According to the UK’s Food Standards Agency, and as gleefully reported today by the BBC, ‘Organic has no health benefits’, so we can all breath a sigh of relief and return to eating pesticide and chemical filled garbage. There’s probably no health benefits to unleaded paint then, eh? Any benefits left in quitting smoking? Do we even need to debunk this utter foolishness?

Personally, I wouldn’t expect an organic pepper to have significantly more nutrients than any other pepper, since they are usually not genetically engineered, though nutrient levels were the only factor in the study’s determinations. Turns out organic peppers do indeed have elevated nutrient levels, but not significantly elevated, according to the FSA. The health benefits of not ingesting a host of ingredients far too dangerous to be included in a child’s chemistry set is a glaring omission.

According to the study’s Executive Summary:

“This review does not address contaminant content (such as herbicide, pesticide and fungicide residues) of organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs or the environmental impacts of organic and conventional agricultural practices.”

And not all studies on organic and conventional practices were reviewed…

Articles were excluded if they:

  • were not peer-reviewed
  • did not have an English abstract
  • did not address composition of nutrients and other substances
  • did not present a direct comparison between organic and conventional production systems
  • were primarily concerned with impact of different fertiliser (sic) regimes
  • were primarily concerned with non-nutrient contaminant content (cadmium, lead and mercury)
  • were authentication studies describing techniques to identify food production methods

In other words, only Western studies focused strictly on nutrient comparison were reviewed. That would seem to overlook many studies which might show organic food to be a much healthier option. It’s a safe bet that the overwhelming majority of the reviewed studies were the product of the traditional food industry.

Was the outcome of this study preordained? If you’re gonna talk health, why omit studying all the unhealthy stuff that the organic movement seeks to evade?

The study itself appears to come from the UK’s Food Standards Agency, which outsourced the analysis of about 50,000 papers published over the past 50 years to a group within the University of London’s London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), headed by Dr. Alan Dangour, nutrition specialist. A handful of University of London personnel are also credited, including Ricardo Uauy, M.D. Ph.D., Professor of Public Health Nutrition. Alan and Ricardo have co-published no less than 9 publications, in other words, they’re ‘tight’.

According to the Integrity in Science Database, Dr. Uauy has been a paid advisor to Unilever, Wyeth, Danone, DSM, Kellogg, Knowles and Bolton, Roche Vitamins Europe Ltd., and the International Copper Association. Probably not chicken feed either. My foray into research could very likely turn up Monsanto and/or its ilk lurking behind this study as well, had I the time.

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5 Responses to “False alarm! No Health Benefits to Organic Food!”

  1. I am sympathetic to your viewpoint, but the paper does not deserve criticism. It stated its aims up front, gave its results and then assessed them in light of its aims. Its findings are open to interpretation as with any paper like this.

    A large part of the benefits of organic food is reduced chemical contamination, and if the differences nutritionally were found to be slight, then I expect they are. But that is what the paper set out to examine, not whether organic food was worthy or better than unorganic food. You should reserve your ire for the BBC and other credulous journalists who did not read it objectively and who so commonly regurgitate stuff like this without context.

    While we are on that subject of bias and thoughtless, uninformed writing in journalism, you undermine your credibility by so completely giving your article over to your prejudices, too. Assuming that anyone who has worked for a corporation is corrupted by it is a stretch. You also seem to think that this narrow assessment of organic food was designed to miss the point. A big assumption.

    You also made a mistake by putting the sic next to, I presume, fertiliser. That is the English spelling, and it is their language, after all.

    Your cultural bias is showing, too. Europe, including the UK, is much less corrupted by their corporations than the US. Assuming a paper produced by a government agency there has been shaped by corporate meddling is much less likely to be true than here in the good old USA.

  2. Jasper,

    I thank you for your erudite response but beg to differ (except for that bit about ‘fertiliser”). Having been inside corporations myself, I don’t assume everyone is corrupt. Actions speak for themselves, in this case the study’s conclusion is the action. If you believe there are benefits to organic food, you are at odds with the study’s authors who conclude:

    …there is currently no evidence of a health benefit from consuming organic compared to conventionally produced foodstuffs.

    Then they undermine the credibility of their own conclusion in the very next sentence:

    It should be noted that this conclusion relates to the evidence base currently available on the nutrient content of foodstuffs, which contains limitations in the design and in the comparability of studies.

    Essentially, they’ve admitted that the built in limitations of their study precluded an honest assessment of the health benefits of any food! At best the FSA/LSHTM study could conclude that a survey of selected published studies shows no major differences in the nutritional content of organic food versus conventionally grown food. That’s a very different statement from the extreme (and unscientific) one they made. Nonetheless, which statement could be safely assumed to make the headlines and thus shape public opinion?

    So why would they publish the extreme statement they did? Just a case of sloppy conclusion making? Doubtful. One is forced to conclude that between the design of this survey and it’s subsequent conclusion, the results were preordained to help conventional food producers. Results such as these are routinely acquired via money injections and/or political pressure.

    It may well be that Europe and the UK, is much less corrupted by their corporations. But should any corruption exist, this would be the sort of result to look for.

  3. I’ll make my comment as short as possible about this study.

    Bull-Crap!

    Organic food tastes better and makes me feel better.

    I can leave an non-organic item around for weeks and it’s still unassailed by simple bacteria. If something as simple as a bacterium doesn’t want a piece of food, why should I?

    Consider who was behind the study and you’ll understand that they’ve undoubtedly tainted the results.

    If organic foods weren’t of such value, why then did Prince Charles push the Royal Family towards organic produce back in the 70’s?

    It’s obvious that the Cargill’s, ADM’s, Monsanto’s and Franken-Food-Meisters are possibly behind this study and wish to confuse the issue to maintain their strangle-hold on the mind (and purses) of the masses. Stop trying to co-opt the food supply for your own cynical profits.

    Try going into any ‘main stream’ super-market and compare the paltry display of insipid and lacking-of-life rows of chemically assisted food stuffs to the rows of beautiful organic produce found in an organic food store . You’ll find that the “so called conventional” products are lifeless!

    Enough of this rant!

    Bad big business!

  4. It’s hard to believe that anyone at either the FSA or the BBC really thinks there’s no benefit to organic food. I have seen comments, I think on the BBC web site, where people showed relief that it’s just as well to buy conventional, and that their kooky “organic” friends have it all wrong. So their disingenuous message is getting through. Eat what you want.

    Some years ago I first ventured into a Whole Foods Supermarket and was dismayed by the lack of recognizable brands. These days I’ve come to avoid the big brands, as the only way a company can distribute a consistent product so widely is by putting the cheapest ingredients in the box. And that can’t be good.

  5. I bought a big bag of Gala apples last month at the grocery store. Beautiful, huge apples, I thought I was in for a taste treat. They tasted like air. There was no flavor and I did not feel sated after I ate one. The next time I shopped, I chose a big bag of organic apples. They had a few more bruises, were smaller and not quite so shiny on the outside. The taste? Natural, sweet, flavorful. Don’t even tell me that organic means nothing compared to non-o foods. I don’t need a study to tell me the truth about food. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, nor a researcher funded by Big Money dollars, to tell me what tastes better and is safer for me to eat. I love that the organic department at my local grocer is growing and expanding. Wake up all.