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Organic Foods: Examining the Health Implications - STIRS Case Study

This case study examines the health implications of organic versus conventional food production, with an emphasis on environmental and occupational health considerations.  It unspools from the perspective of a hypothetical college-aged shopper contemplating supermarket produce options.    Evidence is presented from a systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2012 which attempted to address the question:  “Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?”  Students examine other types of evidence as well, including results from a national biomonitoring program which measures pesticide metabolites in the urine or blood of a representative sample of the U.S. population.   Part I of this case study briefly introduces issues relevant to the health implications of organic versus conventional foods, and then focuses strongly on statistical concepts.  Part II focuses on evidence regarding four major environmental and occupational health issues:  pesticide exposures, meat animal production practices, carbon footprint, and nutrient pollution.  Part III briefly explores other issues such as food additives, genetic engineering, and the cost of organic versus conventional foods.   Part IV returns to the decision of the protagonist in the supermarket aisle.  The case may be taught as a whole, or instructors may choose to emphasize certain parts of the case and particular key questions depending on their learning goals. This is an analysis case which also includes elements of a decision case.  It can be effectively taught combining all-class facilitated discussion and small-group in-class student work.  Suggestions for written assignments or exams are also included.