In late 2012, there was a flurry of media activity when a Stanford University metaanalysis research study1 concluded that organic foods were not significantly more nutritious than conventionally produced foods. Experts immediately called the study’s methodology, findings, and interpretation into question, but headlines from many media outlets still asked: Why buy organic if it’s not any healthier?
The question of health is an important one. Certainly, the vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in food contribute to good health. While the controversial study concluded that there isn’t a nutritional difference between organic and conventional foods, other studies have shown that organic foods have increased levels of Vitamin C, antioxidants, and polyphenols2. When it comes to the question of health, though, it’s about more than just nutrients. It’s also about what we put in — or do not put in — our bodies and the health of our environment.
Increasingly, people want to know what is in the food they eat. Are fruits and vegetables grown with toxic, persistent pesticides and herbicides? Are animals raised with growth hormones or antibiotics? Do foods come from genetically engineered crops? Do they contain artificial flavors, synthetic colors, or preservatives? Organic foods can answer “No!” to each of these questions, and the USDA’s organic standard mandates these requirements. In fact, the Stanford study found that organic foods may reduce one’s exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The researchers reported that pesticide residues were present in only 7% of organic foods versus 38% in conventional — an 81% relative difference. This is one of the many reasons that people buy organic.
Organic farming can strengthen the land’s health as well. Researchers from Cornell University found that, globally, soil is lost 10 to 40 times faster than it can be naturally replenished due to its exposure to rain and wind.3 This human-caused soil erosion poses a serious threat to food production. But there are practices that can help slow the damage to — and better yet, rebuild — our soils. Recent scientific data show that organic practices can build soil quality, enhance microbial activity, and help cycle nutrients through the soil. In a long-term study4 conducted in Iowa, researchers have been analyzing organic and conventional soils since 1998. The study concludes that “soil properties related to biologically active organic matter were up to 40% higher in organic soil.” This is significant because active organic matter is critical to ensuring healthy, productive soil, which in turn produces the healthy crops essential for a healthy food system.
So the question of health is a good one. But it’s important to understand how one defines health. We believe organic farming is better for the earth because it focuses on creating healthy soils. Healthy soils are the foundation for healthy food, which ultimately leads to healthy bodies.
For us, organic is the foundation of our sustainability efforts, and we continue to invest in organic as we grow our business. In FY2013, we purchased 35 million pounds of organic ingredients. This represents an 18% increase over FY2012 and a 36% increase since FY2011. Furthermore, we increased sales of our organic products, which now represent 86% of Annie’s total sales, up 1 percentage-point from last year.
As a company, Annie’s works with trusted suppliers to source only non-genetically engineered ingredients. By definition, organic ingredients are not genetically engineered. We are partnering with the Non-GMO Project to verify all our products (certified organic, made with organic and natural) against their standard. Currently, we have 70 product SKUs Non-GMO Project verified and are working through the rest.
1. Smith-Spangler C, et al. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives? A systematic review. Ann Intern Med 157(5):348–366 (2012); http:// www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22944875.
2. Brandt, K, et al. Agroecosystem management and nutritional quality of plant foods: the case of organic fruits and vegetables. Critical Review of Plant Sciences, 29 April 2011; http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1 080/07352689.2011.554417.
3. Pimentel, D and Burgess M. Soil erosion threatens food production. Agriculture. 8 August 2013; http://www. mdpi.com/2077-0472/3/3/443.
4. Delate, K. et al. The long-term agroecological research (LTAR) experiment supports organic yields, soil quality and economic performance in Iowa. Plant Management Network, 29 April 2013; http://www. plantmanagementnetwork.org/pub/cm/symposium/ organic/farm/LTAR/.