UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 30, 2009

BRITISH STUDY OF ORGANIC FOOD COMES UNDER FIRE

Leo Hickman, Guardian UK - Organic food, says the Food Standards Agency in a new study, is not healthier for you than "conventionally" farmed food when - note the crucial caveat - "based on the nutrient content". . . .

The FSA has long banned any producer from claiming that its organic produce is nutritionally superior to any comparable non-organic produce. In fact, I'm not aware of anyone who eats organic food who does so on the sole premise that they believe it is nutritionally superior. The reason why the vast majority of people who buy organic food – including myself – are prepared to pay a premium (and, by all means, let's discuss why supermarkets still continue to cynically mark up their organic food) is for a host of other far more compelling reasons.

In my own case, the most compelling reason is the difference in terms of environmental stewardship between organic and "conventional" (a horribly loaded term) farming methods. You only have to visit farms being managed according to these different principles - as I have done on many occasions, and as I would recommend anyone interested in the provenance of their food to do - to see with your own eyes the marked difference. One method tries to crush, eradicate, blitz the natural environment in which the farm is located, whereas the other attempts to - yes, it's a hippy cliche, but it is broadly true - work with nature. . .

This leads on to one of the other main reasons people give for eating organic food: the avoidance of pesticide residues. My home abuts a field that gets repeatedly sprayed throughout the year and I have to either go out that day or bring the children indoors, otherwise the spray residue drifting in the breeze can literally catch the back of your throat. It really can be that bad on some days. Is it really any wonder that some people don't want to consume food that has been treated in this manner? It's just a sensible application of the precautionary principle. Why take the risk? After all, what's more important in terms of our monthly outgoings than the food we put in our mouths?

Animal welfare is another hugely compelling reason why people choose to buy organic food. Again, anyone who has examined both models of farming will tell you that you can see the marked difference with your own eyes. This is not to say that some conventionally managed farms do not care greatly for the wellbeing and living conditions of their livestock because many clearly do, but they don't operate under exacting, verifiable standards in the way organic farmers must. . .

US News & World Report - The Oregon-based Organic Center, which promotes organic food, conducted a similar review of the literature, said Charles Benbrook, chief scientist for the Center. That study yielded results similar to those in the British study, but it also found higher levels of healthy antioxidants and polyphenols in organic foods.

"Given that some of the most significant differences favoring organic foods were for key antioxidant nutrients that most Americans do not get enough of on most days, we concluded that the consumption of organic fruits and vegetables, in particular, offered significant health benefits, roughly equivalent to an additional serving of a moderately nutrient dense fruit or vegetable on an average day," Benbrook said.

And there's another aspect to the organic vs. conventional food debate, said Sheah Rarback, director of nutrition at the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

"You have to also look at what you're not getting" with organic foods, she said. "Maybe it's not a big difference nutritionally, but conventional products may have more pesticides."

And that's a particularly important issue for children, she said.

"We know that young children are getting the nutrition, whatever choice they make, but we also have to look at the pesticide issue," Rarback said. "A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that children eating conventionally grown fruit had pesticide residue in their urine, which decreased after just five days on an organic diet."

2 Comments:

Anonymous Chris R said...

I think the argument for organic is less about nutritional value an more about sustainability and the lack of chemical additives.

Who paid for this study anyway?

July 30, 2009 4:48 PM  
Anonymous OrganicTrade said...

Thank you for pointing out an important fact: people choose organic for a variety of reasons. Some choose organic as a means to minimize their exposure to toxic and persistent pesticides, synthetic growth hormones, fertilizers, genetic engineering, and irradition, while others do so to support a system of sustainable agriculture that promotes soil health and fertility, fosters species diversity, helps combat climate change, prevents damage to valuable water resources, and protects farmers and farmers’ families from exposure to harmful chemicals.

July 31, 2009 8:53 AM  

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