When I ask people why they waste money on organic food, the two most common responses I get are "I want to avoid pesticides" and "I worry pesticides cause cancer."


I usually try to explain why pesticide residue really isn't an issue to worry about but I rarely get through to true devotees of organic food. Now a new study from Oxford University finds there's no connection between eating organic food and lower rates of cancer. The Guardian reports:

Women who always or mostly eat organic foods are no less likely to develop cancer than women who eat a more conventional diet, according to a study published today.

Using data from the Million Women Study, the biggest health research project in the UK, Cancer Research UK scientists from Oxford University found that eating an organic diet grown without pesticides made no difference to overall cancer risk.

The authors of the paper, published in the British Journal of Cancer, said that the results were "particularly relevant given that health concerns have been identified as the primary motivation for consumers' purchase of organic food". Professor Tim Key said: "The overall conclusion is really simple – we don't see any difference in the total risk of any type of cancer, depending on whether people said they choose organic food. It's a very large study so the overall result is very robust."

This latest study echoes another long-term study released last year by the British Health and Safety Executive (the UK’s independent watchdog group for work-related health and safety issues), which found that agriculture workers who regularly worked with pesticides had lower than expected mortality from all causes, and in particular from all cancers combined. 

Hopefully these studies will bring some measure of relief to cash-strapped people who worry they're hurting their children by feeding them conventionally grown produce. But even without this study, we know that the pesticide-treated produce sold in the grocery store is perfectly safe. As IWF Senior Fellow Angela Logomasini wrote in a post on safe residue levels, "to reach the EPA safe pesticide residue level, a woman would have to eat 529 apples a day!  She would have to feed her pre-teen-aged child 154 apples a day, 298 to her teenagers, and 571 to her husband for any of them to reach their EPA safe levels. And given that EPA standards are extremely stringent and they tend to overestimate risk by multiples of 1,000, you might be able to multiply these daily apple consumption levels by 1,000 and still not reach a truly dangerous dose."

One note of caution about this Oxford University study: Although it looks promising, it appears that the data was collected from women who self reported. Data collected in this manner isn't always reliable because people tend to fudge the information to make themselves look healthier and better behaved (for example: "I'll just leave off that I drank that Venti Mocha Latte with a biscotti on the side…hmmm, I'll say I drank black coffee.").

But overall, this should reassure people that those who eat organic food don't appear to have healthier outcomes.