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Medicine Science

UK's FSA Finds No Health Benefits To Organic Food 921

blackbeak writes "The UK Food Standards Agency's 'Independant Organic Review' results were just released, and the BBC rushed to publish the findings in the shockingly titled article, 'No Health Benefits to Organic Food.' From the article, 'There is little difference in nutritional value and no evidence of any extra health benefits from eating organic produce, UK researchers found.' A peek into the research at Postpeakpublishing provides a slightly deeper look."
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UK's FSA Finds No Health Benefits To Organic Food

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  • Re:from TFA (Score:1, Interesting)

    by jo42 ( 227475 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @05:00AM (#28878959) Homepage

    Tells me the study was really paid for by corporate interests.

  • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @05:03AM (#28878977)

    organic food has pesticides used on them too. The only difference is the pesticides are organic

    The world wants to know.

  • by Andrew Ford ( 664799 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @05:22AM (#28879069)
    I have been buying organic food for 30 years or so and it is not because I believe it has higher levels of nutrients, but largely because of the lower levels of pesticide nutrients. For example: a couple of years ago the fields next to our kitchen garden were used for growing potatoes for a major UK supermarket. They were sprayed 2 or 3 times a week with fungicides for about 10 weeks, before being sprayed with sulphuric acid to burn off the tops before harvesting. Of course the sprays drift in the wind, which is worrying for people living just metres from the fields. Of course in the future organic farming (or at least farming with lower levels of chemical inputs) is likely to become more common, as peak oil drives up oil and natural gas prices, pushing up the price of fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides.
  • Re:World improves (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kokuyo ( 549451 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @05:29AM (#28879113) Journal

    The problem with McDonald's food is not primarily the fat. It's the flavour enhancer.

    Our body is pretty well able to regulate how much of our intake it actually processes, unless, of course, it is swamped with it. And therein lies the problem: Flavour enhancers override our senses and let us eat beyond what we need as sustenance.

    From personal experience I know that I eat less the more unprocessed ingredients are used in food preparation. I'm less in a hurry to shovel it into my mouth, thus giving my stomach the time to process the stuff and tell me when it's enough.

    The biggest problem we have nowadays is stress. Not only at work or in personal matters, but also when eating. We eat faster and thus more. So in my opinion, the less additives food has, the better you're off all around.

    We do not live longer all that much, by the way. The problem is that in those statistics all the children and mothers that died at birth were included. Since these problems have lessened due to higher levels of hygiene during child birthing, our statistics have, of course, vastly improved.

  • Re:so? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 30, 2009 @05:30AM (#28879125)

    No, that isn't the only point about organic food.

    Another point is that you, the consumer, don't get to eat the various fertilisers and pest control chemicals, and in the case of meat, you don't get to eat the various growth promoters and you don't get to eat the various anti-bacterial and other medicinal treatments given to the animals. The FSA (Food Standards Agency) say these are all safe and so completely discounted them from the study - talk about rigging the results.

    And then of course, there is the upon study from the European Union that will be released in the next month or so (that was completely ignored by the study this story is about), that also examines the same topic and looks at anti-oxidants, of which there are apparently a lot more in organic food than in the typical petrochemically fertilised foods most people eat.

  • Re:so? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Daemonax ( 1204296 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @05:38AM (#28879175)
    Check the data, organic farming is not better for the environment unfortunately. It's an idealistic dream, and one that I think is built upon the superstitious assumption that nature is benevolent and that we evil humans are screwing it up. Unfortunately the facts seem to indicate that a switch to organic would be terrible for the environment.
  • by Smegly ( 1607157 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @05:38AM (#28879179)
    The world is not black and white. The FSA scientists (and/or their political masters) obviously did not apply (or ignored) Scientific Principles when Applying the Weight of Evidence. From "The Principles of Weight of Evidence Validation of Test Methods and Testing Strategies []":

    Weight of evidence (WoE) is a phrase used to describe the type of consideration made in a situation where there is uncertainty, and which is used to ascertain whether the evidence or information supporting one side of a cause or argument is greater than that supporting the other side. We all frequently make personal WoE decisions in our daily lives, but more-formal WoE approaches are used in many different kinds of circumstance â" for example, in commercial, educational, health, legal and scientific contexts

    The weight of scientific evidence against the use of pesticides is quite frankly, frighting. For a decent condensed summary of many scientific papers from many fields demonstrating the effects of pesticides, (especially on the endocrine system []) check out the book/collection of scientific reports Our Stolen Future []. In 1995 worldwide pesticide sales were around 30 billion. Who knows what they are today?

  • by ryants ( 310088 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @05:43AM (#28879213)

    The report specifically doesn't look into the main reasons why I tend to buy organic - which aren't do to with health issues primarily, but to do with environmental and animal husbandry factors

    Do human beings ever come into play while considering these "animal husbandry" factors?

    Organic Alchemy []

    As the Cambridge chemist John Emsley recently concluded, "The greatest catastrophe that the human race could face this century is not global warming but a global conversion to 'organic farming'--an estimated 2 billion people would perish."

  • Re:from TFA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dzfoo ( 772245 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @06:44AM (#28879573)

    Nice going troll!

    It's not a matter of being a conspiracy theorist. Consider the facts: The study focuses on the nutritional value exclusively; not overall health benefits, of which nutritional value would be a factor. I don't know about you, but when I hear people talking about organic food, I've never heard it mentioned that one of their discriminating criteria is because it has a higher content of nutrients. Even advertisments and propaganda literature that promote organic products typically mention the fact that they contain no chemical enhancers or additional growth hormones, which can affect our metabolisms. It seems to me rather strange that these are precisely the factors that the study did not address.

    If you have a large population of people clamoring for organic products on the basis of their lack of pesticides and growth hormones, and you want to fund a study to put an end to the debate once and for all and see whether the benefits are real or not; why would you engineer the study to avoid accounting for the very factors that make the products attractive to them?

    Moreover, if you read the article, it has a slight cynical slant towards organic products and their consumers, starting from the headline "Organic 'has no health benefits'". I don't claim there was a conspiracy involved, but obviously the article (and the study) were composed to generate a negative impact against organically grown products.

    To be sure, I don't think the study is wrong--I do not disagree with its outcome nor its methods. I only have a problem with its narrow focus (and the consequences of it taken at a simplistic face value); it should be taken in context with other studies which consider other potential health benefits apart from nutritional value alone.


  • by twostix ( 1277166 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @06:45AM (#28879583)

    The average high production farm looks more like a highly toxic chemical factory than anything else these days. Huge piles of super phosphate, sheds full of 44 gallon drums of insecticides, vaccines and drenches all marked with skull and cross bones due to their toxicity to humans.

    I come from a long line of farmers and have spent a lot of time on farms big and small, I really don't think city people are aware of what's happening to their food at every stage of the process. There's still a romantisised notion in peoples minds that farming is generally still done like it used to be. This is still true in small pockets but if you buy your food in a supermarket, you aren't buying small farm produce.

    My biggest concern right now is feedlot beef, I have a cousin who works in an abattoir and he's gone right off eating beef that's been raised in feedlots due to what he sees when he cuts them (mongoloid internal organs for a starters and quite a bit of disease). Not to mention I have a natural aversion to eating "meat product" grown in a factory part owned by the Mitsubishi Corporation.

    It's only the last 15 years that the factory farm has really taken off, so we're the first generation to really bear the brunt of it. Who knows what the sort of problems we're going to be dealing with in 20 or 30 years.

    It's a worry but there are ways around it if you care. For example my family all combined and bought a whole grass fed cow off a small old school farm outside of the city here and had it butchered by the local butcher. It ended up costing $6 a kilo and we each got 6 months worth of meat. And good god it tastes good, I can never go back to supermarket (or most butchered meat) again.

    We're all growing our own veges again as well.

  • by solafide ( 845228 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @06:57AM (#28879669) Homepage
    Recently I was forced to live without a refrigerator. I bought a few heads of lettuce from the local supermarket; and I bought a few from the local organic farmers' market. Stored under my bed, 80 degree temperatures. Supermarket lasted one day before it was mush; local+organic, nearly a full week.
  • by wappie ( 1371767 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @07:32AM (#28879891)
    I'm was always shocked by how many people around me really believed organic food had any significant impact on their health. I always assumed there's much more to be gained for ones health by keeping a healthy weight, being careful with saturated fats, and just enjoying food while mostly getting all nutrients you need. Also: i think going organic is a kind of selfish luxury. Don't forget the environmental impact of a separate not-so-efficient extra system on top of the "regular" food-chain the organic 'cult' needs. I know what I'm talking about: I used to be a believer...
  • Re:World improves (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Nevynxxx ( 932175 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @07:46AM (#28879981)
    I hate to break it to you, but for the last 3 or so months that you were in the womb, you were floating in your own excrement. What the GP was getting at is that food isn't "made" in manure (which is rotted down excrement anyway, so it's got a different chemical make up than excrement...) but that it's "grown" in it, that it breaks it down, taking only what it needs and leaving the rest. It's an awfully complex process that when combined with crop rotation, technology isn't a patch on as far as sustainability goes. As for the study, I think what a lot of people miss is that organic foods still are sold as being healthier, if that isn't true, it should be stopped, and studies like this are the start of that. Organic food is a good idea, but there are a lot of unscrupulous companies making a huge profit from people who don't really understand this fad.
  • Re:World improves (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sortius_nod ( 1080919 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @07:48AM (#28879997) Homepage

    Species variation is completely different to "organic" foods.

    Using land that's already been raped by chemical fertilizers and pesticides doesn't tend to have the same value as virgin land when you want to go "organic". Thinking you can fix the salinity levels, lack of nutrients, etc by shoveling cow shit on it is just a joke. Sustainable practices like crop rotation are still not used by these "organic" farmers, they think they can still treat the land with the same contempt that chemical farmers do. It doesn't give any benefit to the consumer at all, merely ups the price and ignores the problems to start with.

    I don't buy into "organic farming" so long as they push for high yields and don't use crop rotation. Unfortunately this is a HUGE business, so crop rotation won't happen in the near future.

    Either way, your point is moot as "organic farmers" still use the same varieties as non-"organic".

  • Re:from TFA (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dzfoo ( 772245 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @08:00AM (#28880083)

    How convenient, to quote my words out of their context. Why the four paragraphs preceding it? for precisely the reason I mentioned on the sentence following the very statement you quoted:

    "To be sure, I don't think the study is wrong--I do not disagree with its outcome nor its methods. I only have a problem with its narrow focus (and the consequences of it taken at a simplistic face value); it should be taken in context with other studies which consider other potential health benefits apart from nutritional value alone."


  • by Churla ( 936633 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @08:46AM (#28880485)

    There's a great grocery store near my house called Sprouts (imagine a Whole Foods Market without all the near iPod level smug and pretentiousness). It focuses on two things.
    a) Getting foods from local sources, or farms as nearby as possible.
    b) Getting more organic produce whenever possible.

    Now, this place consistently has better looking, fresher, and better tasting produce than any of the other grocery stores around. Maybe it's because of column a), maybe it's column b) , maybe it's a little from both. Either way, for a reasonably small price increase we get far better produce so the wife and I make it a habit to shop there.

  • Re:World improves (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @08:49AM (#28880509) Homepage Journal
    "Agreed... May I also add... I find a lot of supermarket fruit and veg is odourless.... you buy by weight. So, like our meats, it is grown to produce weighty produce. They taste watery. Go to Asia, fruit and vegtables just smell better.. Some premium packaged fruit and veg do smell what I call "green", full of flavour."

    That, I think, is really the true damage that tech has done to food. They left it flavorless.

    Hell, no wonder people get obese these days, junk food has more flavor than natural foods. Tomatoes are my pet peeve. I no longer can stand to buy tomatoes at a grocery store, especially for something like home made salsa. They are bred for transport only I think...and picked so early, they don't mature enough on the vine. I remember back when I was a kid, and tomatoes had GREAT flavor, they really let you know summer was here.

    Not long back, I went to a tomato type 'festival' where they had all these heirloom varieties raised by people (not corporations), and it took me back to the old days. FLAVOR!! They were good...and I'd forgotten, real tomatoes aren't perfectly round, they are often knarled up, blemished, and sometimes weird colors other than bland dull red colored.

    About the only way to get a good one is to grow them yourself. I learned to can so that I can grow some, and have that fresh flavor also during the winter months.

    I won't even go into how the fscking jalapeno has had the heat bred out of it, and you can't tell in the store what the heat level of a jalapeno is....I now still 100% to serrano least they haven't fucked with those yet.

    Produce...we've killed the flavor of it. Then, there's meat. I remember what a good steak tasted like. Even today, if I lay out cash to get a prime grade barely has the flavor of the old days. They've bred out the marbling, the little flecks of fat within the meat fibers that is where the flavor comes from. I saw the other day, a picture they used to use like in the late 50's early 60's to grade prime beef...compared to one today. What a difference, the old ones had meat that was downright almost pink in color due to the fat content in it. That was flavor.

    I'd rather have that every once in awhile, that 100% lean and flavorless every day.

    I still love to cook, and I buy when I can at farmer's mkts to support the local economy and get quality produce...but, when I have to used grocery store bought stuff, I really have to season things higher to bring out what hidden flavors remain in today's corporate farmed produce and meats.

  • The Slashdot summary says, "UK's FSA Finds No Health Benefits To Organic Food".

    That's wrong in two ways. It was the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine [] that did this study: Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review [].

    That abstract says NOTHING about the effect of traces of poisons in conventional food. It is ONLY concerned with nutritional differences: "Objective: We sought to quantitatively assess the differences in reported nutrient content between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs."

    Also, the abstract says, "The analyses were restricted to the most commonly reported nutrients."
  • Re:World improves (Score:4, Interesting)

    by aicrules ( 819392 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @09:07AM (#28880703)
    Furthermore, it is considered a complication of pregnancy/birth when the unborn child does poop before birth. They have to make sure none went in the lungs etc...can make the child very sick. Also, manure left on produce whether because it was from fertilizer or from roaming animals is a HUGE health risk. Cleaning food, whether organic or not is extremely important to preventing e-coli and other nastiness. Organic food has a higher incidence of "natural" food borne bacteria. But on the same token, the pesticides/etc... used on crops that aren't organically grown must also be cleaned off lest they cause other equally nasty illness.
  • Like the guy says... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hesaigo999ca ( 786966 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @09:30AM (#28880961) Homepage Journal

    TFA says about testing non tainted foods, well that includes foods that have used pesticides the one reason to grow organic foods to begin with, is something they have taken out of the equation...of course now their is almost no difference between the 2, it was never about the nutrients inside, more the fact about the poisons on the outside!


  • Re:from TFA (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Thursday July 30, 2009 @09:32AM (#28880989) Homepage Journal

    We could easily feed the world if sociopathic dictators didn't use starvation to control their populace.

    Fixed that for you. We easily grow enough food to feed everyone in the world. The problem is getting it to people who live in Zimbabwe and North Korea around their genocidal leaders.

  • Re:from TFA (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ajlisows ( 768780 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @09:41AM (#28881143)

    That isn't an option for everyone. 90% of fruits and vegetables cause me to develop huge nasty hives all over my body. I'm talking emergency room level hives. That is unless I boil them/they are processed to the point where they are robbed of nearly all nutritional value.

    I'd say another 5% of them cause minor allergic reactions...causing only my mouth to swell up. It doesn't appear to be life threatening but it sure as hell is not pleasant.

    So...I eat as many Watermelons, Tomatos, Bananas, and Green Beans as I can stomach. It is really hard to subsist on those four items alone, so I end up eating tons and tons of meet and trying to supplement my diet with vitamins.

  • Re:World improves (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Philip K Dickhead ( 906971 ) <> on Thursday July 30, 2009 @10:26AM (#28881871) Journal


    And the fact that industrial farming destroys land and consumes hydrocarbons at an alarming rate. It is destructive to biodiversity - defining itself in producing exclusive monocultures.

    Michael Pollan's work is considered, even toned, and alarming. on these points, and others. I'd go after both The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food.

    "For more than a century now, scientists have known that whenever a people take up Western habits of eating, the so-called Western diseases follow. The best-known examples include obesity, diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, stroke, and cancer, but the list also includes appendicitis, diverticulitis, tooth decay, varicose veins, ulcers, and hemorrhoids. All of these diseases are extremely rare in populations that still eat as their ancestors did for centuries."

  • Re:Utter Ignorance (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DrLang21 ( 900992 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @12:08PM (#28883341)

    I would say that buying organic food is financial masterbation, except that's not fair to masterbation.

    It would be more accurate to say that buying organic food in a grocery store is financial masturbation. I buy much of my produce at the farmers market every weekend. It's guaranteed to be locally grown, it's almost always cheaper (even with the organic growers), and my variety is better. I buy bulk organic grain when I can for a fraction of what it costs at the standard grocer.

    Buying pre-packaged organic food is financial masturbation. Pre-packaged organic food completely defeats the point on so many levels.

    "Organic" is an over-hyped trend however. A far better option is to buy your food from local producers.

  • Re:from TFA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @01:30PM (#28884585)

    The problem, as I see it, is a lack of guns. Instead of shipping food aid to these starving people, we should be shipping crates full of small arms and ammunition. Then, they can control their own destiny, instead of being slaves to their dictators.

  • YES THEY DO! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by crmarvin42 ( 652893 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @02:04PM (#28885141)
    Ok, you are confusing the issues here. Pesticides in the water can be a problem. However, organic food produciton is not the answer. Contrary to popular belief, organic production allows for the use of some pesticides. Mostly from older categories that are no longer in widespread use. The reason they are not in widespread use is that they don't work as well, require more frequent application, and require much heavier application rates (more pounds/acre). All of these characteristics trace back to them being derived from plants, which is why they can be used by organic farmers. The net result of all this being that there is more pesticide runoff from organic farms than from modern agricultural practices.

    Consequently, GM crops like the infamous "Round-Up Ready" varieties actually are better for the environment because they require far less pesticide applciation both in number of passes with the sprayer, and pounds of pesticide/acre.
  • Only in theory (Score:3, Interesting)

    by crmarvin42 ( 652893 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @02:31PM (#28885617)
    In theory, but not in practice. In the decade or more since the EU has banned all sub-theraputic use of antibiotics in livestock, and the theraputic use of antibiotics important for human medicine, there has been no reduction in resistance levels. There hasn't even been a change in resistance levels in livestock, despite all of the generations that have gone without ever being treated with some of these antibiotics. It's all red-herring encouraged by the human health industry to hide the fact that they are irresponsibly using antibiotics in human medicine.

    How many people do you know that have been given antibiotics they didn't actually need, or failed to take all of their meds. I'd bet that everyone in the western world has done both at least once. Besides, sub-theraputic doses of antibiotics are only routinely fed at certain stages. Mainly during weaning because it frequently occurs during the time when the maternally transfered immunity is wearing off and the piglets immune system is still coming online. Otherwise antibiotic use is avoided because they are EXPENSIVE.

    Yes it can be abused by some producers, but those abuses are no where near as systematic as the antibiotic abuses seen in human medicine.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 30, 2009 @03:09PM (#28886229)

    In spot-checking the Cosmos Mag article, I looked up the Iowa 2008 update, which reports both "Some Pesticides May Increase Risk of Colorectal Cancer" and "Pesticides May Increase the Risk of Diabetes" ( ).

    From the study's 2005 update:

    "Farm populations do appear to be healthier overall
    than the North Carolina and Iowa populations, but
    they may have increased rates for some diseases.

    The Agricultural Health Study was initiated in part
    to answer questions about increased rates for some
    cancers and other diseases among farmers and others
    in the agricultural community from earlier studies.
    Diseases that may be elevated among farmers
    include cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, and
    soft tissue sarcoma and cancers of the brain, lip,
    prostate, skin, and stomach, as well as Parkinson's

    The Ag Health Study is by no means conclusive that pesticides are safe for appliers and consumers.

  • by gobbo ( 567674 ) <> on Thursday July 30, 2009 @03:14PM (#28886323) Journal

    People ask if I eat meat, because I don't eat a lot. I generally say "yes, but I prefer to know its name first". Just bought a lamb off a friend, and waiting on some meat birds from another friend, and am collecting a couple of dozen eggs later today.

    We bought into a shared cow so we can get legal unpasteurized milk, and I'm watering a friend's garden in exchange for fresh goat's milk.

    If you think beef is bad, just take a peek (or a whiff) at industrial meat chickens or even salmon farms.

    Eggs, too. Chickens were meant to eat fresh greens and bugs.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 30, 2009 @10:25PM (#28891699)

    When I was about 12 I was helping my uncle drench sheep - basically giving them a chemical shower. The chemical we were using caused me and my cousin to both have explosive diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea the instant we caught a decent whiff of the overspray. "You'll get used to it" was my uncles advice to us.

    These were flu symptoms. That you were experiencing them at the time you were handling perfectly safe farm chemicals was a mere coincidence. I can assure you we don't bring any products to market which haven't passed a set of rigorous battery of safety standards. That is more than you can say for the potentially life-threatening and throroughly untested methods employed by "organic" farmers.

    This is just leftists pseudo-science. You may as well worry about so-called "global warming" (not gettting so warm now, is it?) as about any ill health effects from modern pesticides.

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser