By / 31st July, 2009 / Blog / No Comments

The organic Garden at the Waterdine Shropshire

As reported in the Times; a report commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has concluded that organic food has no more nutritional value than factory-farmed meat or fruit and vegetables grown using chemical fertilisers.

Reading the article in the Times one is therefore asked to believe that the FSA report finds Organic food is no “healthier” than factory farmed or chemical fertilised food.

However the frame of reference for this study excluded the effects of pesticide residue in food (This report does not address contaminant content (such as herbicide, pesticide and fungicide residues) and as more than one commenter mentioned “To study the difference between organic and other food without looking at pesticides is farcical.” It is not how factory farmed food compares to natural food that is the important issue here, it is the additives used by modern farming the unnatural process and the health of the animals that concern people, thus not to even consider these makes this report totally redundant.

To argue that modern intensive food production methods can reproduce a similar nutritional element in food than traditional organic methods it the wrong argument in the first place, to then extrapolate this to an argument that “Organic food is no healthier than other produce” is to extend the findings of the report beyond its own limitations and add a value judgment not contained in the report.

The report is also superfluous in that no new research was commissioned; it was purely a very selective trawl through the exiting scientific literature collected over 50 years.

A study of 52,000 papers was made, but only 162 scientific papers published between January 1958 and February last year were deemed relevant, of which just 55 met the strict “quality” criteria for the study.

The Soil Association says

“the research appears to be a fairly limited piece of analysis. For example, the review only looked at research papers written in English, it excluded the results of almost half the papers it found, and it ignored more up-to-date research from the European Union, published in April this year”

From the FSA

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.

Significant differences in content between organically and conventionally produced crops were found in some minerals (nitrogen higher in conventional crops; magnesium and zinc higher in organic crops), phytochemicals (phenolic compounds and flavonoids higher in organic crops) and sugars (higher in organic crops).

A couple of points are worth making about the general debate with regard to organic food production, the first is that there should be a debate about organic in the first place, there ought really to be a debate about the modern unproven (by time) methods and not a debate about farming practices that have endured for thousands of years. The multi million pound industry that is represented by modern farming has turned the tables, it is the modern methods which are described as conventional! Organic is compared to it, as if organic is the new foody fad and not a time proven method of working with nature to produce our foods.

This point was emphasised by one commentator to the Times article

I would have thought the report was a vindication of organic food. apparently, you can get the same nutrition whilst not using pesticides and other chemicals, with a better flavour and being kinder to the environment and to the animals involved.

The second point is why on earth our government is spending our tax money on reports that are nothing more than thinly veiled attacks on organic farming.


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