No Shit Organic Food Isn’t More Nutritious For Kids — It’s The Pesticides I Lose Sleep Over

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organic foodThe American Academy of Pediatrics has some headlining news for you and your family. According to a report they published yesterday, organic food is no more nutritious for your tots than the cheapo non-organic produce you throw into your basket. But heads up to the folks at AAP, I don’t think eating broccoli gives me any more calcium than the other stuff. Nor do I think accumulating a bowl full of organic oranges is giving me any more vitamin C. As a privileged person in this nation with the luxury of choice, I choose organic food because of all the scary pesticides baked into my kale. But wouldn’t you know, the AAP doesn’t have much comment on that important factoid.

NBC news reports that organic foods are “virtually indistinguishable from conventionally produced foods,” with “no nutritional difference,” according to Dr. Janet Silverstein, a co-author of the reports and a professor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Florida who reviewed multiple studies on everything from processed foods to produce to dairy and meat. That lead to the AAP releasing the following statement on the matter:

“In the long term, there is currently no direct evidence that consuming an organic diet leads to improved health or lower risk of disease.”

“Large studies” on the issue have yet to be conducted. But that isn’t all the AAP is missing:

When it comes to the pesky issue of pesticides, hormones and other contaminants, the pediatricians came to a similar conclusion.

No one knows yet whether those substances make foods from conventional sources less safe for growing kids, Silverstein said.

While there’s no question that conventionally grown foods have more pesticides than organic foods, the effect isn’t certain.

“They are at low levels — certainly lower than the federal government regulatory cutoffs and lower than is thought to be dangerous for adults,” Silverstein said. “However, we don’t know the effect of these low levels on children during the vulnerable period of time when brain growth is occurring: in utero and through the first few years of life.”

Dr. Silverstone says that, despite these nutritional findings, the long-term effects of pesticides on child development are unknown because the data isn’t there yet:

“Until we know the answer to that question, we can’t really give people good advice other than to let them know what is known and what still needs to be studied,” she added.

Not every family is in a financial position to quibble over precious organic grapes, of course. Notorious organic food prices are enough to have any family scratching their heads wondering if eight dollars for organic oatmeal is really worth it. Obviously, it isn’t for many families still struggling in this still fragile economy. Considering that children also aren’t known to generally be innate lovers of spinach, cutting costs on the food they aren’t even eating is completely understandable. Parents have to pick their battles and I empathize with those who cede the Great Organic Debate on price alone.

But let’s not obscure the issue. Nutrition has never been at the crux of my highly privileged decision to eat organic, nor has it been for many of the even more privileged families I’ve worked for. Gigi Lee Chang, a mother of an 8-year-old and chief executive of Healthy Child, Healthy World, agrees:

“I don’t think from a mom’s perspective it was ever about the nutrition,” said Chang, chief executive of Healthy Child, Healthy World, an advocacy group that works to help parents protect children from harmful chemicals.

As far as Chang is concerned, the science just hasn’t had a chance to catch up on this issue. Chang points to the situation with bisphenol A, the estrogen-mimicking chemical known as BPA. Several years ago there wasn’t enough evidence on the impact of BPA, she said. And now it’s been banned from baby bottles and sippy cups.

And with the AAP being just as candid about not “catch[ing] up on this issue,” I’ll be doing with their findings exactly what I do with those non-organic raspberries: not buying it.

(photo: Michel Borges/ Shutterstock)