Yet another organic study falls short

A new study from Newcastle University in England appears to contradict a 2012 Stanford study, that found no differences in safety or health benefits between organic and conventionally grown crops.

According to the website of Foodtank, the new study “confirms that organic farming methods do have a positive impact on health. Results found substantially higher levels of antioxidants and lower levels of pesticides in organic crops versus conventional crops. Antioxidants have been linked to a lower risk of cancer and other diseases in humans.”

Not surprisingly, there are numerous critics of the study and a lot of red flags for anyone willing to spend some time with the study.

One point of interest is the study’s funding, which comes from Sheepdrove Trust. Not only is this organization an organic farming charity, but the people who run it also run Sheepdrove Organic Farm, which recently commented on the findings, apparently straight-faced, “At Sheepdrove we always knew our food was healthier because of the way we produce it, and now we have the science to back us up.”

However, what is missing from the analysis is any substantial information about nutrition. One might conclude that researchers, unable to find nutritional differences between organic and conventional foods, were compelled to turn their focus to antioxidants, which are not actually nutrients.

In an article in BBC.com, Prof Tom Sanders, head of the Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division at King’s College London’s School of Medicine, said the study, “is misleading because it refers to antioxidants in plants as if they were a class of essential nutrients, which they are not.

“In terms of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, fat), the organic products contained less protein. Other nutrient differences were trivial and well inside the normal range of variation that occurs with different varieties, soil types and variations in weather.”

Richard Mithen, leader of the Food and Health Programme at the Institute of Food Research, said, “There is no evidence provided that the relatively modest differences in the levels of some of these compounds would have any consequences (good or bad) on public health.

“The references to ‘antioxidants’ and ‘antioxidant activity,’ and various ‘antioxidant’ assays would suggest a poor knowledge of the current understanding within the nutrition community of how fruit and vegetables may maintain and improve health.”

Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said the study, “provides no evidence to change my views that there are no meaningful nutritional differences between conventionally-produced and organic crops.”

So our mothers’ advice to “eat our fruits and vegetables,” still stands, although today she might add, “regardless of whether or not they are organic.”

 

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