Organic Food Better For You!

I have to say that I\’m still on the fence over this report that organic vegetables are better for you. Yes, if the facts change I will change my mind but until I can actually read the report itself (I\’ve not found it online as yet) then I\’ll continue to fence sit. However, that won\’t stop me from insisting that Peter Melchett is talking the most arrogant nonsense.

But it\’s not that surprising if you know that in the period since the second world war there has been a massive decline in the nutrients in the food we eat. The decline has been so serious that you would have to have eaten 10 tomatoes in 1991 to get the same level of copper as you would have got from one tomato in 1940. Between 1940 and 1991, apples lost 66% of their iron, broccoli lost 75% of its calcium, and in news that would dismay Popeye, even spinach lost 60% of its iron.

Right, and we know that such micro-nutrients in the soil are a scarce resource. We\’re told so often enough, after all. So what you\’re saying is that modern farming methods are vastly more efficient at turning these scarce resources into food than older farming methods? Good, tehnology advances then.

In the case of wildlife, we know from a number of major scientific reviews that organic farms in general have about 50% more wildlife and 30% more species.

Right, so organic farms are more inefficient then? As a farm is a place to grow food for human consumption, having more species (ie those we don\’t eat) and more wildlife (ie, what we don\’t eat) is direct evidence that the land is being used inefficiently for the production of food for human consumption.

Government research shows that organic farms employ about 30% more people than non-organic farms.

Jesu C. This is a cost of organic farming, not a benefit. "Creating jobs" and employing more people to do something than is necessary means that we become poorer! We loose whatever else it is that those people would have produced if they weren\’t weeding the peas by hand!

In addition, we now know that many chemicals that a plant produces to help it fight off insects and diseases are the same chemicals that nutritionists reckon are essential for good human health. Spraying a non-organic crop with chemicals to protect it from insects and disease means the plant doesn\’t need to activate its own self-defence mechanisms, and the chemicals which would naturally be present in the plant, and from which human health actually benefits, are not there.

Now this is the bit about organic farming that I\’m prepared to believe. That flavinoids are indeed the plant\’s natural chemical defenders, that (some of them at least) have been found to be beneficial to human health and that the non-use of pesticides means that the organic plants produce more of them. The one thing I do want to know about though, from this recently announced research, is whether the same varieties were actually planted in the organic and conventional fields. Anyone know the answer to that?

It is not surprising that food grown more slowly, with less stress to produce the maximum yield, in more natural conditions, is likely to have higher levels of beneficial minerals and nutrients.

Umm, Peter laddie? You\’ve just claimed above that the presence of these beneficial nutrients is in fact because of the increased stress upon the growing plants! The immune systems are turned on because they\’re not protected by pesticides! One or t\’other please, but not both!

It really should be a simple matter for the non-organic food producers to acknowledge that their cheaper food inevitably delivers fewer benefits, both to the environment and to human beings. That wouldn\’t be unusual for cheaper products.

As, by bringing price into it we have something of a further problem. Say that the increase in nutrients is 20%. Say that the price is 30% higher ^(just examples). That means that the cheaper food is actually better: for we get more nutrients in total for our buck. Your statement is equivalent to stating that a Ford Fiesta is worse than a Bentley, something which is true, but when we add in the price constraint, Fiestas are in fact better for the vast majority of people than Bentleys are.

As Professor Leifert says, the differences between organic and non-organic fruit and vegetables are so marked that organic produce would help increase the nutrient intake of people not eating the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Nope, we\’re still on that pesky price thing. Got to, got to, remember that. What we\’reinterested in is not the nutrient content of a tomato, but the nutrient\’s we can buy for a £. That\’s the bit you still haven\’t quite shown to be better, that we get more nutirients for our scarce resource.

8 comments on “Organic Food Better For You!

  1. “In the case of wildlife, we know from a number of major scientific reviews that organic farms in general have about 50% more wildlife and 30% more species.”

    The “wildlife” on organic farms is no more wild than the sheep and cattle they farm. Our countryside is entirely man made. Without mans influence our countryside would be a rather dull German-like forest.

  2. The BBC state: “Final results of the project are due to be published over the next 12 months.” – so I think we can ignore the publicity until then.

    Incidentally, I am still finding the left hand side probalems with this story in IE6. It only happens after the third quote – if that has any relevance.

  3. “As Professor Leifert says, the differences between organic and non-organic fruit and vegetables are so marked that organic produce would help increase the nutrient intake of people not eating the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.”

    This recommendation is the main problem, with the result that organic food still will be bad for you. Ok, so organic fruit has more antioxidants than non-organic fruit. So you do not have to eat the recommended five portions. But the truly healthy aspect of fruit (and arguably the truly “organic” aspect as well) is the particular combination of all the nutrients, not the increase in one or a few off them. Because if that would be the case we could stop eating fruit altogether and take some pills with antioxidants. But studies have shown that this behaviour will increase the risk of cancer. It’s quite ironic isn’t it that the ultimate conclusion of this study is that those who cannot afford fruit should use artificial chemicals instead.

    So eating less but organic fruit is not good at all. Instead we should eat more fruit, period. Those could be organic: they have more antioxidants but are less efficiently grown and thus less cheap. Non-organic foods are cheaper and so you can buy more of them. Just keep on eating the recommended five portions and from a health-perspective you don’t have to choose between organic and non-organic. Only your purse and environmental reasons could make a difference. But on that last the jury is still out.

  4. ‘The one thing I do want to know about though, from this recently announced research, is whether the same varieties were actually planted in the organic and conventional fields. Anyone know the answer to that?’

    Would need to see the data, as it would entirely depend on which vegetables we were talking about.

    And I do trust they have carried out these tests from field, not from supermarket shelf, yes? The conventional veg food supply chain can, and usually is, longer because these products have a longer shelf life. However, it is widely acknowledged that nutrients, etc, decrease over time. This is often why people call organic as tasting ‘better’ in blind tests ~ it’s actually just fresher. Fresh from field I suspect the differences would be tiny.

    Await full report with interest.

  5. I wonder what the trade off is between nutrients and yield for organic fruit + veg vs. non-organic. Given the context of a growing global population, shouldn’t we be focussing on improving yields to feed the masses?

    Also, no mention of the impact of land use on climate change: we might be better off with more intensively farmed produce to leave over more space for trees for the greens to hug.

  6. With you on most of the points, but not the 50% more wildlife and 30% more species one – this is most definitely a benefit to the favour of Organic Food.

    Monocultures (which you appear to be arguing for) are actually much LESS efficient, LESS robust and much MORE liable to stress and complete breakdown.

  7. Pingback: That Organic Food Thing

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