Organics No Better Than Chemical/GMO/Sewage Sludge-Soaked "Food"?

Studies like the FSA report need to look beyond the dinner plate and recognize that organic farming's avoidance of chemicals offers health benefits beyond nutrition.
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Call me biased (and I am)...but it would seem to be common sense that regular food, real food -- i.e. food not pruned in a lab, or coated with chemicals, or doused in sewage sludge -- as is so-called "conventional" food -- would be cleaner, stronger, healthier. After all, take the food out of conventional food and all you're left with is a pile of chemicals, toxins, pesticides (poisons), sewage.
Want some chemicals for breakfast, Billy?
But no. A "ground-breaking" UK study just found that...surprise!...chemical-grown GMO-lovin' food shipped 1500 miles to your plate is just as good as local, organic, as-God-intended-it chow.
Read about it here.
Here's Whole Foods Market's response, via Facebook.

Our thoughts on the study on nutrition in organics in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
We are optimistic that improved support of organic nutrition research -- including the increase of organic research funding in the 2008 Farm Bill, and the work of organizations like The Organic Center -- will show that nutritional advantages are another reason that organic agriculture is better than conventional.
Our shoppers choose organic food for many reasons -- to avoid synthetic pesticide residue, because it is often fresher and better tasting, and because organic farmers grow in earth-friendly ways that support the environment. Nutritional quality is one of many potential variables related to the advantages of organic food, but for us, there are already plenty of well-documented reasons to choose organic.The authors of this study examine the abstracts of 50 years of nutritional studies, looking for differences in nutrition between organic and non-organic foods, and conclude that there aren't any major differences. They don't rule out the possibility that there could be nutritional advantages, but acknowledge that none has been demonstrated so far. This isn't a surprising finding, since until very recently, there has been very little governmental or non-profit support of academic nutrition research focused directly on organic agriculture. In general, most nutrition research has not differentiated between organic and conventional crops.
As Stonyfield Farm President and CE-Yo, I believe that a new study dismissing the health benefits of organics does in fact mislead an increasingly savvy public by ignoring documented health and environmental benefits of organic.

The supreme irony is that this study is getting an enormous amount of media attention in part because of heightened consumer awareness of where our food comes from, thanks to the popularity of the documentary Food, Inc. and the discussion it's triggering across the country. Food, Inc. lays bare just how bankrupt and dangerous our current food system really is, and what we are allowed to know about it. The result is that consumers are looking more critically than ever at studies like this.

I agree with the Organic Center (TOC), a non-profit industry think tank, that the authors of the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency (FSA) study used old data and flawed logic in reaching the conclusion that organic food is no healthier than conventional. TOC alleges that the UK study actually downplayed the positive findings which favored organic food and did not measure important nutrients such as antioxidants.

There are compelling studies that have shown organic foods higher in beneficial antioxidants, substances or nutrients in our foods known to slow or prevent heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer. A 2007 Newcastle University (UK) study concluded organic fruit and vegetables contained up to 40% more antioxidants than non-organic varieties; organic milk contained more than 60% more antioxidants and healthy fatty acids than conventional. A 2007 study by the University of California found organic tomatoes had elevated levels of up to 97% of two types of antioxidants.

Of greater concern to me is the fact the FSA ignores the environmental and related health benefits of an organic farming system that avoids the use of millions of pounds of toxic persistent pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer and other chemicals that leach into soil, water and air.

The man leading the FSA review actually stated the differences in nutrient content found between organic and conventionally produced food were "unlikely to be of any public health relevance." Tell that to the people who suffer a variety of health issues shown to be linked to pesticide use. Public health is exactly what's at stake here.

I believe studies like the FSA report need to look beyond the dinner plate and recognize that organic farming's avoidance of chemicals offers health benefits beyond nutrition...
(you won't have to go far, I know).
And here's the Organic Trade Associations' rather weak-kneed response (to my mind). They accept many of the charges, and simply argue around them. Yes, organics are part of an ecosystem, and can't be measured on nutrients alone. But I'd like to see us argue on the points we've been attacked -- that organic food is in and of itself not measurably better than chemical-pesticide-sewage grown "conventional" food.
Organic Trade Association: Organic products offer many benefits to consumers

Contact: Barbara Haumann

GREENFIELD, Mass. (July 31, 2009) -- In response to recent publicity concerning an article in-press for the next issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) reminds consumers that organic has a great story to tell.

"The broader question is about what is health and what is nutrition, and isn't it more than just nutrient density," said Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, in reference to recent buzz about the article, "Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review." "Doesn't a food system that avoids the use of pesticides, synthetic growth hormones and antibiotics while building healthy soil and protecting natural resources promote health and nutrition? I certainly think so."

She added, "I'm surprised that investigators of this caliber would focus so narrowly on nutrient content. There is no reason to think that organic foods would have fewer nutrients than industrially produced foods, and there are many.

Here's one more:

I'm in London and today's tabloid Daily Express has a headline in type two inches high: "ORGANIC FOOD NO HEALTHIER." The article begins, "Eating organic food in the belief that it is good for your health is a waste of money, new research shows."

Really? This surprising statement is based on the conclusions of a lengthy report (pdf) just released from the British Food Standards Agency,Comparison of composition (nutrients and other substances) of organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs: a systematic review of the available literature. This report, done by excellent researchers at the prestigious London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, looked at the results of 162 studies comparing organic to conventionally grown foods for their content of nutrients and other substances. Although it found higher amounts of some nutrients in organic crops, it found higher amounts of others in conventional crops, and no difference in others. On this basis, the report concludes:

There is no good evidence that increased dietary intake, of the nutrients identified in this review to be present in larger amounts in organically than in conventionally produced crops and livestock products, would be of benefit to individuals consuming a normal varied diet, and it is therefore unlikely that these differences in nutrient content are relevant to consumer health.

In a statement accompanying release of the report, the Food Standards Agency says:

The Agency supports consumer choice and is neither pro nor anti organic food. We recognise that there are many reasons why people choose to eat organic, such as animal welfare or environmental concerns. The Agency will continue to give consumers accurate information about their food based on the best available scientific evidence.

Fine, but do animal welfare and environmental concerns not matter? The authors of the report summarize their findings in a paper in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The paper concludes:

On the basis of a systematic review of studies of satisfactory quality, there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs. The small differences in nutrient content detected are biologically plausible and mostly relate to differences in production methods.

Oh? I thought that's what organic foods were about -- production methods: no antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, irradiation, genetic modification, or sewage sludge. I thought better production methods were the precise point of organic foods.

Read more here, at The Daily Green.

Here's a new one just in, via my friend Steve Hoffman, an organic/natural products expert, at The Organic Center:

Letter from the Director
The Organic Center Challenges New Study Results; Defends the Nutritional Superiority of Organic Foods
An advance copy of a study appeared yesterday that will be published in the September edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The published paper, "Nutritional Quality of Organic Foods: A Systematic Review," was written by a team led by Alan Dangour at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The study, commissioned by the U.K. Food Standards Agency (FSA), claims that there are no differences in nutritional quality between conventional and organic foods.
The Organic Center's chief scientist, Dr. Chuck Benbrook, has written a strong response questioning the methodology and challenging the findings of this study, and we wanted to let you know where you can access it, as you may be responding to media and other inquiries in this regard. Click here to see Dr. Benbrook's full response to this controversial study.
According to Dr. Benbrook, the U.K. research team reported finding statistically significant differences between organically and conventionally grown crops in only three of thirteen categories of nutrients. Significant differences cited by the team included nitrogen, which was higher in conventional crops, and phosphorus and titratable acids, both of which were higher in the organic crops. As most scientists regard elevated levels of nitrogen in food as a potential cancer-causing agent, this finding of higher nitrogen in conventional food favors organic crops, as do the other two differences.
Despite the fact that these three categories of nutrients favored organic foods, and none favored conventionally grown foods, the London-based team concluded that there are no nutritional differences between organically and conventionally grown crops.
However, a team of scientists convened by The Organic Center (TOC) carried out a similar, but more rigorous, review of the same literature. The TOC team analyzed published research just on plant-based foods. Results differ significantly from the more narrow FSA review and are reported in the study "New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods," which is freely accessible on the TOC website (
The TOC findings are similar for some of the nutrients analyzed by the FSA team, but differ significantly for two critical classes of nutrients of great importance in promoting human health -- total polyphenols, and total antioxidant content. The FSA team did not include total antioxidant capacity among the nutrients studied, and it found no differences in the phenolic content in 80 comparisons across 13 studies.
Thank you,
Steve Hoffman, Managing Director

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