Monsanto’s Tricky Plan to Defeat GMO Labeling?

Who is behind the recent study of organic food and why?

By Jeff Cox


What the Standford organic food review is really trying to doAnd Fairbanks responded to all his complaints, but summed up the thrust of the opposition at the end of her email by saying that Prop 37 will have a “detrimental impact on California’s economy. It will increase state costs at a time when the state has a severe budget deficit. It will raise grocery bills when families are still struggling.”

Higher food prices! Whoa! That’ll get the public’s attention. But, people may say, it could be worth paying more if the food is organic. After all, a 4-year British study showed that organic fruits and vegetables contained up to 40 percent more antioxidants and on average 12 percent higher levels of nutrients than conventional varieties, according to Professor Carlo Leifert at Newcastle University, which did the EU-funded study that appeared in Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences (vol. 30, no. 1: 177–197). Even larger differences were found in milk, with organic varieties containing more than 60 percent more antioxidants and healthy fatty acids, Leifert reported.

So here comes Stanford University’s impeccable reputation and a group of its doctors and health personnel to go over 298 studies from the 1970s to the 2000s, looking to see how organic and conventional foods stack up nutritionally. But where is the Newcastle study? Not there. I’ve selected just a few of the studies that show organic foods’ nutritional superiority and listed them as footnotes at the end of this article. Not one appears among the 298 studies perused by the Stanford team. Are they ignoring these studies and others that show a nutritional benefit of organic food on purpose? Looks that way. And they conclude there really is no difference in nutrition between organic and conventional. In reaction, Frances Moore Lappé, writing an opinion piece in Reader Supported News, called the Stanford study “reprehensible.” 

So Monsanto and its pals can now say that science (pointing at the Stanford study) shows that if Proposition 37 passes, not only will you pay much more for your food, but it will be for no good reason.

This Stanford study, no matter how or why it came about, certainly drops an armload of ammunition in Monsanto and pals’ laps. How fortunate for the Council on Biotechnology Information and the Grocery Manufacturers Association that this study comes along just in time for the big campaign against Proposition 37! What luck.

Wake up, people. Of course organic food can be and often is more nutritious. And it has fewer toxic chemicals, antibiotics, and pathogenic microbes. And it keeps farm workers and farm families safe from toxic chemicals. And it protects the environment and the ecosystems around the farms. And, as a 30-year study conducted at the Rodale Institute’s Maxatawny, Pennsylvania, farm has shown, organic farms can out-yield their conventional counterparts in terms of bushels of corn produced per acre.

It’s a shame that Stanford, a respected university, finds itself in a position to be used for a blatant disinformation campaign mounted by Monsanto and its pals. Isn’t anyone awake there in Palo Alto? Well, neither Dr. Smith-Spangler nor Dan Stober of Stanford’s Office of Public Affairs responded to my queries about the university’s one-sided study.

*Just some of the well-known studies citing the nutritional superiority of organic over conventional food that were not listed in the Stanford group’s article:

  • American Chemical Society. 2002. Research shows more vitamin C in organic oranges than conventional oranges. ScienceDaily, June 3, 2002.
  • Benbrook, Charles. 2005. Elevating antioxidant levels in food through organic farming and food processing. The Organic Center State of Science Review, January 2005.
  • Benbrook, Charles, Xin Zhao, Jaime Yanez, Neal Davies, and Preston Andrews. 2008. New evidence supports the nutritional superiority of organic plant-based foods. The Organic Center State of Science Review, March 2008.
  • Brandt, K., and J. P. Melgaard. 2001. Organic agriculture: does it enhance or reduce the nutritional value of plant foods? Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 81, no. 9:924–931.
  • Paddock, C. 2007. Organic food is more nutritious say EU researchers. Medical News Today, 29 Oct 2007.
  • Reganold, J. P., P. K. Andrews, J. R. Reeve, L. Carpenter-Boggs, C. W. Schadt, et al. 2010. Fruit and soil quality of organic and conventional strawberry agroecosystems. PLOS One 5(9): e12346. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012346.
  • Rist L., et al. 2007. Influence of organic diet on the amount of conjugated linoleic acids in breast milk of lactating women in the Netherlands. British Journal of Nutrition 97, no. 4 (April 2007), 735–743.

Jeff Cox started his career at Rodale in 1963, was Organic Gardening's managing editor in the 1970s, and the company's Director of Electronic Publishing in the early 80s. He's the author of the James Beard-nominated The Organic Cook's Bible, and currently writes a regular science column for Horticulture magazine. His newest book, The Essential Book of Fermentation will be published in early 2013 by Avery.