The FSA (Food Standard Agency) released a report last week, the basis of which was to compare the nutritional benefits of organic food compared to conventional food. The conclusion of the report was that there was little difference in nutritional value between the two and hence no nutritional benefit in eating organic food.
As you can imagine this report has caused quite a stir in the community. I can understand the upset as everyone has their own reasons for eating organic food, which doesn’t rely on that result. The main reasons which have been given as arguments for eating organic food include:
Less pesticides and other harmful substances
Environmental friendly farming
One needs to understand that the group performing the study were given a very specific brief by the FSA – compare nutrient values between conventional and organic foods. That’s what they were paid to research. If you read the study you’ll see that the study was a review of existing studies from the past 50 years. Out of 52,471 citations from a literature search, only 162 studies were deemed acceptable to include in this study. Why?
Because the definition of ‘organic’ had to be verifiable and they had to compare ‘like with like’. As they say ‘one needs to compare apples with apples’ and in this case they had to compare not just apples but the same variety of apple! As a Cox apple has different nutritional values to a Fuji apple… Hence most of the past studies listed had to be thrown out because they weren’t specific enough.
You can find the report here on the FSA website – all 209 pages!
I listened to an interview with Dr Alan Dangour (the person in charge of performing the study) and he said the same thing. He also agreed that further studies are needed to answer the other questions regarding the potential benefits of eating organic food. I’m sure he’ll be happy to perform these additional studies on behalf of the FSA on a new budget (I don’t deny him that opportunity at all!). You can hear the interview on ABC Radio/Counterpoint.
The other thing which I find interesting is that out of the 162 studies accepted only 25 of them related to livestock. The data spread was much wider than for the crops but still the overriding conclusion was that there was no difference in omega-3 or omega-6 levels but there was no comment on what the animals were fed. If you’ve followed my previous blogs about fats and omega-3/6 fats and the provenance of food, then you’ll understand why I find this a terrible omission (but not unexpected). You’ll also then know that I believe the provenance of animals is just as important – possibly even more so – than just being organic. Because just because an animal is considered to be organic doesn’t mean it wasn’t fed corn or soy. It just means that it was fed organic corn and soy! So I find the livestock results totally irrelevant as to nutrient comparison…
I find it interesting that what animals eat is not considered important. I watched a TV documentary recently made by Jamie Oliver called ‘Saving our Bacon’. It supposedly followed the life cycle of the domestic pig. He was all for happy free range pigs rooting around in the dirt (or straw) and definitely against closed sow pens, which is all good and honourable. But not once during the whole program did they mention the diet of the pigs. What were they fed? What should they eat?
Maybe in 5 years time the provenance of our food, particularly animals, will be a common question that we all ask. I’m hoping so…
Now back to the FSA report… I don’t eat organic food because I thought it had more nutrients. My reasons are more related to keeping additional pesticides, hormones and antibiotics out of my body. In regard to pesticides the Environmental Working Group has produced a ‘Shoppers Guide to Pesticides’ to help when shopping for fruit and veg, so you know which conventionally grown produce is okay if organic is not available. It’s a very handy list to keep on hand!
Everyone has their own reasons for eating organic food. Whatever that reason may be, just keep doing it.