Field of Science

No nutritional benefit to organic food?

A meta-analysis (a study of relevant studies) of the nutritional and health benefits of organic foods concluded that there were no differences between organic and conventionally produced foods. This makes perfectly good sense biologically, and as a trained skeptic, the Phactor has always doubted the nutritional claims made by organic foods advocates. Of course this is like putting a stick into a hornet’s nest and stirring because these advocates defend their beliefs with religious fervor. And having once launched a marble through a hornet’s nest with a slingshot (a youthful dalliance), and been chased a considerable distance by the rightfully infuriated horde, the imagery for me remains quite vivid.

First, let me go on record as saying conventional production of many foods is often done poorly, and over-use of fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones is just plain dumb and wasteful. Second, the overall quality is mediocre as with any mass produced commodity. Third, no one should have to worry about stuff in their food that shouldn’t be there. Let’s farm smart. To their surprise, students of mine who expressed such worries were unable to find any traces of pesticides in samples of produce in local markets. But we live in an era when unsubstantiated claims are used as scare tactics to influence everything from marketing to politics. This works because the cynics who use such tactics understand that a lot of people just do not think for themselves anymore.

Now before the stones start flying, allow the Phactor to say he is a great fan and patron of local organic farmers, but it’s not because of the health and nutritional claims, it’s because their produce is produced with care, picked and sold fresh. In other words they deliver quality goods and deserve a premium price. Back when more conventional production was done locally, on smaller scales, and marketed by the actual producer, the qualitative differences between organic and conventionally produced foods would be negligible.

Understand this, spinach does not know or care where its nitrogen comes from, and it makes the same spinach molecules regardless. A soluble nitrate ion is the same to a plant whether from compost, manure, or 10-10-10. And since plant growth and reproduction is limited by available nutrients, making sure plants have sufficient inorganic nutrients is important to production. Without enhanced nutrients, organically produced plant foods may be slightly lower in inorganic nutrients like phosphorus and potassium, but the differences are not enough to alter their nutritional value. The overuse of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics simply cannot be defended.

Bottom line, at present organic produce, when locally produced is quality food, but the health/nutritional claims simply are not supported by any evidence. Big stores now have “organic” food sections, particularly in produce, to compete with local producers, and this strikes the Phactor as an organic food scam.


organic foods said...

What about meat from animals shot with growth hormones or concentrated antibiotics. I still think that organic foods are 100% safe in the long run.

Dr A said...

Ah, you want to talk safety, not nutrition. Well there is the interesting aspect of plant foods that other than cereal grains, and those people allergic to glutin, many of them are toxic. Granted not as toxic as their wild relatives, but nonetheless toxic. Fortunately humans have great metabolic machinery for dealing with low levels of toxicity, which is why we can enjoy the toxin ethanol in the form of beer and wine.
The over use of antibiotics and hormones is a deplorable situation, but not as much of a health risk as many people imagine. Equally deplorable is the "organic" scam that has convinced well meaning people that their health and well-being are threatened unless they purchase "organic" foods. And if I may say so, many devotees of organic foods react to the suggestion that they are being had with a fervor equal to that of religious fundamentalists.

chinaorganicfood said...

Most of China’s organic vegetables are shipped to closer countries, such as Japan and Hong Kong, because of the short shelf life of fresh, organically-grown vegetables.

Dr A said...

Picked fresh and consumed locally is was how all produce used to be. But if you want a mango here in Lincolnland, one of you is going to have to travel.

Canada Guy said...

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Dr A said...

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