food health science

Sowing confusion on organic farming

Coming home from London last night, I was surprised to see a front page headline on one of the free papers declaring that organic food is no healthier than non-organic food. In typically lazy fashion, the paper hadn’t bothered with a balanced piece, so I looked it up this morning to see what all the fuss was about.

The story is based on a report from the Food Standards Authority that reviewed fifty years’ worth of studies into organic food and concluded that nutrional value is approximately equivalent to non-organic food. You can read the report here.

Plenty of studies have shown the opposite, but that’s possibly true – but that doesn’t mean organic food has no health benefits. The report analyses the nutritional content of organic food, and nothing else. In limiting its scope in this way, it misses the biggest health claims of the organic movement. Organic food isn’t about the increased presence of nutrients, but the absence of poisons.

The FSA’s report completely misses the point. Factor in pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and fertilizers, and the case for organic food is pretty conclusive. It also lowers our dependence on fossil fuels, and preserves biodiversity.

Unfortunately, the story has already gone round – one in the eye for an organic movement that is already struggling in the recession, and further tacit support for agribusiness.


  1. I thought exactly the same thing when I read the story yesterday – I was surprised at how many articles didn’t refer at all to the “absence of poisons” aspect of organic food.
    A lot of articles interpreted the study as saying “organic is no better for your health”, a phenomenal example of not scratching the surface or asking the simplest of questions!
    Surely people choose organic food primarily because it’s NOT full of pesticides, antibiotics or other chemicals…which presumably cause all kinds of cancers?

    In Africa where a lot of our food and cotton is grown, heavy chemical use in farming runs off into the rivers and pollutes them too – but of course all we care about is whether something is “nutritional” for us over here!

    Sometimes I despair at the level of journalism in our media! Why do people not probe a little deeper?!

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