Organic or conventional? It’s a choice many grocery shoppers are faced with, over and over. The price difference is easy to see; it’s right there on the product. The quality difference is much harder. Is the organic milk better for your kids? Is the conventional lettuce more likely to carry pathogens?
Leave aside for the moment whether organic agriculture is better for the planet and whether organic livestock have better lives, although there’s a strong case for both of those arguments. Leave aside flavor, too, because it’s subjective and variable. What motivates many organic buyers, particularly the parents of small children, is health benefits, and there are two questions: Do organics do us more good (in the form of better nutrition), and do they do us less harm (in the form of fewer contaminants and pathogens)?
Because the risks and the benefits vary by product — meat is different from produce — it’s important to look at each category separately. While every category has the potential to harbor pathogens (such as E. coli in produce and salmonella in chicken), there are some product-specific concerns, including pesticide residue in produce and hormones in milk.