Will organic food sales soar on the latest cancer research?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Oct 25, 2018
George Anderson

It’s long been argued by proponents of conventionally-produced foods that those items are the nutritional equivalent of organics, albeit sold at a much lower price. Now, a new scientific research study says that consumers who consistently eat conventional food and eschew organics may be paying a price they are unaware of with higher rates of some cancers.

According to a study carried out by researchers at the Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale in France, published by JAMA Internal Medicine, individuals who had a higher frequency of organic food consumption had a reduced risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, postmenopausal breast cancer and other forms of cancer when compared to those who rarely or never ate organics. The highest consumers of organics were 25 percent less likely than the group overall to develop cancer.

The study, which covered  nearly 69,000 adults in France, focused primarily on women (78 percent) with an average age of just over 44. Participants, who were followed for a mean period of five years, were grouped into four segments based on how often they reported eating 16 organic products, including produce, meat and fish, ready-to-eat meals, vegetable oils and condiments.

Researchers behind the study pointed to the need for further research to confirm or refute their findings.

A commentary by nutrition experts published by JAMA Internal Medicine pointed to flaws in the research in terms of how the questionnaire was developed and organic food consumption was measured. They also criticized the research for failing to account for factors such as price, availability and lack of interest when it came to consumers who rarely or never ate organics.

The authors of the commentary, who called the link between organic food consumption and cancer “uncertain,” stressed that focusing on other factors such as body weight, physical activity and better diet following the American Cancer Society’s recommendations were more certain ways to prevent cancer.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you see as the primary factors influencing people who choose to eat organic vs. conventionally produced foods? Will the publicity around this new research study add to the momentum of organic food sales in the U.S.?

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"Consumption of organic foods is based on availability of such choices at reasonable prices and far less with any research study -- with or without a long list of caveats."
"As production of organics increases to support traditional supermarkets, the prices will come down."
"If one were to blockchain the food back to where the seed came from, what soil it was planted in, what water was used, etc. there’d be big shock and disappointment."

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22 Comments on "Will organic food sales soar on the latest cancer research?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

No, I do not think this will boost sales of organics. Why? Because the public is bombarded with studies, advice, and research — often saying very contradictory things, some of which are later retracted as new “evidence” comes along.

This study is a prime example of that: it could be that the people who eat organics have a propensity to lead healthier lives or have other substantive dietary differences which, in turn, reduce the likelihood of cancer. Correlation is not causation.

All that said, organic growth will continue — mainly because people are, in general terns, more health conscious and more environmentally concerned.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

As admitted to in this piece the jury is sill out re the advantages of what is called “organic” foods. The term “organic” unfortunately has primarily become a marketing term rather than a true measure of food quality. If one were to blockchain the food back to where the seed came from, what soil it was planted in, what water was used, etc. there’d be big shock and disappointment. As in computing, garbage in, garbage out.

There is a movement in plant-based medicinals, however, for a growing number of serious afflictions including cancers. Some results quite miraculous. But again, the entire development chain of those products must be pristine and secure.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Yes, Ian, It’s going to take more than just a scientific research paper to sway the majority. How many of our ancestors ate organic and how many were afflicted with cancer? I don’t know the answer to that but I suspect, not enough to have swayed all of us yet. I believe there is more to it than being just organic. Also, I love your use of ‘blockchain’ as a verb. For my 2 cents.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust
Ian: as much as we agree on these type of issues, I find your comments misleading. “…a marketing term?” Maybe by some exploitative entities like big corporations, but there are organic standards and you know that. ” … a true measure of food quality” requires many, many, factors, organic cultivating being only one. There is no pure food source anymore. Biodynamic/regenerative is the next best thing, followed by organic. Organic is very dependent upon the farmer growing it, meaning within the approved organic amendments/treatments, it’s a farmer’s choice to use more or less of them. The certified organic farmer we buy from in season mostly relies on nature and manual labor, and is unofficially regenerative and about as pure as can be had in America, but can’t overcome toxic rain and potential artifacts in the soil from years ago. More commercially oriented certified organic farmers are clearly less “pure.” However, the least pure certified organic farm is still a safer bet than the best “conventional” farm using chemicals despite any argument non-believers want to level… Read more »
Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Always look forward to your contributions, Ken, but I don’t see what is “misleading.” You said what I said though perhaps more eloquently.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

“The term “organic” unfortunately has primarily become a marketing term.” Untrue.

The characterization of your comments is that organic is fake. There are standards, whether they are to the level we’d like or not, that are still head and shoulders above “conventional” chemical production and as I see it and the intent of the article, with better potential health benefits.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

Those that believe that eating organic food is the better choice will not sway from their decision. There are significant benefits when eating healthy along with exercise. However, we have known for years that certain foods are not the best to eat and could lead to cancer when one heavily indulges. Back in the ’70s, we learned how harmful cyclamates were and that drinking diet soda could lead to cancer. Did we stop? No. Manufacturers came back with substitutes and many people today still drink diet soda. It takes a long time for the general public to catch on to what is right for them and what is wrong. Look at smoking. With all the reports through the years about the risk of lung cancer, one would think cigarettes would be a thing of the past, but we still have millions of people smoking cigarettes. All we can do is continue to educate the public, and gradually those interested will make the right decisions.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust
It is only a matter of time before people will realize that everything that goes into their bodies matters. It used to be that you could eat organic vegetables, meat, fish, and poultry but worry that condiments and other ingredients that are used in cooking would sabotage the effort. Now almost everything you need to prepare a meal can be organic so if you can afford it, you can be true blue organic all the way. I don’t think that this one study will drastically change a trend that is already hot. Those that practice good eating habits will continue to do so and those that eat poorly will either start to buy in or will ignore it. Exercise, sleep, not drinking too much alcohol, stress and many other factors of our daily lives will have a greater impact in the long run than if you are eating only organic on a regular basis. At the end of the day, those that tend to eat healthy are the ones that tend to take care of… Read more »
Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

I honestly don’t see that there is any new news here. Most people who choose to buy organic foods primarily do so for three reasons: 1.) the health of the planet 2.) the health of the animals 3.) their own health and the health of their families. I doubt many of us who choose organic foods will be surprised by any studies that indicate that consuming fewer antibiotics, pesticides and herbicides could reduce our risk of cancer. Perhaps, as more studies indicate similar findings, a few more people will choose to start buying organics. However, if people haven’t yet decided the monetary costs of organic foods outweigh the health (and humane) costs of conventional foods, I doubt a few more studies will cause much of a change in the market for organics.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

First of all, let’s not compare organic apples to industrially harvested oranges. This study was done in France. In addition to all of the caveats already attached to it — and they are significant — there is the small problem that “organic” in France means something different than “organic” does in America. So I have to say this new study will have minimal impact on organic sales here. As to why people buy organic, the answers are diverse and complex, but essentially boil down to the fact that organic shoppers believe that the food they eat is healthier for them than conventional alternatives. Are they right? Who really knows? But facts have rarely gotten in the way of a great marketing campaign.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Love your last sentence, Ryan. Brilliant.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Thanks Ian but, as Lee noted, it doesn’t top the use of blockchain as a verb.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Gosh, why is this a surprise? It’s pretty straightforward to me. Either I eat food that has been chemically enhanced, or I eat food that has been grown with age old techniques.

I certainly am not a “purely” organic person, but when given the choice, you bet I’ll take organics every time.

Overall, our society is bifurcating. It is bifurcating around economic status and (for want of a better word), intellectualism. One may intellectually know organics are better for you but just not be able to pay the up-charge. The other might not believe the information is conclusive, and may also have vested interests in non-organics.

This is just another manifestation of that. What’s the ultimate impact in the U.S.? It’s very, very hard to tell. The bifurcation might be the biggest issue of all.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust
Mohamed Amer
Independent Board Member, Investor and Startup Advisor
5 months 29 days ago

This research will not add to organic food sales in the U.S., nor will it necessarily change minds The converted already believe and aren’t seeking validation; the rest won’t pay any attention. Outside of a lifestyle change, consumption of organic foods is based on availability of such choices at reasonable prices and far less with any research study — with or without a long list of caveats.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

Whether the research shows that organic foods are safer than non-organic, many people believe that is the case. If consumers believe that way, they will shop accordingly which seems to be the case as more and more organic products are offered for retail sale. If more evidence is published showing the health benefits of organics, the trend will accelerate.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

I suppose this might increase consumption of organic food unless you’re one of the sub-groups where the study didn’t find anything significant. Like…

Men, the young adults, those with only high school education, smokers, and those with good diets.

When I look at that list, it seems pretty likely that these are spurious results and made to look more dramatic with terms like “25 percent more likely” which often means 0.125 occurrences out of 1000 instead of 0.100 occurrences out of 1000.

So the question seems to be: “Will headlines from this study cause a change?” It’s an important distinction because the results themselves are pretty insignificant.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust
The new study on the impact of eating organics on lowering your chances of getting cancer may provide a short-term increase in organic food sales. However, consumers’ attention span is short and they will quickly lose focus on this study and organics and resort back to other habits — buying the lowest cost options. One thing that may help sustain organic sales is the continued increase in locally sourced organics (farmers market/locavore trend) and the increased focus on organics in traditional grocery stores. The cost is lower to produce organics (without the cost of pesticides) but the yield is also lower. As production of organics increases to support traditional supermarkets, the prices will come down. Some consumers question the legitimacy of “organic” products as “roughly 40 percent of all organic food sold in America tests positive for prohibited pesticides,” according to two USDA studies. One issue with the study is that it doesn’t consider that people that eat organic foods at a higher rate may share some other attributes that distinguish them from the people… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Maybe marginally. People committed to purchasing organic food already do that. Now that the organic section has become larger in stores, some people purchase organic because it is there. For most, the price differential is a problem. Why does it have to cost more to buy healthy food?

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Unfortunately, many can not afford an organic diet. Those who can afford to buy organic likely are driven by the implied health benefits. With so many chemicals used in food production, and GMOs, it is sometimes frightening to read a label. GMOs are everywhere! The study will reinforce eating organic as a new measurement of a healthy lifestyle. A lot of pressure on health-conscious consumers lacking a “whole paycheck” budget.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

“The authors of the commentary, who called the link between organic food consumption and cancer ‘uncertain'”
So, no, this study alone isn’t going to do much. What will (or should)? I’m not sure, as the conventional view is people are becoming less fit (overweight and sedentary) over time … hardly encouraging if one hopes for a major change in something like diet.

Dan Frechtling
BrainTrust
As others have pointed out, price is by far the most significant headwind for increased consumption of organic foods. So what will it take to reduce the price gap? More farms must transition to organic. It typically takes three years for a conventional farm to be certified as organic. Expediting this process through best practices and technologies will open up supply. More supply chains must transition to organic. Organic eggs and milk have the highest price premiums over conventional counterparts, at 70-80 percent. The USDA requires feed qualify as organic for the byproducts to be organic. Today most of the feed, such as corn and soybeans, has to be imported to the US. (In a bit of irony, the US ships soybeans to China and China ships organic soybeans to the US). Deeper discounts by grocers can expand impulse purchases. Organic foods (aka without preservatives) often have shorter shelf lives. A deep discounting strategy for overdue produce both moves product before spoilage and encourages higher consumption from “switchers.” Despite a maturing market and greater choice… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Due to today’s short attention spans, I believe we still have a long way to go in the U.S. before organics represent a significant share of market in the produce aisle.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Consumption of organic foods is based on availability of such choices at reasonable prices and far less with any research study -- with or without a long list of caveats."
"As production of organics increases to support traditional supermarkets, the prices will come down."
"If one were to blockchain the food back to where the seed came from, what soil it was planted in, what water was used, etc. there’d be big shock and disappointment."

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