Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
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."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

UK's FSA Finds No Health Benefits To Organic Food

Comments Filter:
  • from TFA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by polar red ( 215081 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:53AM (#28878917)

    The review did not look at pesticides or the environmental impact of different farming practices.

    says it all really.

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

      by CaptainOfSpray ( 1229754 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:57AM (#28878929)
      You are dead right. I for one would call "not being poisoned by organophosphorus residues" a health benefit. I wonder who paid for this study and then chose the report's title.
      • 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 @06:43AM (#28879571)

          IF CHEMICAL PESTICIDES ARE hazardous to health, then farm workers should be most affected. The results of a 13-year study of nearly 90,000 farmers and their families in Iowa and North Carolina -- the Agricultural Health Study - suggests we really don't have much to worry about. These people were exposed to higher doses of agricultural chemicals because of their proximity to spraying, and 65 per cent of them had personally spent more than 10 years applying pesticides. If any group of people were going to show a link between pesticide use and cancer, it would be them. They didn't.

          A preliminary report published in 2004 showed that, compared to the normal population, their rates of cancer were actually lower. And they did not show any increased rate of brain-damaging diseases like Parkinson's. There was one exception: prostate cancer. This seemed to be linked to farmers using a particular fungicide called methyl bromide, which is now in the process of being phased out. According to James Felton, of the Biosciences Directorate of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, who also chairs the study, "The bottom line is the results are coming out surprisingly negative. It's telling us that most of the chemicals we use today are not causing cancer or other disease."


        • 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.

      • Re:from TFA (Score:5, Informative)

        by digitig ( 1056110 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @06:06AM (#28879349)

        You are dead right. I for one would call "not being poisoned by organophosphorus residues" a health benefit. I wonder who paid for this study and then chose the report's title.

        If you follow the links (yes, I know, this is /.) you will find that it covered overall health effects, not just nutrition. You will also find that it was paid for by the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA). I don't know who chose the report's title ("Organic Health Effects Review"). Presumably the FSA chose the title of the press release ("Organic Review Published"). Why? Do you find those titles biased or controversial?

        However, the FSA press release doesn't seem to match the content of the report. The report was on a study of studies, looking at existing work rather than doing any new research. It found that the "because of the limited and highly variable data available, and concerns over the reliability of some reported findings, there is currently no evidence of a health benefit from consuming organic compared to conventionally produced foodstuffs". That is not the same as the FSA's claim that "there are no important differences in the nutrition content, or any additional health benefits, of organic food when compared with conventionally produced food" as the FSA say on the press release. The study showed that we don't know whether there are any health benefits, not that there are no health benefits. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. This suggests at least incompetence on the part of whoever did the press release, and possibly malice.

    • Re:from TFA (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Digestromath ( 1190577 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @05:17AM (#28879053)

      "Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority."

      I think thats more of an apt summary which doesn't imply a bias based on data which lies outside the scope of thier research.

      They were comparing values of vitamins in one to the other, let those facts stand on thier own. There is no nutritional value in sustainability, pesticide use or ecologically sound farming practices nor should any imply as such.

    • Re:from TFA (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Daemonax ( 1204296 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @05:36AM (#28879159)
      What? Says what? Their research was only looking at the nutritional differences.

      As for environmental impact of organic farming, from what I know, in order to get the same amounts of produce we'd need to expand existing farms much more because organic farms give lower yields. If people ate less, that might help the situation and others, but that's unfortunately unrealistic. Instead given our track record, if we all switched to organic, we'd just destroy some forests. The other alternative is shrinking the human population quite a lot, but I do not like that idea at all.

      I think that many people who champion organic have some crazy superstitious assumption beneath many of their claims, and that this assumption is that nature is benevolent, some kind of caring mother, probably called Gaia. Unfortunately nature is not benevolent, and our lives are so much better now because we've managed to subdue much of nature. During all the time we've been evolving we've had to adapt to fit in with nature. We've finally, in the last hundred years or so, been able to change things and make nature fit in with us instead. Though there are still many natural events that we can't control.
      • Re:from TFA (Score:5, Informative)

        by HighFlyer ( 60002 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @05:52AM (#28879263) Homepage

        No need to expand anything. People just need to eat less meat. There's a conversion factor of around 8 to 15 converting plant-based food into any kind of meat. You loose around 90% of your nutrional energy by that conversion. We could easily feed the world if the industrial nations wouldn't insist on their daily hamburgers and steaks.

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

          by sp3d2orbit ( 81173 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @06:34AM (#28879509)

          I've heard this so many times and it is just plain wrong. Here's why:

          The digestive track of a cow has evolved to extract caloric value from plant cellulose, ours is not. It is not as simple as saying a cow gets 10% of the energy from the sun via grass and we get 10% of that energy therefore we should just eat grass. No matter how much grass we eat our digestive tracks will not be able to cope -- wasting resources in the process.

          Do what nature intended you to do and eat meat.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Nature doesn't have any intentions for me or any one. What I do is nature, and that includes me eating or not eating meat.
          • Re:from TFA (Score:5, Informative)

            by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Thursday July 30, 2009 @11:32AM (#28882837) Homepage

            I've heard your response many times as well - and it's wrong too.
            Cows in feedlots (which is where they gain over 60% of the final weight) don't eat grass, they eat grain. They don't gain weight from plant cellulose, they gain weight from starches and sugars.
            The grain they eat is grown on farming land that could be used to raise food directly for people, and consumes water that could be used to raise food directly for people. Which means rather than getting full value from that land and water - we get less than 10%.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Just Some Guy ( 3352 )

          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.

        • We could easily feed the world if the industrial nations wouldn't insist on their daily hamburgers and steaks.

          If some jackass in India or China can take my job by bidding below me, they can starve. At least while I'm unemployed I can hit the dollar menu and enjoy a tasty hamburger because we Americans have enough land to feed ourselves. If they can't overseas, well, its not my problem. They take my job, I take their food. Screw them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cberger ( 1244306 )
      Yes, benefit to environment, and so to ourselves...
      but also they do not say whether the review looked at pesticides in the food itself. They may have the same nutritional value, but organic food will probably always carry less harmful substances. (ex. a recent study on grape fruits showed they were highly contaminated with pesticides. Not the organic ones...)
      Kind of a huge health benefit I think !
      I usually eat organic food, I think it is better for environment. But I also give it to my baby, and for he
    • by Manic Miner ( 81246 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @06:07AM (#28879359) Homepage


      I eat organic for 2 reasons, one is I don't want my body filled with the left over amounts of pesticides (in the case of fruit and veg) and antibiotics and hormones (in the case of meat). I especially don't want my 1 year old son's body being subjected to those if I can avoid it.

      But to be honest the main reason I do it is because it tastes so much better. Carrots actually test of carrot rather than crunchy water taste you get from a standard supermarket carrot.

      We get organic veg delivered to our door from a local farm and it last much longer due to shorter pick to delivery time scales. There is also the added bonus of getting a wider variety of veg.

      As a result I eat a wider range of vegetables, it tastes nicer, and because of the longer shelf life I throw less away. This means that it costs me the same or less than buying normal super market veg. Couple that with the convenience of it delivered to my door it is a no-brainer really!

      • 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 Rob the Bold ( 788862 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @09:17AM (#28880811)

          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.

          When I got up this morning, the last thing I expected to read about was someone storing lettuce under his bed. Guess I can get to work now.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ryants ( 310088 )

        I eat organic for 2 reasons, one is I don't want my body filled with the left over amounts of pesticides (in the case of fruit and veg)

        You are deluding yourself if you think organic == no pesticides, or if you think pesticides == cancer:

        Scientists are unable to test these chemicals directly on humans, so they use rats instead. To establish the maximum dose considered to be safe for humans, they find a dose that's completely safe for rats. Then they divide it by 100. Testing by Australia's national regula

  • so? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:58AM (#28878935)

    The point behind organic food is that it's better for the environment, not healthier to eat. But thanks for the useless study, UK!

  • by jpstanle ( 1604059 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @05:00AM (#28878951)

    And really, organic food has never been about health. It's more about sustainable practices and all that jazz. Organic food is more an environmental concept than a health concept.

    That said, when and if I buy organic foods, it's usually fruits, vegetables, or nuts; and I do so because they are of noticably better quality than standard supermarket faire. For me, it has nothing to do with health OR environmentalism... Organic produce simply tends to be better quality from a culinary standpoint.

  • by Angostura ( 703910 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @05:01AM (#28878967)

    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.

    In the UK at least, organic farmers do practice lower intensive farming, leaving hedgerows in and wider strips for wildlife to flourish, they're not allowed to use antibiotics to promote growth in cattle (though they can use antibiotics to treat disease).

    I've never taken the health issues seriously, but I do take biodiversity (and antibiotic resistance) very seriously and I'm more than willing to pay a little more to farmers who take additional care to help protect the country's wildlife.

    There is one exception to this: I do buy organic carrots with health mind. Various studies have shown that carrot skins do retain a fair amount of insecticide and other pesticide residue. I'm a lazy bugger who likes to eat carrots raw without peeling them and so feel marginally happier choosing organic.

    • 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."

      • by Angostura ( 703910 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @06:00AM (#28879319)

        Yes. As I pointed out in my original message, antibiotic resistance is a real problem when they are used to promote growth rather than to fight disease. The use in agriculture is implicated in resistance in human pathogens too.

        As for John Emsley's analysis. The man takes things to extremes. Am I suggesting that organic methods be foisted on sub-Saharan Africa to retain biodiversity? No (although they do get higher export prices for export crops) I'm explaining why there are ratioanal reasons in the UK to favour UK organic farmers. I hope that helps your comprehension.

  • Damn! (Score:5, Funny)

    by CaptainOfSpray ( 1229754 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @05:27AM (#28879097)
    Just checked the new import rules on Food Agency website.

    Sad to say, Australians are still permitted to import V*g*m*te.
  • Breaking news ! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ivan_w ( 1115485 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @05:56AM (#28879285) Homepage

    A [name insitution here] study has determined that using electric cars does not get you from point A to point B any faster than combustion engine powered cars..

    Doh !


  • Title misleading (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HighFlyer ( 60002 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @06:01AM (#28879333) Homepage

    Replace "Health Benefits" with "Nutritional Benefits" and it's ok. You certainly won't starve eating non-organic food. And you'll get pretty much the same level of basic nutritional elements (vitamins etc.).

    But you will get more pesticide contamination, more genetically modified food, more additives and a few other nasty bits and pieces. And you will create more impact on the environment.

    And keep in mind that this was a meta-study, just looking at existing publications. Their selection criteria pretty much guaranteed the domination of conventional food studies carried out by the industry.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dkleinsc ( 563838 )

      The other thing authors like Michael Pollan have been busy pointing out is that we don't know all the micro-nutrients in whole foods, so we actually can't know whether the contents of, say, organic lettuce, actually matches the contents of a conventionally grown lettuce because we simply don't know what all to look for. And those micro-nutrients make a big difference, as well as making the food taste much better.

  • Bad summary (Score:4, Informative)

    by mykdavies ( 1369 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @07:19AM (#28879805)
    Why is the phrase "Independant(sic) Organic Review" in quotes? It's not the title of the report, that's "Comparison of putative health effects of organically and
    conventionally produced foodstuffs: a systematic review", and it's not quoted text from the linked article.

    The report was commissioned by the FDA, but actually produced by the London School of Economics; that's what makes it independent.

    There's no need to go to postpeakpublishing (or Database Error as they seem to be called today) for a deeper look as you can read the whole report at
  • 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.

  • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @08:55AM (#28880585)

    I don't think there is a lot of nutrition in inorganic food...

  • Misleading (Score:3, Informative)

    by codeButcher ( 223668 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @09:21AM (#28880851)

    OK, after reading comments I actually went back to read the fine article. Some points that struck me:

    • This study seems to have been only a review of 55 studies on the subject from the past 50 years. 107 studies have been rejected (and thus not included in the review).

      Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association said they were disappointed with the conclusions.
      "The review rejected almost all of the existing studies of comparisons between organic and non-organic nutritional differences.

    • The methodology is not really clear, but the study seems to only have looked at the amount of certain nutrients contained in foods. It has not looked at the overall chemical makeup, which would also take into account harmful substances.
    • It's only my guess, but to really know whether certain foods have certain health benefits, is to feed said foods to a group of people over a period of time and compare their health before&after or to that of a control group. Assuming that certain nutrient quantities amount to good health, is basically saying you can be healthy by stocking up in the supplements aisle of your supermarket - and that has been disproven for some instances already.

      Continuing the Mellchett quote: "Without large-scale, longitudinal research it is difficult to come to far-reaching clear conclusions on this, which was acknowledged by the authors of the FSA review.

  • 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!


  • by caseih ( 160668 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @12:09PM (#28883355)

    I can say a few of things. First I'm totally in favor of organic food because it lets farmers make more money without having to do much of anything differently (a tax on the gullible). Interestingly enough, I doubt most organic food connoisseurs really know what makes organic food "organic." It's not quite as simple as just "no chemicals," although that's a key part.

    Secondly the unwashed masses have pretty much demanded pesticides on fruits and veggies since blemished fruit doesn't sell (except in organic markets where blemishes and insect infestations are "features). Until we can convince people that it's okay for your apple to not be a perfect shade of red, there will continue to be unnecessary pesticide use.

    Thirdly, in the realm of weed control, years of over-tillage and over-use of herbicides have led us to a situation where herbicide resistance is a massive problem. Ironically this means that we're now more dependant than ever on new herbicides. But compared to pesticides, herbicides are quite benign. Most of them are not toxic after they touch the soil and break down into their constituent organic parts. Herbicides work in different ways. Some grow the plant to death. Others target photosynthesis, or stop plant growth. Personally I hate handling any chemicals. I'd love to be able to farm without them. But with weeds if you don't use herbicides the next year has an order of magnitude more weeds. So I think if they are used wisely we can get the food we need without harming the environment.

    Despite what people say about sustainable agriculture, "organic" farming as many people would like to see, is actually quite harmful (without controlling weeds) and certainly not sustainable as a food source for the whole world. Entropy and the principles of chaos rule this world, I'm afraid. Weeds thrive when we remove the native plants that previously held them at bay, for the sake of farming.

    As an aside, if people really understood how the food supply works in the developed world, they'd immediately stock up on food, at least a few months' worth. Our system is completely "just-in-time." All it would take is massive hemisphere crop failures from climate change or a volcano causing a cold spell,a nd we'd all be out of food. in just 3 or 4 months. Just like that. And massive crop failures have happened before (particularly in the southern hemisphere). I read once that the world wheat supply at any given time is about 3 months. Scary stuff.

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky