UPDATE: Organic Food "No Better Than Conventional," Study Finds

As reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition yesterday, the British-commissioned survey, which took its findings from 55 studies made in the past 50 years, claims that eating organic food "will make no important difference to a person's overall health".

According to Alan Dangour, one of the report's authors, "A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance."

"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."

The findings are bound to cause controversy, and perhaps damage to organic farming communities, which are already struggling in the recession, as consumers turn to cheaper alternatives to feed their families. Sales of organic produce reached nearly $25 billion last year in the US alone, and while the numbers had been booming over the last decade or so, some producers have seen the growth taper off.

Those who can afford to buy organic may well continue to do so, but for those who are on the fence, this study may have made their decision for them.

While the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) didn't return my calls, Whole Foods did send me their official statement in response to the findings, and, no surprise, opine that the study fell short in some ways, saying:

"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.

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."

That's largely where I stand too: I will still buy organic where possible (in particular milk and certain fruit and veg; CLICK HERE for the list of suggested must-buys). Even if it doesn't make much difference to my health in the long run--which, by the way, I find hard to believe--it sure as hell tastes better and is easier on the environment. And do I really want to be ingesting all those hideous chemicals anyway?

UPDATE, August 5: The main scientist behind the controversial findings, Dr Alan Dangour, has, of course, now started to receive hate mail. Depressing.


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