Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Q&A with Bill Duesing

Recently, CT NOFA's Executive Director, Bill Duesing, was in contact with a senior at Syracuse University. This student is completing a project for a class and decided to get in contact with Bill to get his expertise.

Dear Mr. Duesing,
I was wondering if you could answer some questions about organic foods versus conventional foods for a project I am doing for my Science and the Media class.
If so, here are the questions:
1. What are the nutritional benefits to eating organically versus not?
2. What are the primary negative effects to not eating organically?
3. When is it best to eat organically (if it isn't best to eat organically all of the time)?

Nice to hear from you.  Thanks for your questions. I'll try to answer them, but I'm not sure they are the right ones to be asking if you want to get to the value of organic agriculture.
      1. Among the main reasons for organic agriculture are the health of the environment and the health of farmworkers, who are otherwise often exposed to lots of pesticides. Two other reasons for organic agriculture that are increasingly important are because it does more to encourage biodiversity (we are losing that fast!) and because organic soil management fights climate change whereas conventional soil management and fertilizers make climate change worse.
What kind of organic food are we talking about out?  Organic fruits flown in from Chile, organic lettuce shipped across the country from California, organic frozen vegetables shipped from China, or the organic vegetables fresh picked from your garden or bought at the local farmers market?  There is probably a different story about nutritional benefits for each of them with various effects of age, packaging and transportation, and perhaps different enforcement of organic regulations in places like China.  Or are we talking about organic cookies? --Probably better to eat most any kind of fruit or vegetables. There was recently some research out of California about organic strawberries having more of some kinds of nutrients.  Other studies in Europe have also found more nutrients in some organic food.  At least some of that is related to the quality of the soil where they are grown. Commercial organic farms have better fruit and soil, lower environmental impact, study finds
      2. There was a study of children done on the West Coast.  Most had breakdown products from pesticides in their urine.  After some period of eating only organic food, those pesticide products disappeared from their urine.  Since many of the effects of pesticides, especially those which mimic our hormones (the endocrine disrupters) are subtle and may take a long time to show up, it is hard to identify a specific effect with a specific exposure. Another area of possible interest is the fact that many processed foods (up to 60 % of supermarket foods) are made with genetically modified ingredients, largely corn and soy.  There is a growing body of worrisome research about the effect of genetically modified foods on health.  GM foods are prohibited in organic.
The organic center is a good source of information,  They reference the strawberry study I mentioned as Today's Science Insight.  There are also things under the State of Science tab.
      3. As for your last question.  I'd say that meat and dairy products may be among the most important to buy organically raised since the industrial farming conditions are so horrible-crowded conditions, GM feed, often very inappropriate feeds (animals wastes and bi-products) and antibiotics.  I imagine that this is especially important for pregnant and nursing mothers and young children. The Environmental Working Group ( and has a list of the vegetables that are most contaminated with pesticides.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have other questions.
-Bill Duesing

Have any questions of your own? Check out our website, friend us on Facebook, or shoot us an email!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post! Bill is such a dedicated and wise champion for all things green, sustainable and organic. ☮☮☮☮