WASHINGTON -- Patient after patient asked: Is eating organic food, which costs more, really better for me?
Unsure, Stanford University doctors dug through reams of research to find out -- and concluded there's little evidence that going organic is much healthier, citing only a few differences involving pesticides and antibiotics.
Eating organic fruits and vegetables can lower exposure to pesticides, including for children -- but the amount measured from conventionally grown produce was within safety limits, the researchers reported Monday.
Nor did the organic foods prove more nutritious.
"I was absolutely surprised," said Dr. Dena Bravata, a senior research affiliate at Stanford and longtime internist who began the analysis because many of her patients asked if they should switch.
"There are many reasons why someone might choose organic foods over conventional foods," from environmental concerns to taste preferences, Bravata stressed. But when it comes to individual health, "there isn't much difference."
Her team did find a notable difference with antibiotic-resistant germs, a public health concern because they are harder to treat if they cause food poisoning.
Specialists long have said that organic or not, the chances of bacterial contamination of food are the same, and Monday's analysis agreed. But when bacteria did lurk in chicken or pork, germs in the nonorganic meats had a 33 percent higher risk of being resistant to multiple antibiotics, the researchers reported Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
That finding comes amid debate over feeding animals antibiotics, not because they're sick but to fatten them up.
Organic foods account for 4.2 percent of retail food sales, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It certifies products as organic if they meet certain requirements including being produced without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, or routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones.