Organic food is not better for you!

Organic food no better for you?

We all know organic food is no better than chemically-grown food, right? It’s just a con to make more money, and provides no real benefits. At least that’s the conclusion you’d reach if you’ve been following reports of a recent study that’s getting much airtime at the moment. As always, the spin on the study gets more play than the details. Summarised as “Organic food has no nutritional benefits, say scientists”, this conclusion is flawed, to say the least.

There are numerous studies showing that organic foods are beneficial. These studies, unlike this one, take into account antioxidant levels, pesticide levels, herbicide levels, fertilisers, plant absorption of antibiotics, the health of the farmworkers, soil health, sustainability, in fact, just about everything that makes organic better.

Other studies have indicated that overall nutrition levels in food have dropped over the past 40 years. When food first began to be grown chemically, still on healthy soil, nutrient levels were high. Year after year the soil has been depleted, so nutrient levels are today lower on these farms. If a farm, after 40 years of draining the soil, converts to organic, nutrient levels would still be lower than that of a farm that had just changed to chemical farming, 40 years ago.

The study takes no account of this, mixing up analyses of studies from 1958 and from more recently. The study also ignores the 15 relevant studies that have come out since February 2008 (their cutoff date) that would have affected the outcome of the report.

The study itself finds that there are “significant differences” in the level of magnesium and zinc from organically grown crops against chemically grown crops (organic is higher). Zinc is one of the minerals we’re often most deficient in. Similarly, the study showed that conventional food contains more nitrogen (excess is linked to cancer), and organic more phosphorous, a useful nutrient. So even the provided summary doesn’t match the studies own conclusions.

There are many other studies that look at things more rigorously. One such study takes specific account of matched pairs, for example, examining the same crop grown on the same type of soil on nearby farms, one organic, one not. It found a significant increase in antioxidant and polyphenol levels, both important elements in good health, on the organic farms.

So, while the study has some interesting elements, ask yourself why it’s being widely trumpeted, wilfully misinterpreted, and why countless other studies coming to differing conclusions are ignored.

Interestingly, at the same time as pesticides were being ignored in that study, another study came out showing a link between household pesticide use and childhood leukaemia. But there’s a lot more industry funding for bashing organics than bashing bug spray!

Be careful of news headlines!

New Collection Point

This week we have a new collection point in Plumstead. We have over 20 collection points around the city, so take a look for the one most convenient for you. Remember also that some collection points have limits, so if you only place your order late, your collection point may already be full.

Eli Lilly and Corporate Funding

Eli Lilly, the company that bought Monsanto’s recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) business, is back in the news. Eli Lilly, along with other drug makers, is facing pressure and increased scrutiny over their financial contributions to doctors. Eli Lilly paid US$22 million in the first three months of this year to doctors.

Like other drug makers, Lilly has made attempts to be more transparent as ties between pharmaceutical companies and doctors have faced increasing scrutiny from Congress, states and medical institutions. Pfizer, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline have also said they are going to disclose payments to doctors.

Corporate funding has a huge influence in the direction we take. Unfortunately, much of this corporate funding is highly unethical, and usually aims to align policy with company profit.

Eli Lilly is also a substantial funder of the notorious Hudson Institute, an industry “thinktank” lobbying support for industry positions. They take the usual corporate positions – that organic food is no better (actually they claim it’s worse for you), that DDT is not harmful, that climate change is not affected by humans, etc. They’re not only funded by Eli Lilly of course. Their funders read like a veritable rogues gallery – biotech, chemical and oil companies, such as Monsanto, Exxon Mobil, Novartis, Du Pont.

Fortunately with greater transparency, the link between the biased findings and their corporate backers is becoming clearer to see, and we can get to the truth behind the spin. Just not if you rely on skimming the newspaper headlines!

Women’s Day

Monday is National Women’s Day, and a public holiday. The day commemorates the march on 9 August 1956, when 20 000 women walked to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the pass laws. A song was composed for occasion, Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock!), and the phrase “you strike a woman, you strike a rock” still resonates today.

Please remember to place your orders early if you’re going to be away on Monday – our cutoff time for Cape Town orders is still 2pm. Upcountry orders via courier can be placed at any time.

Have a great week,
the Ethical Co-op team

Comments ( 4 )

  1. Zola

    and the swine flew vaccine is good instead! HA! This world is getting out of control.....

  2. Dee

    Even _if_ organic food was no healthier, it would still be a worthwhile pursuit in terms of the benefits to the planet. However, this kind of biased science reporting is nothing new. Take a look at to see how scientific studies are routinely misreported in the popular press, to the benefit of big business.

  3. Zola

    Out of do you test the nutrient value of food? can it be done at home...I've heard of dowsing? How do they do it? besides waiting to see the benefits in my bodies, I want to be able to tell if a certain fruit or veggi has nutrients or not? I don't want to leave it up to them to do it as they can manipulate their findings any which way they want. any info on this?

  4. Food benefits

    If organic food has no nutritional benefits, how about the chemically grown food, so certainly it was terrible, right? but the most important thing for me is to keep eating fruits and vegetables either organic or not, as long as I feel with the consumption of vegetables and fruits to make my body healthier and fit