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Author Topic: "Organic food is no healthier, study finds........"  (Read 5743 times)

Offline VanessaF

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"Organic food is no healthier, study finds........"
« on: July 29, 2009, 06:22:47 PM »
 Interesting (?) article on Yahoo News today about organic food.   I wonder how the research was done!!!!

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090729/hl_nm/us_food_organic

VanessaF

Offline MiraD

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Re: "Organic food is no healthier, study finds........"
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2009, 06:57:06 PM »
This article talks about nutritional benefits (which I believe is a definite benefit but they claim isn't there).  However it makes no mention whatsoever about pesticides, chemical fertilizers, gmo etc.  All of which are also part of the whole organic issue.

Offline JudithSil

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Re: "Organic food is no healthier, study finds........"
« Reply #2 on: July 30, 2009, 10:39:07 AM »
It was a survey of other studies. According to to the LA Times "Booster Shots" blog: "Surveying 50,000 studies conducted over 50 years, the authors focused on 55 that met their standards of scientific rigor." (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/booster_shots/2009/07/organic-food-no-more-nutritious-than-conventionallyraised-study-finds.html)

So perhaps it's all in the studies they picked - and the 49,945 studies they rejected for lack of "scientific rigor." Anybody have a subscription to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, where the study was published?

And of course, they don't say anything about what happens to the nutrition & your body when you take in that nice dose of pesticides along with your food. Not to mention the environmental damage from both the pesticides and the petrochemicals.

Offline JudithSil

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Re: "Organic food is no healthier, study finds........"
« Reply #3 on: July 30, 2009, 11:53:52 AM »
Check out this response from the Environmental Working Group: "New 'Study' Based on Crops No Longer Grown, Twists Its Own Results, and Fails to Analyze Other Key Health Benefits of Organic Food" (http://www.ascribe.org - Livewire, Thursday, July 30):

"The authors found a significant difference in three of thirteen that favored organic, none that favored conventionally grown produce, yet they reported that there were no differences between the two types of food. The London team also included studies from the 1950's, 60's, and 70's that analyzed crop varieties that are no longer grown, and failed to include 15 studies published since 2008 that all found important nutritional advantages for organic food. The study also failed to examine differences in total anti-oxidant content.

The EWG points to a more rigorous survey of the same literature done by The Organic Center, who have also responded to the London study
(http://www.organic-center.org/science.nutri.php?action=view&report_id=157):

"Results differ significantly from the more narrow FSA review and are reported in the study "New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods."
(http://www.organic-center.org/science.nutri.php?action=view&report_id=126).

Please send these links to your clients who ask about the British study.

From TOC: "The TOC findings are similar for some of the nutrients analyzed by the FSA team, but differ significantly for two critical classes of nutrients of great importance in promoting human health – total polyphenols, and total antioxidant content. The FSA team did not include total antioxidant capacity among the nutrients studied, and it found no differences in the phenolic content in 80 comparisons across 13 studies."

"Across all the valid matched pairs and the 11 nutrients included in the TOC study, nutrient levels in organic food averaged 25% higher than in conventional food. Given that some of the most significant differences favoring organic foods were for key antioxidant nutrients that most Americans do not get enough of on most days, the team concluded that the consumption of organic fruits and vegetables, in particular, offered significant health benefits, roughly equivalent to an additional serving of a moderately nutrient dense fruit or vegetable on an average day."

Offline MiraD

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Re: "Organic food is no healthier, study finds........"
« Reply #4 on: July 30, 2009, 01:10:21 PM »
Another colleague of mine shared that they believe this study focused mostly on industrial organic which is different than small scale organic. 

My personal belief is that data can always be twisted to give a "sound byte" and that's what's happening here.  Unless you read the study (which I have not done) and look at who did it, where the information came from, whether the information compares like to like it can be very confusing.  The media just wants a 10 word or less statement that they can turn into a headline.  The average consumer isn't going to pick apart the article, they'll only remember the headline.  That puts the impetus of rebuttal on educators like us. 


Offline VanessaF

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Re: "Organic food is no healthier, study finds........"
« Reply #5 on: July 30, 2009, 08:29:20 PM »
Yes, it's amazing the power of a strong headline and how much influence it can have.

On anther note-anyone seen the movie inGREEDients? I have just bought it- it does a great job of explaining why trans fats are so bad for us.
VF

Offline JulieJ

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Re: "Organic food is no healthier, study finds........"
« Reply #6 on: August 02, 2009, 08:38:12 PM »
I spent a few hours reading into this publication. The specific studies and baselines allow for a tremendous amount of bias based on the spectrum of material. In the middle of my review I had a call from my sister who helped me return to some bottom line analysis. A friend of hers started cooking a non organic brand of chicken as a mainstay of her diet - no other meat or fish. Her Dr. determined the reason her breasts were "swelling and making milk" was a result of the hormones present in the chicken she was consuming. The woman is 73 years old. Currently, I'm making no judgement on the truth of this finding. It's just amazing the information we have to weed through  to choose a path of health. 

Offline Marlina E

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Re: "Organic food is no healthier, study finds........"
« Reply #7 on: August 04, 2009, 09:54:40 AM »
From Ed:

Below is an astute commentary on a July, 2009 research finding from London that reports "no difference between commercial and organic produce in nutrient content". But, is that the whole story? No, it most certainly is not. What was left out of the headline was the profound advantage in protective antioxidant compounds in organics and the significantly reduced pesticide load. High antioxidants, plus low chemical residue is a major advantage to eating organic. The moral of this story is don't trust a (biased) headline or abstract.  Read the entire report before drawing any conclusion.

Ed



Organic Center Response to the FSA Study
July 2009

Author(s): Charles Benbrook, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist
The Organic Center

Donald R. Davis, PhD.
Retired Research Scientist
University of Texas at Austin

Preston K. Andrews
Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architechture
Washington State University

An advance copy of a study appeared today that will be published in the September edition of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition." The published paper, "Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review," was written by a team led by Alan Dangour, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and funded by the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency (FSA).

In their written report, the London team downplayed positive findings in favor of organic food. In several instances, their analysis showed that organic foods tend to be more nutrient dense than conventional foods. Plus, their study omitted measures of some important nutrients, including total antioxidant capacity. It also lacked quality controls contained in a competing study released in 2008 by The Organic Center (TOC). Last, the FSA-funded team also used data from very old studies assessing nutrient levels in plant varieties that are no longer on the market.

The London team reported finding statistically significant differences between organically and conventionally grown crops in three of thirteen categories of nutrients. Significant differences cited by the team included nitrogen, which was higher in conventional crops, and phosphorus and tritratable acids, both of which were higher in the organic crops. Elevated levels of nitrogen in food are regarded by most scientists as a public health hazard because of the potential for cancer-causing nitrosamine compounds to form in the human GI tract. Hence, this finding of higher nitrogen in conventional food favors organic crops, as do the other two differences.

Despite the fact that these three categories of nutrients favored organic foods, and none favored conventionally grown foods, the London-based team concluded that there are no nutritional differences between organically and conventionally grown crops.

A team of scientists convened by The Organic Center (TOC) carried out a similar, but more rigorous, review of the same literature. The TOC team analyzed published research just on plant-based foods. Results differ significantly from the more narrow FSA review and are reported in the study "New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods."

The TOC findings are similar for some of the nutrients analyzed by the FSA team, but differ significantly for two critical classes of nutrients of great importance in promoting human health – total polyphenols, and total antioxidant content. The FSA team did not include total antioxidant capacity among the nutrients studied, and it found no differences in the phenolic content in 80 comparisons across 13 studies.

Unlike the London study, The Organic Center review focused on nutrient differences in "matched pairs" of crops grown on nearby farms, on the same type of soil, with the same irrigation systems and harvest timing, and grown from the same plant variety. It also rigorously screened studies for the quality of the analytical methods used to measure nutrient levels, and eliminated from further consideration a much greater percentage of the published literature than the FSA team.

While the FSA team found 80 comparisons of phenolic compounds, the TOC team focused on the more precise measure of total phenolic acids, or total polyphenols, and found just 25 scientifically valid "matched pairs." By mixing together in their statistical analysis the results of several specific phenolic acids, the FSA team likely lost statistical precision.

Instead, the TOC team focused on studies reporting values for total phenolic acids, and also applied more rigorous selection criteria to exclude poorer quality studies.

The TOC team found –

    * Twenty-five matched pairs of organic and conventional crops for which total phenolic acid data was reported. The levels were higher in the organic crops in 18 of these 25 cases, conventional crops were higher in 6. In five of the matched pairs, phenolic acid levels were higher in organic crops by 20% or more. On average across the 25 matched pairs, total phenolics were 10% higher in the organic samples, compared to conventional crops.
    * In seven of eight matched pairs reporting total antioxidant capacity data, the levels were higher in the organically grown crop. Of 15 matched pairs for the key antioxidant quercetin, 13 reported higher values in the organic food. In the case of kaempferol, another important antioxidant, the organic samples were higher in six cases, while five were higher in the conventional crops.


In the TOC study, there were an ample number of matched pairs to compare the levels of 11 nutrients, including five of the nutrients in the FSA review. For the five nutrients covered in each review, the TOC team was in general agreement with the FSA findings for two (nitrogen and phosphorus).

The London team did not assess differences in key individual antioxidants, nor in total antioxidant activity, important nutrients that have been measured in several more recent studies.

Across all the valid matched pairs and the 11 nutrients included in the TOC study, nutrient levels in organic food averaged 25% higher than in conventional food. Given that some of the most significant differences favoring organic foods were for key antioxidant nutrients that most Americans do not get enough of on most days, the team concluded that the consumption of organic fruits and vegetables, in particular, offered significant health benefits, roughly equivalent to an additional serving of a moderately nutrient dense fruit or vegetable on an average day.

Why the Different Results?

A review of the London-based team's methodology and study design points clearly to why the FSA and Organic Center studies reached some different conclusions.

Inclusion of Older Studies

The FSA review included studies over a 50-year period: January 1958 through February 2008. The TOC team included studies published since 1980. Most studies published before 1980 were found flawed for purposes of comparing the nutrient content of today's conventional and organic crops.

Most of the older studies used plant varieties no longer in use, and did not measure or report total phenolics or antioxidant capacity (since these nutrients were just being discovered). The older studies used analytical methods that are now considered inferior, compared to modern methods.

Further, since the 1950s, plant breeders and growers have consistently increased the yields of food crops, leading, in some cases, to a dilution of nutrients. In 2004, one of us (Donald R. Davis) reported evidence for a general decline in some nutrient levels in 43 garden crops between 1950 and 1999 (Davis et al., "Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999," Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 23(6): 669-682; a summary of the Davis paper is posted).

Similarly, an Organic Center report by Brian Halweil describes in detail the evidence linking higher yields and nutrient decline ("Still No Free Lunch: Nutrient levels in the U.S. food supply eroded by pursuit of high yields,").
Thus, results in the FSA study are likely confounded by the team's decision to include data from over three decades ago.

New Studies Support Greater Nutrient Density in Organic Foods

Since February 2008, the cut-off date of the London study, some 15 new studies have been published, most of which use superior design and analytical methods based on criticisms of older studies. The Organic Center is updating its earlier analysis with these additional studies. These new studies generally reinforce the findings reported in the March 2008 TOC report, particularly in the case of nitrogen (higher in conventional crops, a disadvantage), and Vitamin C, total phenolics, and total antioxidant capacity, which are typically higher in organically grown foods.

The Center's study finds that protein content and beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A, are typically higher in conventionally grown foods, but since both are present at ample or excessive levels in the diets of most Americans, these differences do not confer a nutritional advantage nearly as important as heightened levels of phenolics and antioxidants in organic foods.

Exclusion of Studies Analyzing Results on "Integrated" Farms

The FSA team excluded studies comparing organic foods to "integrated" and biodynamic production systems, stating that "integrated" systems are not conventional. Most conventional U.S. fruit and vegetable producers are now using advanced levels of Integrated Pest Management. Thus, "integrated" systems are now a more accurate description of "conventional" agriculture in the U.S., than a definition grounded in monoculture, the calendar spraying of pesticides, and excessive applications of chemical fertilizers. The London team did not report in the published paper which "integrated" studies were dropped, but we suspect some important U.S.-based studies may have been eliminated.

TOC Study Applied Much Stricter Screens for Scientific Validity

The two teams agree that many published studies are methodologically flawed, and hence should not be included in comparative studies. But the FSA and TOC teams used very different rules to screen studies for scientific quality and to select matched pairs for analyses.

The FSA team cites five criteria: definition of the organic system; specification of the plant variety (i.e., crop genetics); statement of nutrients analyzed; description of laboratory method used; and, a statement regarding statistical methods for assessing differences. The London team states that they simply required some discussion of these issues in published papers, but did not set or apply any qualitative thresholds in judging scientific validity.

The Organic Center team focused on the same factors (plus several others) and used stated, objective criteria for assessing them. The TOC team reviewed the statistical power and reliability of the analytical methods, a process that eliminated dozens of results. Finally, the TOC team insisted upon a close match of soils, plant genetics (variety), harvest method and timing, and irrigation systems, all factors that can bias the results of a comparison study.

Inclusion of Market-Basket Studies

The FSA team included some market basket studies, for which there is no way to know the specific circumstances of the farm locations, the plant genetics, the soil type, or harvest method and timing. In the Organic Center study, market basket results were judged as "invalid" based on several quality-control screening criteria.
BA Environmental Studies UCSB
Nutrition Consultant

Offline GigiC

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Re: "Organic food is no healthier, study finds........"
« Reply #8 on: September 12, 2009, 06:02:36 PM »
Here's another interesting piece of information that wasn't mentioned in any of the headlines.  Besides the benefits to our bodies (like reduced pesticide load), growing food organically can remove CO2 from the air!  According to Jeff Moyer, farm director at the Rodale Institute, "an acre of organic cropland can take approximately 7,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year".  Organic farming builds biodiversity in the soil whereby fungi and other living organisms in the soil can actually pull carbon from the air and store it in the soil (fascinating).  Scientists have found that carbon in the soil on conventional farms in the Midwest has dropped significantly in the last 60 years (from 20% to as low as 1 -2% today).

Source:  Delicious Living September 2009

Offline jodi f.

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Re: "Organic food is no healthier, study finds........"
« Reply #9 on: September 13, 2009, 02:19:45 PM »
Luckily, the UK review won't have the last word. The French just issued a review of studies, too, that refutes the UK's findings and DOES address the issue of pesticides, if not of GMO's. Let the food fights begin:

French study says organic food is healthier
By Jess Halliday, 11-Sep-2009  http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science-Nutrition/French-study-says-organic-food-is-healthier

Related topics: Science & Nutrition, Fruit, vegetable, nut ingredients, Health and nutritional ingredients, Meat, fish and savoury ingredients

A new review from France has concluded that there are nutritional benefits to organic produce, on the basis of data compiled for the French food agency AFSSA. The conclusion opposes that of a UK study published last month.

Whether or not organic food brings nutritional benefits over conventional food has been a matter of considerable inquiry and debate. The issue came to a head last month when a study commissioned by the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) concluded that there is no evidence of nutritional superiority.

Now, however, a review published in the journal Agronomy for Sustainable Development has said drawn wildly different conclusions.

Author Denis Lairon of the University of Aix-Marseille coordinated an “up-to-date exhaustive and critical evaluation of the nutritional and sanitary quality of organic food” for AFSSA, which was originally published in 2003. The new review is based on this, as well as the findings of new studies published in the intervening years.

Lairon concluded that organic plant products contain more dry matter and minerals – such as iron and magnesium – and more antioxidant polyphenols like phenols and salicylic acid. Data on carbohydrate, protein and vitamin levels are insufficiently documented, he said.

Organic animal products were seen to have more polyunsaturated fats.

Is nutrition important?

In the wake of the FSA report publication, organic groups and the media debated the reasons for consumers’ keenness to buy organic produce. Many concluded that nutritional benefit is not necessarily at the forefront of their minds, but they are more driven by food safety and environmental aspects such as pesticide use.

Unlike the authors of the FSA study, Lairon did look at food safety. He concluded that between 94 and 100 per cent of organic food does not contain any pesticide residues, and organic vegetables have about 50 per cent less nitrates.

Organic cereals, however, were seen to have similar levels of mycotoxins overall compared with conventional cereals.

Emphasis on quality

The FSA study looked at evidence from studies published in the English language, and notably drew attention to shortfalls in the methodology of many which means their findings could not be included.

The original AFSSA report, too, placed a high onus on quality or study. Selected papers had to refer to well-defined and certified organic agricultural practices, and have information on design and follow-up, valid measured parametres and appropriate sampling and statistical analysis.

Source:

Agronomy for Sustainable Development (2009)