Shock for the Granola-Man

2. November 2009

Biocritics were sure – they always knew it! The results of a meta-study show that organic food does not offer any added value for our health. A tough diet – last but not least for the manufacturers of the alleged healthier food spoiled by their success.

A guidebook for better orientation for daily shopping – that was the original assignment made by the British Food Standards Agency (FSA). But the planned consumer information turned into tangible evidence that organic food is not any healthier than conventionally produced food.

The scientists assigned by the FSA at the London School of Hygiene und Tropical Medicine had sussed out 162 studies concerning the ingredients of organic and regular food, published at Pub Med, Web of Science and CAB Abstracts from January 1, 1958 to February 28, 2008. This study, recently published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is the largest of its kind and divided in two segments: The comparison of content of ingredients and the acquisition of potential health advantages of organic food.

No health benefit

During the interpretation of the meta-study, the group of researchers came to the conclusion that there is not a single evidence for an additional health benefit in organic food. The head of the study Dr. Alan Dangour currently »does not see any lead for a recommendation of organic food due to an added value of nutrition«. Because organic and conventionally manufactured products almost don’t differ from each other: »Ecological and conventional food contain the same ingredients to a far extent« thus the conclusion of the British scientists. This applies for herbal as well as for animal food. Regarding the nutritionally relevant ingredients such as content of vitamin C, calcium, iron and eleven others, there is no difference between organic and not organic. Only the nitrogen- and phosphor values showed variations: The concentration of nitrogen was higher in conventionally produced food than in organic – something that does not really come as a surprise since the relinquishment of mineral nitrogen fertilizer is one of the main characteristics of organic farming. In addition, Dr. Dangour’s team found slightly higher phosphor values in organic products. This variation was so low though that – according to the head of study – »it only changes the taste but does not have any influence on our health«.

Hardly any arguments »pro-organic«

According to the FSA, the study was not supposed to be a pleading pro or con organic. The idea was to provide consumers with accurate information for their decision for shopping, explains the consumer commissary of the British FSA, Gill Fine.
Nonetheless the actual results from London should be hard to digest for all those gaining about 15 percent increase of turnover annually in the organic business – firmly believing to serve their health. 81.9 percent of the consumers after all consider the bio-label equivalent to healthier nutrition – the result of a survey made by the business consultants Ernst & Young last year. Also the producers will get an up-set stomach by the fact that the tenaciously advocated »deficit thesis« – conventional food provide less vitamins, minerals and trace elements – has now been confuted.

Particularly since this is not really a novelty. Because with their mega-study, the British scientists simply proved again what has been stated again and again for years. For example the federal research centers noted already in 2003 in their status report »Bewertung von Lebensmitteln verschiedener Produktionsverfahren« (evaluation of food in different production procedures) that »there is no scientific evidence for proving that the exclusive or predominant consumption of organically produced food benefits human health«. Researches of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung (DGE, German association for food) and the Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft (DLG, German farming association), just like the Stiftung Warentest in September 2007 (German consumer safety group): In their comparison of organic with conventional food, the consumerists found »in its sum hardly any differences in quality«.

Of course we did not have to wait long for catcalls from the eco-camp. Although proponents as well as manufacturers of organic food do not query the results of the mega-study, they criticize the currently available data situation: Up to now there is a lack of large scale and long term studies to make a solid statement regarding the quality of organic food. The British scientists are aware of that as well. Thus Dr. Dangour does not reject this criticism. He also demands further and more-in-depth studies for better evidence. Although the majority of experts today assumes that those studies will substantiate the results of the FSA-study.

Dangour A. et al. Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 2009, Vol. 90, No. 3, 680–685
Tauscher, B. et al. Bewertung von Lebensmitteln verschiedener Produktionsverfahren – Statusbericht 2003, submitted by the senate of the federal research centers

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