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Jul 29, 2009 11:29 AM

No difference with organic food

The article talks about a study where they say there is no nutritional difference between organic produce and standard produce.

While I can see an argument for that the article goes on to state that meat, dairy and eggs had the same results as well. I don't buy that at all. I think what is misleading is the 'organic' label. I mean if you feed a cow organically grown corn you're going to get the same result as if you fed it the garbage they usually get.

This article just talks about nutrition as well. I'm sure many of you can attest to the difference between a farmer's market tomato and a supermarket tomato. Now whether taste affects nutrition is something different. I'm of the opinion that evolution has geared our taste buds to make nutritious foods the best tasting ones. But that's a tangent.

So does anyone have any thoughts on this?

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  1. I'm not surprised by that, especially the (junk science) health claims made by some organic food advocates.

    However, the studies only looked at nutrition and did not look at "contamination" or unwanted chemicals that tag-along for the ride.

    I'm not a buyer of organic foods, but I do believe in the ideal of sustainable farming and the avoidance of unneeded drugs and pesticides... especially in animals used for meat.

    1. Here's the response to the study results from the Soil Association.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Interesting response. I would also like to point out that the article in question is a *review* article, not original research. It would be really interesting to look at the methodology employed by the various studies, as well as the funding sources. Methodology is as important as results, since the methods can sway the results. My guess is that the methods are rather varied.

        Also, as dave_c pointed out, this work focuses solely on nutrition, not on sustainability or environmental concerns. Given that many people purchase organics with environmental concerns as the impetus, it is somewhat disingenious of the mainstream media reporting these conclusions to neglect to mention this. FWIW, I buy some organics and some conventional produce, so I am hardly in either camp.

        1. re: nofunlatte

          Here's another rebuttal, by Paula Crossfield in the Huffington Post,

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              She writes "I’m surprised that investigators of this caliber would focus so narrowly on nutrient content."

              I'm not surprised. That is the hallmark of good science. Well defined questions about things you can measure. In this case: is there a nutritional difference between conventional and organic foods?

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            The Soil Association's response is a bit disingenuous because the EU study that they cited was published after the cutoff date for the selected papers. The parameters for any study has to be set in the grant application.

            This article from the Independent has a more substantial interview with Dangour than the BBC blurb:

          2. In Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan cited some research that showed carrots grown in California were nutritionally inferior to those grown in Michigan. The govt chose to ignore that because it conflicted with the idea that food is a standardizable commodity--carrots is carrots.

            And what does "nutritious" actually mean? That the known, measurable nutrients are roughly equivalent? How many new "nutrients" have been discovered since vitamins were defined--omega 3s, phytochemicals, flavenoids...? Are we confident we have them all mapped out?

            These metastudies, as nofunlatte points out, are based on other studies which may or may not be reliable. Some may have been paid for by ADM or Monsanto--"gee, chemically grown food IS better. Thanks for the paycheck!"

            And the organic cow fed with organic corn will still be providing corn-based nutrients, as captainspirou points out.

            I think the "food as commodity" philosophy, and being so reductive about nutrition, is what locavores and the original organic food movement object to. Carrots is NOT carrots.

            It's not like I eat all organic or local. But I'm cynical about this type of study.

            3 Replies
            1. re: coney with everything

              Did Pollan say exactly what differences there were between the California and the Michigan carrots?

              'Nutritionally inferior' could mean many things. There could be a difference in sugar levels. It is well known that the sugar content of wine grapes varies with location and growing conditions. How about mineral content? Wasn't Michigan part of the goiter belt, an area where iodine deficiency was prevalent. If Michigan carrots were identical to California ones, but with lower iodine level, they could be described as nutritionally inferior.

              In layman's usage, 'nutritional' is a very fuzzy idea. A careful scientific study would have to identify a whole suit of measurable quantities - calories from sugars, a whole raft of vitamins, a dozen minerals, plus the latest darlings, flavinoids and antioxidants. With multidimensional criteria like this it is hard to identify clear 'winners'. You can, of course, assign weights to each and consolidate them onto one scale, but who's to say Pollan's choice of weights is better than the government's or ADM's?

              1. re: coney with everything

                That was a bit of sloppiness by Pollan. While he did cite source material for some of his claims, that one stood bare and had no attribution. I would reserve any judgment on that "conclusion".

                1. re: coney with everything

                  At some point, that "nutritionally inferior" becomes so many angels dancing on the heads of pins. We're discovering new compounds because we have new scientific means to measure increasingly smaller and possibly insignificant stuff, but humans have lived healthy lives for millennia by eating well-balanced diets without worrying themselves sick about things they couldn't measure before.
                  And then all of whatever is intrinsically in a certain food product can be destroyed by poor handling, storage, or preparation.

                  All studies have the potential of bias. Why should you assume that one by industry sources is, while cutting the organics lobby and their supporters a pass? They have some of the most potent advocates in Washington and the media of any groups, and huge bucks behind them. They're the ones trying to damage the reputations of corporations and industry, and claiming that their food is superior contrary to this study and many others.

                2. "I think what is misleading is the 'organic' label."

                  Why "misleading", please?

                  In the UK, "organic" is a specific definition with legal status. We know what we mean when we read organic. If the Food Standards Agency has examined research into, say, a nutritional comparison between a carrot grown organically and one grown non-organically and found no significant difference, that is an answer that will surprise few people. I'd have thought it odd if the use or non-use of pesticides in itself provided increased/decreased nutritional benefit. By the way, I buy organic carrots when available (as I buy any organic fruit and veg in preferance to non-organic - except when there are veyr high food miles).

                  And, just to take up your point about cattle the UK, beef cattle are routinely grass-fed if they are to achieve organic status (although they can be given organic feed in winter). This link, to my usual supplier, will probably clarify it more for you:

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Harters

                    If that's the case then the study is fundamentally flawed. I have read numerous articles that say that grassfed cattle have much higher level of omega3 fatty acids then ones fed on grain. If they weren't able to identify that then their standards of what is nutritious needs to be evaluated.

                    1. re: Captainspirou

                      Not really - as I mention, our beef cattle (whether organic or non-organic) are usually mainly pasture-fed.

                      As such, there wouldnt be anything to compare in a study - only whether the pasture was or was not organically grown.

                      1. re: Harters

                        Well I guess I'm ignorant. I've never imagined non-organic treatment of grass. Do people actually use fertilizers to raise grass?

                        1. re: Captainspirou

                          I've absolutely no idea.

                          But if there's no difference in how the pasture is grown, then there's obviously absolutely nothing that the research could compare between nutrional benefits of UK bred organic or non-organic beef cattle.

                          1. re: Captainspirou

                            Pastures often include legumes such as clover or alfalfa instead of or in addition to grasses. These will help supply nitrogen to the grass as well as often have higher protein than straight grass. Calling animals grass fed when they are really pasture fed reflects sloppy thinking or ignorance of what pastures are. Dairy farmers in particular want high quality pasture and hay that may be all alfalfa or clover or have a good deal of clover in with the grass. Alfalfa rates high in the parts of the United States where it can be grown successfully.

                            Nitrogen fertilization is sometimes used on grass to boost quantity produced as well as protein content. Since all proteins use amino acids, which contain nitrogen, as building blocks, adequate nitrogen in the soil is essential to produce high protein levels in the forage. There are wide regional variations in pastures as well the sorts of management practices needed. Potassium fertilization is sometimes used for alfalfa when soils are not naturally high in potassium.

                            1. re: Captainspirou

                              It doesn't have to be fertilizer. Any compound that isn't considered acceptable to the organic process needs to be absent from the land for 7 years in order for the real estate to meet organic standars.

                              1. re: Brandon Nelson

                                Don't different countries have differing standards set by whatever groups decides those standards?

                                There are many farms that lack official "certification" that grow according to standards or even higher strictures but can't get it through no fault of their own. They may abut roads or other farms that could be treated with chemicals for instance.
                                Some farmers simply don't want to bother or hate dealing with paperwork.

                                1. re: MakingSense

                                  Paper work isn't the only issue, cost is too.

                                  And you are correct, no 2 entities define "organic" the same.

                                  1. re: Brandon Nelson

                                    Sometimes it's the same damned produce. Some is just deemed "worthy" to be called "organic" because somebody does the paperwork, while the other guy doesn't.
                                    Guy #2 would more than make up for the time and aggravation of the red tape by the inflated prices he can charge for "organic" stuff, but he doesn't want the intrusion of some outside "authority." They don't like to be told what to do, even if they're doing it on their own.

                      2. Most farmer's market produce is not organic. It often tastes better than super market produce for other reasons, such as being picked at riper stages, freshness, and varieties that taste better but maybe don't hold up as well.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: mrfood16

                          You're right. Which is why I put a much bigger emphasis on something being local rather then organic.

                          I live in Southern California in a fairly affluent neighborhood so 'organic' is one of those buzz words that gets people to shell out a few more dollars on food. So my local farmer's market actually is mainly organic and they let you know at every opportunity. So that is why I would think that most farmer's markets are the same.