Recently scientists at Stanford University examined over 200 peer-reviewed studies that addressed whether the consumption of organic foods conveyed increased health and nutritional benefits to consumers. The study found that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that organic foods are any more nutritious than foods grown and processed by conventional methods. However, the study did acknowledge that those who consumed organic foods are exposed to fewer pesticides. Furthermore, the study found that bacteria found on organic foods are less likely to be resistant to antibiotics.
Many people have found the scientists’ conclusions less than satisfying, and the public backlash has been severe. However, I concede that the truth behind the public’s discontent with the scientific conclusions has very little to do with the nature of this study or its outcome. The problem is much simpler: according to the Stanford scientists the world isn’t black and white.
This may seem to be an over-simplification, but I contend that the root of most human discontent is the inability to fit the world’s problems into concise boxes. Right vs. Wrong. Black vs. White. Healthy vs. Unhealthy. The Stanford scientists simply concluded that the issue was too complex to be analyzed on the macro-level. They concluded that to truly get at the heart of nutrition and health the potential benefits of organic practices must be examined on the product level.
When you think about it, most of the controversial issues that arise stem back to the same root problem that is seen in the Stanford study. The issues are just too complex to be generalized. But if every problem must be examined individually with a distinct set of facts and inferences, then how canl we achieve predictable outcomes?
This is the same issue that the legal community faces with the introduction of new scientific techniques into the courtroom. We are constantly striving to find a truth serum, a magical test that will reveal whether the alleged criminal is innocent or guilty. We look to science for a system of accurately sorting defendants into boxes labeled guilty and innocent. But science must reply just as they did in the Stanford study, the issue is too complex to be analyzed on the macro-level. Science is only a tool to help people seek knowledge, understanding, and truth. The fact finder must use the tools it is given to analyze the facts on a case-by-case basis. This is the fundamental nature of our legal system. Relying too heavily on science to determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant is a betrayal of both science and humanity.
Stanford Study on Organic Foods: http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1355685