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

Organic or Natural?

Whenever I peruse the grocery store for food, I am often dumbfounded by the robust use of vague terminology by the food industry. Often conflicted to buy natural or organic food, I have alas done my research to see 1) what is the difference and 2) why should I care.

The Difference

Natural foods is assumed to imply foods that are minimally processed and do not contain manufactured ingredients.
Organic food is certified to not involve modern synthetic inputs such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Organic foods are also not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.

Artificial Flavors ?

What are they?
Flavorings are chemical formulations that mimic the flavors and smells of foods
What are some examples?
fruit flavored drinks, teas and yogurts
What are the health risks?

Controversial - A number of studies have shown a relationship between artificial coloring and hyperactivity. On the other hand, some studies do not show any effect of coloring on children's behavior. (National Institute of Health)

Fun Fact
Castoreum (which is extracted from the anal glands of a beaver) is used to make artificial raspberry flavoring. Yummy!

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.

Here's Whole Foods Market's response, via Facebook.
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.

Organic vs Conventional

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 (https://www.organic-center.org/science.nutri.php?action=view&report_id=126). 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. For more information, visit https://www.organic-center.org/science.nutri.php?action=view&report_id=157.
Posted in Agriculture, Food, General Discussion, Science, Water.