation, or even reproduction, they are important antioxidant compounds. They are the polyphenols, the flavonoids, and all the other phytonutrients that we as humans rely upon when we purchase or grow our own organic produce for optimum health. These are no small things to overlook in a study. Stanford should be forgiven for an honest spelling error, but for dismissing secondary metabolites from their study? That is a larger issue.
Furthermore, these compounds aren’t just good for the people who eat them, they are also part of a plant’s immune system. They help them to form a natural defense system – which ironically also makes them more likely to grow and prosper without pesticides and herbicides because they can ‘fight for themselves’ instead of being weakened by chemicals. You could call secondary metabolites a plant’s defense system.
Other ‘minor’ antioxidants that are more prevalent in organic foods have also been dismissed.
More Differences Between Organic and GMO Foods
A 2010 study examining the fruit quality of three varieties of organic and conventional strawberries found some key differences.
First, organic strawberries tend to win blind taste tests – so much for the GMO supporters who say they can’t tell the difference between organic and non-organic foods.
These same fruits were also smaller, but denser, and brighter, primarily due to higher levels of phenolic compounds and other antioxidants, including Vitamin C. Why this would be dismissed is unnerving. The organic strawberries were also more resistant to fungus, and lasted longer on store shelves.
Yet another review (PDF) proves that organic produce has greater levels of secondary metabolities and tends toward more magnesium, vitamin C, iron, and phosphorus.
Even better – the author of this study found that more “mature” organic farms produced even better produce than newer organic farms; the longer soil was worked using organic methods, the more nutrient-rich it became, and thus the better the ‘fruits’ of labor.
While it is more likely just part of the GMO propaganda and lies being spouted, especially as more states take up labeling initiatives, it is possible that many of the studies showing ‘little to no difference between’ conventional and organic produce were using “young” organic farms that had yet to reach their potential.
Another important point to state is that secondary metabolites aren’t going to show up in a nutritional database. They aren’t labeled as “essential” to health like vitamin D, Vitamin C (even though this vital nutrient was dismissed in one study and thus won’t weigh as very important in most meta-analyses, which is silly), or other vitamins.
Even more interesting is the dismissal of GMO proponents of mineral content in vegetables and fruits. This again, is entirely a question of soil health. Obviously if you are spraying copious amounts of RoundUp or other pesticides on your crops, the soil is going to contain these toxins and interfere with mineral take-up by the plant.
Many studies find little difference between the mineral content of organic and conventional stuff, but the biggest general determinant of mineral density in food appears to be geographical location. This is part of the reason that Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, etc. want to start planting GMOs in the Ukraine – they have especially mineral and nutrient-rich soil.
Numerous studies have even found that organic crops have higher levels of magnesium, iron, vitamin C, phosphorus, and lower levels of nitrates than conventional crops and produce. This isn’t even concerning GMOs, which is an even larger issue.
That being said, if a farmer is really diligent about putting nutrients back into his soil, even one organic farm compared to another will come up with different mineral levels, and the food they grow will reflect that. This is another reason to rely on small, organic farms more than Big Ag prototypes; it’s often the little guy who cares for his carrots and Swiss chard like he would his own children – giving them the best nutrients and minerals in his soil, and therefore growing the most nutrient-dense food.
As Mark’s Daily Apple has pointed out:
“Nutrients – no matter how micro they are – occupy physical space. They have mass. If this tomato weighs a quarter pound more than that tomato, there is something qualitatively different about it, and it’s probably got something to do with the nutritional content (with it, ya know, being food and all).”
In conclusion – organic produce tends to be more nutritious than its GMO and conventional counterparts.