Is organic food a healthier choice than conventional food? Yesterday, our very own Rich Duprey reported on a British study that flatly says "no."

According to study leader Dr. Alan Dangour, "Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority."

As an organic-food aficionado, I have one simple reply: "Duh."

The study makes a contention that most people never argued with. I don't know of anyone who eats organic food because he or she thinks it's nutritionally superior to conventional produce. Every orange has vitamin C, whether it came from a tree in your backyard or from a huge grove that does business with PepsiCo's (NYSE:PEP) Tropicana.

Organics are a big business, and everyone from Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) to Kraft (NYSE:KFT) -- owner of the Boca brand -- is getting in on the action. In 2008, organic food and beverages rang up $23 billion in sales in the United States. Consumers are willing to keep paying a premium for organics, even in our crummy economy, for reasons that go far beyond nutrition:

  • Organic foods are free of pesticides and other chemicals that many consumers don't want to put in their bodies.
  • The lack of those chemicals means that organic farming is gentler on the environment.
  • Organics are free of genetic modifications. We don't know what the long-term health ramifications of ingesting GMOs might be, but many folks would rather not take the gamble.
  • Organic farming appeals to those who are concerned about animal welfare. Animals on organic farms generally receive humane treatment and wholesome feed, and they aren't treated with growth hormones or other synthetic additives.
  • Many people swear that organic foods taste better than their conventional counterparts.

That's the allure of organics in a non-GMO nutshell, yet notably, this study did not examine the role of pesticides in farming or the environmental differences between various farming practices. You're left to wonder, therefore, what the point of the study was in the first place. The only thing it seems to do is open the door for confusion among consumers who might otherwise be considering organics.

If so, Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFMI) doesn't seem concerned. On its Facebook page, the company has responded to the study by pointing out that it's not surprised by the findings. While adding its voice to the sizable refrain that shoppers choose organics for a variety of non-nutritional reasons, Whole Foods also asserts that until recently, most research hasn't drawn any distinction between organic and conventional methods of growing food. John Mackey's company is therefore optimistic that as research continues, experts may indeed find nutritional advantages to organic foods.

We'll just have to wait and see. For now, however, that's not the issue. Saying organic food is no more nutritious than conventional food is kind of like saying a hybrid car isn't any speedier than a conventional car: It completely misses the point.

Fresh from the Foolish farmers' market:

Whole Foods is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. PepsiCo is a current Motley Fool Income Investor pick, and Kraft is a former one. Try out any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.

Motley Fool online editor Adrian Rush is a fan of Whole Foods and a whole lot of foods, but he doesn't own shares of any companies mentioned here. The FDA has said there is no significant difference between The Motley Fool's disclosure policy and other disclosure policies -- but you know better.