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Thursday, July 30, 2009

UK Study: Organic Food Offers No "Nutritional Superiority"

Bummed about the high price of fancy organic produce at the supermarket? Worried you're being a bad parent by feeding your kids regular apples instead of special earth-friendly organic apples?

Well, take heart—and fellow hippies, get ready for some science that tastes like lukewarm beet juice. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (the second part sounds like a good job!) have reviewed 50 years of scientific studies and determined there is no evidence that organic food has significantly higher nutritional content than regular food. The study was commissioned by the U.K.'s Food Standards Agency—British and non-corporate, so it appears that much more honest.

Nonetheless, the U.K. Soil Association makes some important points about what this new study does and does not say:
  1. The LSHTM study excludes a number of papers from its review.
  2. It ignores important health issues beyond vitamin and mineral content, such as health impacts of pesticides and herbicides on non-organic crops.
  3. It ignores environmental benefits of organic farming practices, such as improved biodiversity and less harmful waste (like the fertilizer run-off from non-organic farms that causes algae blooms).
The Soil Association can back those statements to the researchers' own acknowledgment of their review's limitations: "This review specifically 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" [see this PDF, p. 6].

It's also important to remember that the British scientists are not telling you that you can live healthily on Cheetos and Pepsi (would that we could!). It only says that if you're looking just at Vitamin C and such, you can get your recommended daily allowance about as well from the conventionally raised fruits and veggies as you can from organic produce.

Read more: The U.K. Food Standards Agency has the study online: Alan Dangour, Sakhi Dodhia, Arabella Hayter, Andrea Aikenhead, Elizabeth Allen, Karen Lock, and Ricardo Uauy, "Comparison of composition (nutrients and other substances) of organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs: a systematic review of the available literature," Report for the Food Standards Agency, Nutrition and Public Health Intervention Research Unit, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, July 2009.

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