Your guide to natural and organic living

FSA’s conclusion about the health benefits of organic food

August 9, 2009

Last week I was coming home and saw a sign on a newspaper stand in the London Underground that said, “FSA says organic food a waste of money”.

So I came home and had a good look through the FSA’s summary of the study, articles related to it and other peoples thoughts about the findings.

Riverford Organic Farm

The study

The FSA (Food Standards Agency) commissioned an independent study into the health benefits of organic food.

Areas of research

Their research was split up into two areas.

  1. Differences in the nutrient levels – and their significance
  2. Health benefits of eating organic food

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reviewed all papers published over the past 50 years related to the nutrient content and health differences between organic and conventional food.

Their Findings

“A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance. Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority…This review does not address contaminant content (such as herbicide, pesticide and fungicide residues) of organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, or the environmental impacts of organic and conventional agricultural practices”

Their conclusion

“This study does not mean that people should not eat organic food. What it shows is that there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food and that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food.”

Problems with the study

The main problem with this study is that doesn’t look beyond the nutritional benefits of organic food.

  • It looks at health benefits in relation to the nutrients in food rather than the absence of chemicals.
  • It fails to consider environmental benefits of organic farming – water, soil, wildlife.
  • It takes into account the health of the end consumer rather than agricultural workers involved in the process – not having to work with pesticides is healthier and provides a less hazardous environment to work in.

Whilst digging around for information about this study I found an article on the Guardian Word of Mouth blog by Tim Hayward. One of his points was that the word organic doesn’t have any meaning anymore,

“Organic means what a certifying body says it means and, for a decade or so now, some of us have suspected that certifying bodies have been influenced by lobbying from supermarkets and the food industry, for example over air-freighting and salmon farming. If you’re of this opinion, ‘organic’ as a label on a supermarket product is now about as meaningful as the words ‘fresh’, ‘farm’ or ‘traditional’ and foodies have become blind to it”.

Not everyone can afford to be certified organic, but the recent boom in the popularity of natural and organic products has made third party certifiers like the Soil Association even more important. If companies know consumers are looking for natural and organic, they will reflect this in the way they market their products. For example, a product could contain 1% of an organic ingredient – but they can still label the product as organic. If you see a Soil Association mark on a product (whether it be food or body care) you know you are buying a product with a genuinely high content of organic ingredients. If the word ‘organic’ does have less meaning to some people now, it’s probably more to do with the fact it is commonly being used as a buzzword by companies.

Although there are probably doubts in some consumers’ minds about the value of buying organic, I feel (despite the FSA’s study) there are still plenty of reasons to do so. In my opinion they have overlooked something very important – the health benefits of chemical free food. If you ask people why they buy organic, I think most would say it’s because of chemicals and the impact on the environment.

No-one can argue that the use of pesticides has helped us to sustain enough crops to feed a growing population – but option to grow our food without the use of chemicals is one that’s beneficial for both people and planet.



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