Now we are confronted with this summer’s release of a review of science studies, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, telling us that the $48 billion spent annually on organic foods is a waste of money, a huge scam against all consumers. “Organic food is not nutritionally superior to conventional food,” concluded lead survey author Alan D. Dangour, a London public health nutritionist.
Funded by the United Kingdom Food Standards Agency, these findings generated a blast of global media attention, especially in the U.S., where corporate agricultural concerns are seizing on the findings as evidence that we need to apply even more synthetic chemicals to lower our overall food costs.
For a moment, let’s cast a skeptical eye on this latest claim of organic fraud. What is the real story behind it and what explains the pathological willingness of many media outlets in this country to embrace anything negative as gospel?
Depending on the standards and parameters of evidence drawn for a science study, researchers can find just about any result they consciously or unconsciously desire. This doesn’t necessarily mean the British researchers set out to undermine the organic food industry, but they decided to survey just 55 science studies done between 1958 and 2008 that compared organic and non-organic foods. This means they discarded many hundreds of other more positive studies that didn’t meet their sniff test. Not only that, but the studies they chose to include involved livestock products as well as fruits and vegetables.
There is an additional problem with the list of nutrients in food that these researchers decided to focus on. Instead of concentrating on the new science of phytochemicals, they mostly evaluated old-school categories of nutrients such as magnesium, calcium and potassium. While important, the minerals they selected are no longer viewed as the engines of health maintenance and disease prevention that phytochemicals have proven to be.
Plants produce seven major families of phytochemicals as a response to the growing cycle stress of warding off insects and disease. Thousands of medical science studies over the past two decades have demonstrated that many phytochemicals in edible plants, like those in tomato, broccoli and garlic, can prevent or even reverse every human ailment known, from Alzheimer’s and cancer to cardiovascular disease.
The more phytochemicals that plants produce, the better it is for human health. But when pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers are added to food crops during the growing cycle, plants react by producing many fewer phytochemicals, thus diminishing their health value to humans. The greatest advantage of organic fruits and vegetables is that they generate higher levels of health-protective phytochemicals than do chemically grown crops.
Phytochemical levels in organic soils also accumulate and intensify over time, in contrast to conventionally grown crops, which is another factor the British survey failed to take into account. The most important study making this point appeared in The Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry in June 2007, examining the family of phytochemicals called flavonoids in tomatoes, measuring the content of quercetin and kaempferol, two of the most powerful human health supportive natural chemicals ever identified.
This study, titled Ten-Year Comparison of the Influence of Organic and Conventional Crop Management Practices on the Content of Flavonoids in Tomatoes, concluded that: “Comparisons of analyses of archived samples from conventional and organic production systems demonstrated statistically higher levels of quercetin and kaempferol in organic tomatoes. Ten-year mean levels of quercetin and kaempferol in organic tomatoes were 79 and 97 percent higher than those in conventional tomatoes. The levels of flavonoids increased over time in samples from organic treatments, whereas the levels of flavonoids did not vary significantly in conventional treatments.”
Another pioneering study, one that has never been refuted, concentrated on measuring just the mineral content of the organic vs. non-organic plant foods found on Chicago-area grocery store shelves during the early 1990s. Appearing in a 1993 edition of The Journal of Applied Nutrition, it reached the following conclusion:
Over a two-year period the mineral content of organically and conventionally grown apples, corn, pears, potatoes, and wheat was analyzed. The average elemental concentration in organic foods on a fresh weight basis was found to be about twice that of commercial foods. Organic foods were higher than conventionally grown in these eight mineral categories: calcium 63% higher; chromium 78% higher; iodine 73% higher; iron 59% higher; magnesium 138% higher; potassium 125% higher; selenium 390% higher; and zinc, 60% higher.
These findings aren’t the only study results directly contradicting the recent organics are a nutrient fraud survey.
Just since the research for the British survey was completed in February 2008, new science findings have been released supporting the nutrient superiority of organic foods.
Here are just two, both from The Journal of the Science of Food & Agriculture:Rats were fed diets of vegetables using organic or pesticide growing methods; the rats eating veggies grown from pesticides and chemical fertilizers showed significantly worse health effects than those eating organic.Organic farming of mandarin oranges “resulted in juices with higher contents of minerals and carotenoids (a phytochemical family) and of better sensory quality” than non-organic oranges.
Why do much of the news media unquestioningly trumpet without skepticism just about every negative study, whether it’s about organic food, nutritional supplements, or alternative health modalities, and in the process serve to reinforce the dominance of synthetic chemicals in the marketplace?
It would be easy to ascribe dark motives tied to advertising dollars from corporations dependent on synthetic chemical use. But as a general rule, this cavalier treatment by reporters is merely a symptom of laziness. It’s a condition sometimes married to a cynical view towards any health trend that doesn’t fit their better living through chemistry model of consensus reality.
Vol 29 Issue 4 Page 36