Media Coverage of Stanford's Organic Foods Study is Half Baked

The study, published today in Annals of Internal Medicine, is covered everywhere. But a dozen major news outlets' headlines have missed the point.

"Study Questions Advantages of Organic Meat & Produce" says the New York Times. "Organic Food No Healthier than Non-Organic: Study," says Reuters. This one wins the prize for wrong-headedness: "Organic Food Adds No Vitamins for Extra Cost," stumbles Business Week.

Informed buyers of organic aren't expecting to get more vitamin C from their strawberries. It's what's not in the strawberries that makes organic better: toxic pesticides. And it's what's not running off the fields and into the water supply. And it's what's not poisoning the people who work in those fields, and the honeybees who pollinate them.

Most of the poorly headlined articles springing up around this "news" eventually mention -- several paragraphs below -- that organic produce is less likely to contain pesticides, and organic meats are less likely to be contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria. That's no small benefit.

People love to point out that organic costs more, and sometimes the cost differential is significant. But if more buyers demanded pesticide free food, the cost differential would narrow significantly. Only when good practices are the mainstream instead of the exception, efficiency can thrive. Alarmist headlines only get in the way.

Sarah Pinneo is a food writer, and the author of Julia's Child (Plume 2012) and The Ski House Cookbook (Clarkson Potter 2007.)