Are organic and non-GMO foods nutritionally superior?

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Some recently published studies in scientific journals have shown organic foods to have higher nutritional value. For example, researchers at the University of California, Davis, recently found that organic tomatoes had higher levels of phytochemicals and vitamin C than conventional tomatoes. There are other similar studies. There are many variables such as heirloom produce vs. modern day hybrid produce. William Woys Weaver, director of The Keystone Center for the Study of Regional Foods and Food Tourism published author and food historian, stated in a presentation at the National Heirloom Expo that, “Heirloom food plants are far more nutrient rich than commercially raised hybrids, especially hybrids raised on chemical fertilizers and pesticides.”  He backs that up with research quoted below.

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Dr. Donald Davis, research associate at the Biochemical Institute at the University of Texas, Austin, analyzed 43 fruit and vegetable crops. For two decades, Davis and two colleagues Melvin Epp, and Hugh Riordan analyzed nutritional data taken from selectively bred high yield conventionally grown produce. In 2005, their study titled “Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999” showed the results.

According to Davis, “We tracked 50 years in U.S. Department of Agriculture food composition data for 13 nutrients in 43 garden crops, vegetables, strawberries and three melons. Low and high yield varieties were grown and analyzed side by side eliminating key uncertainties that applies to historical data. The data was then analyzed. “

The following information is taken from that paper with editorial changes made to increase its understanding for readers. What the researchers found were declines in average concentrations of six nutrients. The subtraction sign representing the negative symbol indicates decline. The results of 20 years showed declines in: protein of – 6%, calcium:  –16%, phosphorus: – 9%, iron: –15%, riboflavin: – 38%, and vitamin C: – 20%. To read the article go here: http://www.organicauthority.com/organic-food/organic-food-articles/declining-nutritional-value-of-produce-due-to-high-yield-selective-seed-breeding.html or read Davis’ study, “Tradeoffs in Agriculture and Nutrition” in March 2005 in “Food Technology”.

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Chief scientist and sustainable agriculture expert for The Organic Center, Charles Benbrook had this to say about nutritional declines. “Plant breeders could maintain and even increase the nutrient content of most crops. But this goal usually takes a back seat to economic issues,” Benbrook said. “Large growers want size and fast growth so they can harvest early. These factors feed into sacrifices in nutritional quality.”

Genetically altered seeds are programmed to produce more often at the expense of nutrients. For instance if a corn seed is programmed to take in more nitrogen so that it will grow faster and up production then it will naturally take in less of other nutrients. Jere Gettle heirloom seed farmer stated that, “One thing is vital though: heirloom seeds have not been toyed with. They are the result of open pollination ‘they are planted and left alone to do their own thing. They are not hybridized or genetically altered. Ultimately nature (wind, insects, birds) will pollinate the plants, which creates the seeds.

In addition to superior flavor and nutrition, heirloom gardening with native seeds enables an independent food supply that’s not hybridised or genetically altered to exist apart from the large agricultural corporations that control much of the seed industry. A genetic heritage is also being kept alive.”

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