Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Organic versus factory food

Two recent reports are suggesting that organic food is not healthier than non-organic. The reports can be found here and here, with a summary from the UK Food Standards Agency here.

The reports have attracted some controversy. Bad Science makes the case that the attacks by the Soil Association (who knew there was such an association?) on the research is unfounded and misleading, such as misdirecting the question to the environmental aspect of food (Which is a problem. See a New Scientist article on this here.).

The reports are meta-studies that look at the literature over the last 50 years on organic farming and sorts work by quality. It is not a full on critique of organic for two reasons: first, it only looks at health, not environment, etc. Second, the report makes clear there are a lot of shortcomings in current research and suggests
[H]igh quality randomised controlled trials should be conducted which have samples of sufficient size to reliably detect the presence of effects, longer and more realistic dietary exposures, and more accurate and objective approaches to measuring dietary intake and health outcomes.
The most important part of these studies then is to draw attention to the lack of good knowledge on the effects of organic.

Personally, I am not surprised by this finding. Our bodies are remarkably good at making good use of a lot of what we put into it, and unless you believe organic food has a secret ingredient that is missing in non-organic, the difference should be trivial. The truth of the matter though should be left to evidence, and so far that has not looked promising for organic.