Sunday, November 18, 2007

Organic Food Proven Healthier?

I wasn't certain whether I should post this for two reasons:

a) I've beaten this drum before.
b) I typically like to find an objecting viewpoint. Not that I seek to have my mind changed, but I like to know whether there's a (or multiple) factor(s) that I haven't considered.

"b" is particularly true in this area because I know not everyone is a believer that organic = healthier (though most do know that organic = more expensive). However, the mention that this study is the largest of its kind won me over.

Organic food is healthier than conventional produce and may be better at preventing cancer and heart disease, according to the biggest study of its kind. So here is a slightly trimmed version,with the full article available here.

In a finding that challenges official advice, researchers have shown that fruit and vegetables contain up to 40 per cent more nutrients if they are grown without chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

The £12 million project also found that organic milk contains 80 per cent more antioxidants -substances which reduce the risk of tumours and life threatening problems.

Organic produce also had higher levels of iron and zinc, vital nutrients lacking in many people's diets.


A spokesman for the Food Standards Agency - which has come under fire for insisting that organic produce is no more healthier than conventional food - said it would review the latest study.

The findings come from Prof Carlo Leifert, an expert in organic food whose four year Newcastle University study is funded by the European Union and food companies.

He said the health benefits were so striking that moving to organic food was the equivalent of eating an extra portion of fruit and vegetables every day.


His team grew fruit and vegetables and reared cows on organic and non-organic sites on a 725 acre farm near at Newcastle University.

They found that levels of antioxidants in milk from organic cattle were between 50 and 80 per cent higher than conventional milk.

Organic wheat, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, onions and lettuce had between 20 and 40 per cent more nutrients.

Although the study has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, Prof Leifert is convinced the findings are sound.

He also believes there is enough evidence for the Food Standards Agency to change its advice on organic food and admits to being puzzled why the agency has not already done so.

"I wonder whether it's more to do with politics," he said.

The research suggests that organic fruit and vegetable is healthier because it uses more natural fertiliser such as clover and manure.

"Plants have evolved to get nutrients from organic matter, " he said.

"They need only a small amount early on in the year, and most in the summer. Yet with chemical fertiliser, they get most soon after planting and very little when they need it most."

The study - which runs for another year - found that milk was more nutritious in the summer, when cattle are grazing fresh grass.

"If you feed a cow on grass you get better milk," he said.

"I suspect that because British cattle have so much grass in their diet that nutrient levels may be higher in conventional UK milk than in some imported organic milk."

The Soil Association, which has been embroiled in a decade long dispute with the FSA over the health benefits of organic food, has welcomed the latest research.

There are few signs that the boom in organic food is ending. Sales are growing by 25 per cent each year and shoppers now spend around £2 billion a year on organic produce.

The reasons why organic food is popular vary. Some shoppers buy it for the taste, others to reduce exposure to chemicals.

Organic meat is popular among shoppers concerned about animal welfare.

The Food Standards Agency has ordered a review into its advice on organic food and health benefits. The results are expected in March.

"Until then the advice remains that there is no evidence that organic food has higher levels of nutrients than conventional food," a spokesman said.

I have yet to come across a sound argument as to why I shouldn't eat organic when the opportunity presents itself. Even the well-thought out comment made at the bottom of the article...

Yeah. I'm sure that plants that have been splattered with manure are MUCH more healthy than non-organic.

- Nic, Maize, USA

...doesn't quite cut it. When a friend of mine once asked about what the difference was in eating organic, another responded to the effect that "It means that you eat real shit instead of articifical shit". Well...If I'm going to eat shit anyway...


Anonymous said...

i agree that organic food is much better. but i am always wondering how really 'organic' it is. they have such a way with loopholes and labels and what-not nowadays.

T.H.I.T. said...

True enough. I once saw a chart which defined each certification logo and it's true level of "organicness". If I come across it again, I'll post it.

Christine's sister (Kathy) once left me an article about how organic may not be as pesticide-free as claimed. So I know there's a lot to doubt about the whole thing. That's why I won't spend crazy amounts to go "organic" until it's defined more specifically.