Good news! You can rest assured that the organic food you bought today is every bit as beneficial for you and the planet as it was three days ago. Advantages for health and ecological soundness are still there, despite a review released this week claiming that there is insufficient evidence to prove organic superiority on the nutritional grounds it evaluated.
The work, a review of research completed by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and funded by the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency (FSA), was rigorous in its selection of 55 studies from 50 years of nearly 50,000 studies, some of which were conducted before the creation of national organic standards. Unfortunately, it failed to include contemporary research showing organic strengths, and dismisses areas of organic superiority within its reviewed work, including antioxidant capacity (important for cancer-fighting properties).
There is no reason to be less confident in your organic choices.
The study appears to say absolutely nothing negative about organics, despite valiant attempts by the media to create sensational headlines. In the data reviewed, they found that organic food was superior to non-organic food in the measurements of beta-carotene by 53 percent and flavonoids by 38 percent, as well as in the amounts of phenolic compounds, protein, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, sulfur and zinc, all of which are required to foster complete nutrition.
The reviewers also reveal higher levels of beneficial polyunsaturated fatty acids in organic meat and dairy products (between 2.1% - 27.8% higher) compared to non-organic meat and dairy.
This review will likely be eclipsed by actual scientific research from a European Union-funded study. Completed in April 2009 and involving 31 research and university institutes, the world awaits the summary statement, to be released later this year. Results from more than 100 papers released so far show that food grown by organic methods contains more of what people want to be healthy, and less of what might harm them. Specifically, organics have:
- Higher levels of nutritionally desirable compounds (e.g., vitamins/antioxidants and poly-unsaturated fatty acids such as CLA and omega-3); and
- Lower levels of nutritionally undesirable compounds such as heavy metals, mycotoxins, pesticide residues and glyco-alkaloids in a range of crops and/or milk. In the case of milk, nutritionally desirable compounds were up to 70 percent higher in organic samples.
In March 2008, a team led from the Organic Center published their review of research since 2003, "New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods." The review, which focused on comparing regional, soil, crop, harvest and plant variety similarities, found significant organic benefits in key nutritional components: antioxidants, precursors of vitamins A, C and E, the minerals potassium and phosphorus, total protein and in nitrogen, where lower levels in food are considered to be healthier.
Organic food continues to be the best way to eat to save the world. The FSA study, in the three areas where it found organic food to be more healthful than non-organic food attributed those distinctions to "differences in production methods." I agree. At the Rodale Institute, we've been comparing organic and non-organic practices for nearly three decades, and released a report in 2008 explaining the regenerative capabilities of organic agriculture as a solution to confront global warming. Organic production methods are responsible for fewer pesticides and herbicides in our soils and water, better management of land, and food with little to no risk of doing long-term damage to our planet, its people, and its biodiversity.
You can continue to believe you are making good choices. Continue to demand organic.