MadSci Network: Agricultural Sciences

Re: Are organic foods better for you and the envioronment?

Date: Thu Dec 21 12:39:51 2000
Posted By: Phyllis Stumbo, Staff, Nutrition, University of Iowa
Area of science: Agricultural Sciences
ID: 976152145.Ag

Hi Marietta, I am a research scientist at the General Clinical Research Center at the University of Iowa. Here we study various aspects of human health by testing physiological response to various nutritional components and medical treatments in both healthy and sick human volunteers. I am a registered dietitian and have worked in research and teaching for over 28 years.

Deciding the value of organic foods involves a debate between use of chemicals that foul the water and damage animal life but protect crops from pests, weeds and microbes, to the use of more labor intensive agricultural practices that protect the environment but may increase food cost and lower yields. I think the organic food movement provides a good impetus to modern agriculture to apply discretion in the use of chemicals and to develop non-chemical agricultural practices. Consumers that support the movement by demanding organic foods and paying a premium for them benefit us all.

There is a raging debate over the use of genetically modified (GM) seeds in open fields that is addressed by organic farming regulations. I believe modern agriculture is moving too quickly into the use of GM foods with inadequate testing of long-term effects.

The organic food movement was slow to be accepted by the scientific community for several reasons. Regulatory agencies have been slow to recognize organic farming as a legitimate industry arguing that it was impossible to regulate the industry because there was no test that adequately differentiates between organically and traditionally grown food. Scientific studies have finally caught up with public pressure and we do now have national standards for organic foods. These standards are outlined on the web at:

I hope my opinions are useful in your project.


Phyllis Stumbo, PhD, RD, LD
University of Iowa

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