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How Dr. Oz Got It Wrong on Organics

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's All About Organics page.

"There's nothing like a block of frozen spinach to make you feel bad about your family dinner," observes heart surgeon, TV personality, and health pundit Dr. Mehmet Oz in the latest Time. The advice in Oz's piece is mostly on point-foodie trends shouldn't keep people from eating unglamorous, wholesome foods like frozen veggies or canned beans, especially if that's all they can afford.

But I think the good doctor misdiagnoses the case when he paints organic food as a frivolous luxury:

 Organic food is great, it's just not very democratic. As a food lover, I enjoy truffle oil, European cheeses and heirloom tomatoes as much as the next person. But as a doctor, I know that patients don't always have the time, energy or budget to shop for artisanal ingredients and whip them into a meal.

I agree there's no point in worrying about whether everyone has access to fancy oil or Camembert. But organic food is different. For one thing, pesticides are poisonous, and they poison the people who have to deal with them: farm workers. I can think of few less-snobby reasons for buying organic than that it protects the people who feed us from toxic exposure.

But the people who tend sprayed crops aren't the only ones at risk from pesticides. So are the very people in Oz's audience: eaters. Using US Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency data, the Environmental Working Group has established (latest "Dirty Dozen" study here) that conventionally grown produce often contains a range of low-level pesticide residues. Some samples of conventional grapes had as many as 15 distinct pesticide traces, EWG found. And in a Stanford study released this year, researchers found that organic produce carried substantially less of these chemicals than conventional-and as I demonstrated in a post on the study, the researchers actually understate the risk reduction offered by organic produce in their conclusion.

Moreover, a growing weight of research suggests that regular exposure to even tiny levels of pesticides carries significant health risk-especially for children and the offspring of pregnant women.


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