The following ran on the March 27, 2013, edition of The Atlantic Just In blog. Biologist Johannes H. Bauer provided expertise for this story.
March 27, 2013
PROBLEM: Last September when Stanford researchers came out with findings that organic food doesn't confer any additional nutritional value, the world countered: Of course not. While organic fruits and vegetables can claim health benefits in that they lack any number of additives that come included with traditionally farmed foods, calling produce organic doesn't make it any healthier than it already, by virtue of being a fruit or vegetable, is supposed to be.
Still, that doesn't mean researchers can't turn it around and ask if produce containing chemicals, preservatives, and hormones are, comparatively, a little bit less healthy. While we know organic food serves the interests of the environment, public health, and human rights, there's a lot we still don't know about its benefits for the individual supermarket shopper deciding between the banana with the "organic" sticker and the one that's heaped in with the other, conventional foods.
METHODS: At Southern Methodist University, researchers raised fruit flies on extracts of typical grocery store produce. Different groups of flies received either organic or conventional versions of potatoes, soybeans, raisins, or bananas, all purchased from the same Texas Whole Foods.
RESULTS: Despite the relatively poor health exhibited by all -- as happens when one lives its entire life consuming only one type of food -- the flies who ate organic generally performed better on a number of health measures.
Specifically, diets of organic potatoes, raisins, and soy were all associated with significantly longer lifespans, with no difference seen between organic and conventional bananas. Flies raised on organic versions of all four foods were more fertile.