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New 'Study' Fails to Analyze Key Health Benefits of Organic Food

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, July 30, 2009

WASHINGTON, July 30, 2009 –A report from a group of English researchers who claim to have conducted “the most extensive systematic review of the available published literature on nutrient content of organic food ever conducted,” downplayed their own results that favored organic food, and failed to consider the use of toxic pesticides or chemical additives when forming their conclusions.

The study, “Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review,” prepared by individuals at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, examined thirteen different nutrients. 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 science has consistently shown that organic food provides higher levels of Vitamin C and total antioxidants, two nutrients that the American public needs more of,” said Richard Wiles, Senior Vice President for Policy and Communications with the Environmental Working Group. “The London study is not supported by the majority of the science. We should not attach too much significance to its findings until it can be replicated,” Wiles added.

Many scientists suspect that the relentless push for higher yields that has produced apples the size of softballs and tasteless tomatoes has also saturated fruits and vegetables with water and sugar to the point that they dilute the nutrient content of conventionally grown food.

There are other critical health advantages of organic food: Organic food is not treated with any synthetic chemical pesticides, it is not irradiated, and it is not genetically modified. The study did not address any of the traits.

To maintain ever-increasing yields, conventional farmers rely on multiple applications of synthetic chemical pesticides. It is not uncommon to find conventional strawberries, peaches, apples or lettuce with seven or eight pesticides on them even after they are washed and ready to eat.

“Consumers are wise to choose organic to avoid the risks of chemical pesticides and additives. On top of that the vast majority of the science shows that organic delivers higher levels of key nutrients like Vitamin C and cancer fighting antioxidants,” Wiles added.

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."

From the TOC:

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.

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.

Go here for the full TOC report and news release:

http://www.organic-center.org/science.nutri.php?action=view&report_id=157

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