" Organic food is no healthier, Food Standards Agency, UK finds". Yet another controversial report recently released.
I have emails pouring in for my views on this report. This was expressed by a concerned scientist "No claims to nutritional superiority were made for organic foods. It is the environmental and health benefits of these foods that make them superior to those grown 'chemically'. Am I right? Why is this study from an apparently impeccable academic institution being given so much of publicity and why is it being bandied about as though it knocks the bottom off the argument for organic foods?Could you kindly throw some light on this front?
How sad is this that we actually begin to believe this report, since it comes out from the so called impeccable academic institute FSA in the UK. Why blame ourselves indeed, for we wish to continue to be so naive and not wake up to the politics of these corrupt giants who are hand in glove with government funded bodies. Such studies are usually very narrow with some very specific objective - one to publish reports which suit their self vested interests to fill their coffers. This is then hyped by substantial media coverage making matters even worse. Incidently, the study was commissioned by the Food Standards Agency in UK whose profile on lobby watch might be worth reading...http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=43
Yes, the study is only about nutritional effects of organic food versus conventional foods and explicitly states that " This review does not address contaminant content (such as herbicide, pesticide and fungicide residues) of organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, or the environmental impacts of organic and conventional agricultural practices. Lopsided isn't it!
Unfortunately, we are to blame - The hectic lifestyles maintained with sapped energy levels, this so called independent watchdog strives to further ignite the already confused minds. Media muscle is used to seek your urgent attention and that too at our expense. A pandora's plot of toxic tactic moves are being carried out right under our noses. We are nothing short of writing our own obituary, if we allow the dictats of these corrupt giants and bodies to rule our lives.
If you do not believe me, then read below the views and links shared by John Fagan, Ph.D. a molecular biologist who spent more than two decades using recombinant DNA techniques in his own research. His latest book Genetic Engineering: The Hazards, Vedic Engineering: The Solutions exposes the real story regarding genetic engineering, revealing that this approach is superficial, incomplete and hazardous, and at best, offers partial, temporary fixes, over-promoted bandaids that cause more harm than good.This highly readable book also provides the essentials that each one of us needs to know to protect ourselves, our families, and our planet from these dangers.
I do hope this revives your faith in safe foods.
I keep receiving additional information rebutting the conclusions of the FSA-sponsored article that claims that organic is not more nutritious.
Below are three of these:
The first is short comments by a person in the UK who is very knowledgeable about the politics of food in the UK, as well as about organic agriculture. She explains that the FSA-sponsored article was written to counteract research that came out earlier this year showing that organic foods are genuinely more nutritious.
The second is a good article from the Daily Mail, a major UK newspaper.
The third is a critique of the FSA-sponsored article by the top scientist in the Organic Center, a leading organic agriculture research institution in the US.
(1) Comments from Claire Robinson
There's lots of support for organic food and farming published in UK national newspapers today in response to yesterday's findings by the pro-GM, anti-organic Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The FSA review dismisses health benefits of eating organic food but admits to a lack of research on which to base findings, while completely ignoring other benefits (eg to the environment and animal welfare) and the risks and damage that arise from intensive agriculture.
The Ecologist reports that researchers could only identify 11 studies relating to the health content of organic food and admitted the current evidence base was, "extremely limited both in terms of the number of studies and the quality of studies found".
The Ecologist online (30 July)
Editor's blog: FSA organic study: read it closely The Ecologist online (30 July)
The FSA has been on a pro-GM anti-organic crusade since it was first launched under the chairmanship of John Krebs. From the beginning there was a total failure to re-examine the safety of GM foods, despite the high level of consumer concern. Indeed, Krebs declared all approved GM foods safe on his first day in the job before he had even had time to look at the evidence!
Instead, he quickly ordered a safety enquiry into organic food, which has a high level of consumer confidence. Krebs then made a high profile attack on organic food that lead Dr Patrick Wall, then chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, to describe Krebs' views on organic food as "extreme".
Krebs, of course, has been far from alone at the FSA in terms of close links to the GM lobby. The first director of the Scottish arm of the FSA was Dr George Paterson -- the former director general of Health Canada's Food Directorate. Paterson has been linked to major food safety scandals in Canada involving both fast track approval for a Monsanto GM crop and the overriding of internal government scientists' health warnings on a GM product.
Krebs and the FSA's aggressive pro-GM anti-organic stance triggered to GMWatch's very first PANTS ON FIRE AWARD.
(2) DAILY MAIL ARTICLE
A cancerous conspiracy to poison your faith in organic food Joanna Blythman The Daily Mail, 31 July 2009 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1203343/JOANNA-BLYTHMAN-A-cancerous-conspiracy-poison-faith-organic-food.html
Despite its obvious benefits for our health and for the environment, organic food continues to be denigrated by the political and corporate establishment in Britain.
The food industry, in alliance with pharmaceutical and big biotechnology companies, has waged a long, often cynical campaign to convince the public that mass-produced, chemically-assisted and intensively-farmed products are just as good as organic foods, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
The latest assault in this propaganda exercise comes from the Food Standards Agency, the government's so-called independent watchdog, which has just published a report claiming that there is no nutritional benefit to be gained from eating organic produce.
Those forces bent on promoting GM crops and industrialised production, would have been delighted by the widespread media coverage of the Agency's report, portraying enthusiasm for organic foods as little more than a fad among neurotic consumers that would pass once the public is given the correct information.
But what is truly misguided is not the increasing popularity of organic goods, but the Food Standards Agency's determination to halt this trend and instead promote genetic modification.
The new report from the FSA highlights this. For all the publicity it has attracted, the document does not contain any new material.
In fact, it is just an analysis of existing research carried out by other bodies. Moreover, the organisation that conducted this second-hand study, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is not renowned as a leading centre in this field.
Indeed, there is far more significant work currently being done on organic foods by several other bodies, some of it funded by the European Union, though the FSA has chosen to ignore it.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the FSA has decided to give such loud backing to this report because it can bend the findings to suit its political, pro-GM, anti-organic agenda.
What is truly misguided is not the increasing popularity of organic goods, but the Food Standards Agency's determination to instead promote genetic modification
Ever since its creation in 2000, the Food Standards Agency has been biased against organic farming. The first chairman, Sir John Krebs, was supportive of the biotechnology lobby and only too keen to promote GM as the future of farming.
In fact, one early review of the FSA's work, by the Labour peer Baroness Brenda Dean, warned there was a risk of the Agency losing its 'objectivity'
and 'rigour' in its support for GM crops and its opposition to organic production.
The departure of Sir John Krebs has not brought any change in policy, since the Agency is now largely run by plodding bureaucrats all too keen to follow the correct official corporate line.
Yet even in the context of the latest report from the FSA, the spin does not match the reality. For, contrary to all the hype this week, the Agency's own published research shows that organic foods are clearly far better for the consumer even just in nutritional terms.
Happy hen vs jail bird: Organic poultry, eggs and [bacon not only taste much better, but they have also not been pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics]
According to the FSA's findings, organic vegetables contain 53.6 per cent more betacarotene - which helps combat cancer and heart disease - than non-organic ones.
Similarly, organic food has 11.3 per cent more zinc, 38.4 per cent more flavonoids and 12.7 per cent more proteins.
In addition, an in-depth study by Newcastle University, far deeper than the one conducted by the FSA, has shown that organic produce contains 40 per cent more antioxidants than non-organic foods, research the FSA appears to have overlooked.
But the concentration solely on nutrition is to play into the hands of the anti-organic, pro-industrial lobby.
As most of the British public understands, but the FSA fails to acknowledge, the benefits of organic food go far beyond this narrow point.
The fact is that organic production is much better for personal health, food quality, the environment and the welfare of livestock.
Organic farming works in tune with the rhythms of the earth, gently harnessing the changing seasons, the natural cultivation of crops or the rearing of animals for our benefit.
In contrast, the vast biotech, processed food industry is at permanent war with nature, continually trying to manipulate, overwhelm and conquer.
Organic farming is all about harmony, non-organic about chemicalised ascendancy.
The most obvious way this difference is manifested is in the use of pesticides on crops, banned from organic farming but eagerly promoted by big industry.
Fifty years ago, agro-chemicals hardly existed in British farming, but today they dominate this sector. But their rise has not been without justifiable concerns about the side-effects.
There is now a wealth of evidence to show that pesticides not only poison the soil and harm wildlife, but also promote cancer and a host of other diseases because of their toxicity.
This is, after all, only common sense. Anything that can kill insects is bound to have an impact when consumed by humans.
It has been shown that ordinary pears are sprayed with pesticides no fewer than 17 to 18 times during one seasonal growing cycle. A third of all the food we eat, and no less than half of all our fruit and vegetables, contains such chemicals.
The Government airily dismisses any worries about the risks, but this kind of complacency is based on old, outdated science.
As the agro-chemical industry tightens its grip, the worse the dangers become. Organic farming, however, offers the opportunity to eat without these dangers. All organic food is free from chemical residues and thus the health threats are much lower.
Even the most die-hard GM enthusiast would have to admit that organic meat, fruit and vegetables taste much better than the mass-produced fare turned out by major suppliers.
Non-organic produce is not just grown with chemicals, it is also filled with additives, colourings, flavourings, salt and water simply so it has an acceptable appearance to the consumer once it reaches the shelves.
Again, this battery of synthetic additives which appears in many processed foods, ready meals and take-aways has a detrimental effect on our health, something that is avoided with organic produce.
Intensive farming also has a brutal impact on the well-being of animals, which in turn undermines both the quality of meat and our own health.
Organic poultry, eggs and bacon not only taste much better, but they have also not been pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics, like industrialised produce.
Putting pigs and hens in battery cages inside vast hangars is a sure recipe for the spread of disease, akin to locking up a large group of children in an overheated, overcrowded nursery.
In this environment, the only way to combat germs is to dish out the antibiotics, but there are now scientific concerns that the overuse of such chemicals is weakening resistance in animals and also reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics among humans.
Giving animals a decent life through organic, traditional husbandry is better for them - and for us. All the cheerleading for the agro-chemical giants cannot hide the fact that industrialised farming represents a cul-de-sac for mankind.
We cannot go on as we are, pumping chemicals into our livestock and into the earth. The future has to be organic.
If it has any genuine interest in nutrition, the Food Standards Agency would be supporting a shift away from intensification, not pushing for more of it.
The FSA was meant to be an organisation for improving our food. Now it is just getting in the way.
(3) Critique by Dr. Charles Benbrook of the FSA-Sponsored Article
Organic Center Response to the FSA Study
Author(s): Charles Benbrook, Ph.D.
The Organic Center
Donald R. Davis, PhD.
Retired Research Scientist
University of Texas at Austin
Preston K. Andrews
Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture
Washington State University
An advance copy of a study appeared today 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 and funded by the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency (FSA).
In their written report, the London team downplayed positive findings in favor of organic food. In several instances, their analysis showed that organic foods tend to be more nutrient dense than conventional foods. Plus, their study omitted measures of some important nutrients, including total antioxidant capacity. It also lacked quality controls contained in a competing study released in 2008 by The Organic Center (TOC). Last, the FSA-funded team also used data from very old studies assessing nutrient levels in plant varieties that are no longer on the market.
The London team reported finding statistically significant differences between organically and conventionally grown crops in three of thirteen categories of nutrients. Significant differences cited by the team included nitrogen, which was higher in conventional crops, and phosphorus and tritratable acids, both of which were higher in the organic crops. Elevated levels of nitrogen in food are regarded by most scientists as a public health hazard because of the potential for cancer-causing nitrosamine compounds to form in the human GI tract. Hence, 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.
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."
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.
Unlike the London study, The Organic Center review focused on nutrient differences in "matched pairs" of crops grown on nearby farms, on the same type of soil, with the same irrigation systems and harvest timing, and grown from the same plant variety. It also rigorously screened studies for the quality of the analytical methods used to measure nutrient levels, and eliminated from further consideration a much greater percentage of the published literature than the FSA team.
While the FSA team found 80 comparisons of phenolic compounds, the TOC team focused on the more precise measure of total phenolic acids, or total polyphenols, and found just 25 scientifically valid "matched pairs." By mixing together in their statistical analysis the results of several specific phenolic acids, the FSA team likely lost statistical precision.
Instead, the TOC team focused on studies reporting values for total phenolic acids, and also applied more rigorous selection criteria to exclude poorer quality studies.
The TOC team found –
Twenty-five matched pairs of organic and conventional crops for which total phenolic acid data was reported. The levels were higher in the organic crops in 18 of these 25 cases, conventional crops were higher in 6. In five of the matched pairs, phenolic acid levels were higher in organic crops by 20% or more. On average across the 25 matched pairs, total phenolics were 10% higher in the organic samples, compared to conventional crops.
In seven of eight matched pairs reporting total antioxidant capacity data, the levels were higher in the organically grown crop. Of 15 matched pairs for the key antioxidant quercetin, 13 reported higher values in the organic food. In the case of kaempferol, another important antioxidant, the organic samples were higher in six cases, while five were higher in the conventional crops.
In the TOC study, there were an ample number of matched pairs to compare the levels of 11 nutrients, including five of the nutrients in the FSA review. For the five nutrients covered in each review, the TOC team was in general agreement with the FSA findings for two (nitrogen and phosphorus).
The London team did not assess differences in key individual antioxidants, nor in total antioxidant activity, important nutrients that have been measured in several more recent studies.
Across all the valid matched pairs and the 11 nutrients included in the TOC study, nutrient levels in organic food averaged 25% higher than in conventional food. 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, the team 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.
Why the Different Results?
A review of the London-based team's methodology and study design points clearly to why the FSA and Organic Center studies reached some different conclusions.
Inclusion of Older Studies
The FSA review included studies over a 50-year period: January 1958 through February 2008. The TOC team included studies published since 1980. Most studies published before 1980 were found flawed for purposes of comparing the nutrient content of today's conventional and organic crops.
Most of the older studies used plant varieties no longer in use, and did not measure or report total phenolics or antioxidant capacity (since these nutrients were just being discovered). The older studies used analytical methods that are now considered inferior, compared to modern methods.
Further, since the 1950s, plant breeders and growers have consistently increased the yields of food crops, leading, in some cases, to a dilution of nutrients. In 2004, one of us (Donald R. Davis) reported evidence for a general decline in some nutrient levels in 43 garden crops between 1950 and 1999 (Davis et al., "Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999," Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 23(6): 669-682; a summary of the Davis paper is posted).
Similarly, an Organic Center report by Brian Halweil describes in detail the evidence linking higher yields and nutrient decline ("Still No Free Lunch: Nutrient levels in the U.S. food supply eroded by pursuit of high yields,").
Thus, results in the FSA study are likely confounded by the team's decision to include data from over three decades ago.
New Studies Support Greater Nutrient Density in Organic Foods
Since February 2008, the cut-off date of the London study, some 15 new studies have been published, most of which use superior design and analytical methods based on criticisms of older studies. The Organic Center is updating its earlier analysis with these additional studies. These new studies generally reinforce the findings reported in the March 2008 TOC report, particularly in the case of nitrogen (higher in conventional crops, a disadvantage), and Vitamin C, total phenolics, and total antioxidant capacity, which are typically higher in organically grown foods.
The Center's study finds that protein content and beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A, are typically higher in conventionally grown foods, but since both are present at ample or excessive levels in the diets of most Americans, these differences do not confer a nutritional advantage nearly as important as heightened levels of phenolics and antioxidants in organic foods.
Exclusion of Studies Analyzing Results on "Integrated" Farms
The FSA team excluded studies comparing organic foods to "integrated" and biodynamic production systems, stating that "integrated" systems are not conventional. Most conventional U.S. fruit and vegetable producers are now using advanced levels of Integrated Pest Management. Thus, "integrated" systems are now a more accurate description of "conventional" agriculture in the U.S., than a definition grounded in monoculture, the calendar spraying of pesticides, and excessive applications of chemical fertilizers. The London team did not report in the published paper which "integrated" studies were dropped, but we suspect some important U.S.-based studies may have been eliminated.
TOC Study Applied Much Stricter Screens for Scientific Validity
The two teams agree that many published studies are methodologically flawed, and hence should not be included in comparative studies. But the FSA and TOC teams used very different rules to screen studies for scientific quality and to select matched pairs for analyses.
The FSA team cites five criteria: definition of the organic system; specification of the plant variety (i.e., crop genetics); statement of nutrients analyzed; description of laboratory method used; and, a statement regarding statistical methods for assessing differences. The London team states that they simply required some discussion of these issues in published papers, but did not set or apply any qualitative thresholds in judging scientific validity.
The Organic Center team focused on the same factors (plus several others) and used stated, objective criteria for assessing them. The TOC team reviewed the statistical power and reliability of the analytical methods, a process that eliminated dozens of results. Finally, the TOC team insisted upon a close match of soils, plant genetics (variety), harvest method and timing, and irrigation systems, all factors that can bias the results of a comparison study.
Inclusion of Market-Basket Studies
The FSA team included some market basket studies, for which there is no way to know the specific circumstances of the farm locations, the plant genetics, the soil type, or harvest method and timing. In the Organic Center study, market basket results were judged as "invalid" based on several quality-control screening criteria.
This review is also available as a pdf document below.
Review of FSA Sponsored Study on Nutrient Content