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Caveat Essor

July 29, 2009

OK, so you’ve maybe already heard or read today’s “shocking” food news: a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition claims that organic food is not more nutritious than conventionally-grown food.  If you haven’t yet heard, get the scoop here.

The study’s authors concluded that “there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs. The small differences in nutrient content detected are biologically plausible and mostly relate to differences in production methods.”¹ 

Side note: the authors of this study are from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.  Those British sure have a knack for names. 

The study found no difference in quantities of key nutrients (such as Vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, and calcium) between conventional and organic produce, some results even contradicting earlier studies which found organic produce more nutritious.

Now, mind you, this study was not new research, but rather a “systematic review” of studies published over the last 50 years.  Basically, these scientists read a bunch of studies and summarized the results in their paper.  They essentially wrote Cliffs Notes.

What you probably won’t hear on the evening news is the fact that these “hygienic and tropical” scientists threw out about two-thirds of the studies they read, because the studies were themselves flawed in a variety of ways: they did not identify the organic certification method, did not specify what breed/cultivar of plants they studied, did not identify their lab methods, or the studies themselves could not be found (how do you study a study you can’t find?).  The authors noted a “generally poor quality of research” in the previously published literature on this subject.

Uh, perhaps I’m a bit dim, but aren’t those are some pretty GIANT limiting factors?

I also wonder who funded the studies that were done previously.  I wouldn’t be very surprised if they were funded by Big Food companies (like Monsanto).  But, that is pure speculation on my part.

Also, don’t miss the fact that this review sought to determine nutritional superiority alone.  It did not review the use of pesticides, or the impact of conventionally-grown (and shipped) food on our environment.  I know that greater nutrition is not my motivator in purchasing organics – it’s mostly the environmental impact.  Which is why I will always favor “local” over organic if I have to make the choice.  And seeing how organic is now becoming “Big Organic” (with General Mills getting in on the act), you can pretty much guarantee that the organics you buy from them have been grown halfway around the world and shipped to you.  To me, that’s deceptive and manipulative.  The word “organic” is slowly losing its meaning.

My scientific analysis of this “news” is this: it seems to be about as reliable as the “news” that keeps telling us contradictory things about everything we eat.  Eggs are bad, eggs are good.  Wine is bad, wine is good.  Coffee good, coffee good (oh, perhaps I’m a bit biased).  Organic food will be healthier again soon, I’m sure.

Don’t believe everything you read, kids.  The headline doesn’t always tell the whole story.  That’s why you have me.

¹ Dangour, Alan D, Dodhia, Sakhi K, Hayter, Arabella, Allen, Elizabeth, Lock, Karen, Uauy, Ricardo.  Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review.  Am J Clin Nutr 2009 0: ajcn.2009.28041
3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2009 10:45 am

    Local organic is making a run too…I see more local organic farmers at our Farmers Markets these days.

    Buying local is a boost to our economy and buying organic is just good sense. Killing two birds with one stone.

  2. July 30, 2009 9:52 pm

    Glad you mentioned the pesticide issue…cause I don’t really buy organic because it is more nutritious but because of how it is grown – less crap to ingest. Chemicals = not nutritious.

    With all the real research that needs doing out there, I wish we could stop getting junk analysis that tells us nothing!

  3. wendalicious permalink
    August 3, 2009 8:08 pm

    My idol Marion Nestle posted a great critique of the study on her Food Politics blog:

    Really interesting.

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