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Monday’s medical myth: organic food is more nutritious

Across the world, outbreaks of food-borne illness, contamination and environmental scares have generated a lot of media attention and plenty of fear around food safety. Think of the recent E. coli outbreaks…

Neither organic nor conventional food is nutritionally any better or worse for you. Smaku

Across the world, outbreaks of food-borne illness, contamination and environmental scares have generated a lot of media attention and plenty of fear around food safety. Think of the recent E. coli outbreaks, the Fukushima radiation leaks, health concerns about pollutants and the use of pesticides.

The resulting distrust of the food supply has driven consumers to seek what they believe is the safest, cleanest, most sustainable and nutritious food choices: organics. And this is the type of food you would want to feed those you love, your family, your baby and yourself.

The truth is that neither organic nor conventional food is better or worse than the other. But as the demand for organic food increases, so does the myth that it must have higher nutrient values.

Whether you eat organic or non-organic produce is up to you. But factors to consider are cost, nutrition, taste and environment impact.

Cost

Organic food does cost more than other food – sometimes a lot more. This is due to the extra costs to produce organic food, the need for more labour and, often, smaller crop sizes.

Around 86% of Australians don’t eat the recommended five serves of vegetables daily and 46% don’t eat the recommended two serves of fruit a day.

Cost can be a major barrier to increasing your fruit and vegetable intake. But it’s better to eat twice as much non-organic pumpkin, carrots, zucchinis and beans than half the amount of organic ones.

Eating too few servings of fruit and vegetables is estimated to account for 1.4% of the total burden of disease in Australia, while greater consumption predicts better health and protects against chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease.

In Australia, 11% of all cancers are thought to be related to inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption.

A growing distrust of food has driven the growth of the organics market. Aiden Brooks

Nutrition

In 2009, the prestigious American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a systematic review by Dangour et al of the best available evidence evaluating research on the nutritional quality of organic foods.

The researchers searched more than 50,000 articles to locate 162 studies comparing organic and conventional crops and livestock. They found that overall, conventional crops were higher in nitrogen (due to nitrogen fertilisers) and organic crops were higher in phosphorous (due to phosphorous fertilisers) and what they called “titratable acidity” which is due to ripeness at harvesting.

But there were no differences in other vitamins or minerals analysed, including vitamin C, phenolic compounds, magnesium, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper.

One major shortcoming of the studies, however, was that half failed to indicate what body had certified the crop as organic. The conclusion was that organic and conventional crops were comparable.

Taste

A study published in 2007 by Zhao et al in the Journal of Food Science took the same varieties of lettuce, spinach, rocket, mustard greens, tomatoes, cucumber and onions. They grew two crops alongside each other in separate plots: one was grown organically and the other using conventional agricultural techniques.

They then asked consumers to evaluate the taste and how much they liked the two types. No differences could be detected, except for a preference or the conventional tomatoes that were slightly riper.

Environmental impact

The environment is the main winner when it comes to organic farming. This is because synthetic pesticides and herbicides are not used, and crops are commonly rotated, so biodiversity is promoted.

The confusion around organics comes from mixing the issues of nutrition, taste, safety, and environment into the same argument.

When it comes to organics, the environment is the real winner. Chailey

Eating enough fruit and vegetables

The best way to improve the nutrients you get from vegetables and fruit is to eat more of them. Go for those that are in season and visit a growers market to discover those that are grown close to home.

You should aim to eat five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit each day. One serve of vegetables equals 75 grams or half a cup cooked vegetables, or one medium potato, or one cup of salad vegetables, or half a cup cooked legumes (dried beans, peas or lentils). One serve of fruit equals 150 grams of fresh fruit, or one medium-sized piece, or two smaller pieces (stone fruits, for instsance), or one cup of canned or chopped fruit.

Try these suggestions to increase your fruit and vegetable intake.

At breakfast:
- Add stewed fruit or a chopped banana to cereal
- Grate an apple into rolled oats before cooking
- Top toast with cooked mushrooms, tomatoes, capsicum or sweet corn
- Heat chopped leftover vegetables and serve as a topping for toast; add an egg or reduced-fat cheese to make a meal.

For snacks:
- Cut up a fruit platter
- Pack fresh fruit into your lunchbox
- Top English muffins or crumpets with tomato paste, diced vegetables and sprinkle with reduced-fat cheese for a quick mini pizza
- Serve carrot and celery sticks, florets of broccoli and cauliflower, and strips of capsicum with a low fat dip
- Grate or dice onion, carrot, zucchini, potato and corn into a savoury muffin or into pikelet mixture.

At main meals:
- Make meat go further by adding extra vegetables to a stir-fry or a casserole
- Add extra vegies, dried peas, beans or lentils to recipes for meatloaves, patties, stuffing, soup, stews and casseroles, pies, nachos, pasta and rice dishes, pizza and pancakes
- Serve main meals with cooked vegetables and a salad of baby spinach leaves, cherry tomatoes and olives
- Use capsicum, zucchini, pumpkin, eggplant, cabbage and lettuce leaves as edible containers and fill with savoury toppings
- For easy wedges, cut potato, sweet potato, pumpkin and parsnip into wedges; microwave until cooked; mix with a teaspoon of vegetable oil, dried mixed herbs and cajun seasoning and bake in a hot oven until crispy.

Join the conversation

54 Comments sorted by

  1. Ian Donald Lowe

    Seeker of Truth

    It may be a myth that organic foods are more nutritious than others but organic growing is more about soil health than the finished product. I totally disagree that organic production is more expensive and less productive than the conventional chemical methods.

    Organic growing can be much more productive over the long term because soil health is improved and that helps plants take up more of the nutrients they require. This may take a number of years to achieve on normal, degraded soils and it…

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    1. Russell Hamilton

      Librarian

      In reply to Ian Donald Lowe

      Ian - that is an inspiring story on your blog. I too grow as much as I can organically in my yard so I know that it's much harder than just using inorganic fertilisers, but the pea-straw covered, humus rich soil is teaming with worms much beloved by the neighbourhood birds! and to stand there on a summer morning, watering and picking and eating is a fantastic pleasure and great connection to food.

      Maybe to a scientist this is magical thinking, but it's a different experience to stand in an organic farm compared to a conventional one - the organic one is so much richer, so much more alive. Scientists on this website are very dogmatic about anything that hasn't been verified by their scientific method. They never say "as far as we know now ...." as if everything is known. Everything has never been known and never will be. Maybe in 50 years time some element will have been discovered that is different in organic food. It isn't always wrong to go with your instincts.

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    2. Tim Scanlon

      Author and Scientist

      In reply to Russell Hamilton

      There is nothing magic about the agriculture referred to in Ian's blog. In fact it is how a lot of horticulture is performed. Conventional agriculture is roughly 50 years ahead of "organic" in terms of production techniques and methodology.

      Also science is the opposite of dogma, so I don't know what aspersions you are trying to cast against people with hard knowledge.

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    3. Ian Donald Lowe

      Seeker of Truth

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Sorry Tim, but the organiponicos are organic best practice in action, so I don't know how you can say that what they are doing is conventional horticulture and still claim that organics are 50 years behind the times? (did you read the blog piece at all?)

      Perhaps it's just a matter of perspective. I see organic practices and thinking changing agriculture in all sorts of ways already but you see conventional farming as something that just invents these practices in a vacuum, completely without influence from any outside source. My greatest desire is that one day, organic methods will be conventional methods because I truly bellieve that we (all living things) will be better off when that happens.

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    4. Tim Scanlon

      Author and Scientist

      In reply to Ian Donald Lowe

      They may be best practice, but they are nothing new in the context of agricultural research and practice. Most of what was in evidence there is common place horticulture. Hence why conventional is now so far ahead, as they have intensified production further using chemicals.

      In terms of yield advantages of conventional agriculture, the 30-50% stands (this is for Australia, world wide it is usually 20% because of the younger soils).
      http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=1599476&fulltextType=XX&fileId=S1742170507002189
      http://www.sciencemag.org/content/296/5573/1694

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    5. Russell Hamilton

      Librarian

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Tim - I was asking you to remember that we don't know everything, so we shouldn't act as if we do. If anything, that attitude turns some people off science.

      Conventional horticulture has made wonderful discoveries, but is it sustainable? Recently there was an article here about phosphorus - does conventional agriculture require largely imported phosphorus? I think most organic producers try to run mixed systems with limited inputs from outside (yes, easier to do with small scale production) so that is more sustainable.

      The other thing is that when I buy organic fruit and vegetables from shops the produce is often different varieties from the mass produced stuff - organic producers seem to favour the heirloom varieties, ones grown for flavour rather than size, appearance and long storage life. I suspect one of the reasons people don't eat a lot of supermarket fruit is that it isn't so good to eat.

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    6. Tim Scanlon

      Author and Scientist

      In reply to Russell Hamilton

      Russell, if you read my first post in this article you will see I've mentioned some of the unknowns. What you have to acknowledge is that agricultural science has already looked at many of the things you are referring and alluding to. Remember, the agronomy field has been around for 10,000 years. Much of what is referred to as organic farming is actually what conventional farming has evolved from in the last 50 years.

      See these for more:
      https://www.agronomy.org/publications/aj/abstracts/100/Supplement_3/S-40
      http://jxb.oxfordjournals.org/content/58/2/131.long
      http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=20028910

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    7. Russell Hamilton

      Librarian

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Tim - the posts move around! but I did read your comments. I wasn't convinced though eg "The fact is that a more productive system has higher inputs and greater organic matter return to the system (as the majority of organic matter in agriculture comes from crop/pasture biomass returns). So it can be argued that conventional systems, which are noted for their much higher yields and through-puts, will be healthier" - you aren't addressing whether your 'more productive system' with its higher inputs…

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    8. Ian Donald Lowe

      Seeker of Truth

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      I'm sorry Tim but I cannot see any evidence for the argument you are making in the links that you posted. You say that organic growers are following conventional farming trends, I say conventional farming is adjusting and begining to follow organic principles.

      Chemicals in agriculture are a very recent phenomenom, compared to the length of human farming activity and although the wonders of science brought us increased yields, over previous practices (which were somewhat organic in nature but much less productive than modern organic best practices), the long term sustainability of chemical usage in food production has rapidly become a real issue, as have the health effects of chemical residues in our food and ecosystems.

      When has conventional farming ever suggested, yet alone promoted the concept of urban food production through a series of co-operatives and government facilitation?

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    9. Tim Scanlon

      Author and Scientist

      In reply to Russell Hamilton

      Russell, please read the whole article and not cherry pick quotes. You've missed the point of those articles completely.

      Also, sustainability is largely a myth. No system is sustainable unless it is a closed system. As long as food is produced you are exporting fertilisers (etc) from the soils. Agriculture, as I recently discussed with a geologist, is just really long tail mining. So unless we are burying people, animals, manure, food scraps, etc, in a ratio equal to production then the system is never sustainable.

      Even if you were to introduce a semi-closed system, like the one I've just outlined, we don't source everything from one place, so we can end up concentrating heavy metals, etc, and end up with further problems with the soil.

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    10. Russell Hamilton

      Librarian

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Tim - I did read that article, and I thought the author was a fool. But I wasn't cherry-picking quotes. Here's another one: "As a major manipulator and perturbative agent of terrestrial ecosystems, agriculture is a logical enterprise to develop operative metrics that indicate the ecological integrity and health of the ecosystems on which it operates. The science community is calling for such ecological indicators to assess and manage the nation’s ecosystems"

      In other words, they've barely started…

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  2. Tom Hennessy

    Retired

    "A team of U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists stationed at the
    Western Regional Research Center in Albany, California studied the
    lycopene content of 13 commercially available brands of ketchup in
    six major national brands, three organic brands, two store brands,
    and two brands sold in fast food restaurants and/or vending
    machines "
    "USDA: 55% more lycopene in organic ketchup "

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  3. Norah G Fon

    logged in via Facebook

    NORAHG Responds to LUDICROUS ALLEGATIONS Concerning ORGANIC FOOD.

    Organic Food has been a DISMALLY BOGUS FAILURE.

    ALLEGATIONS by activists that organic pesticide-free food will someday replace conventional food are LUDICROUS.

    Even MORE LUDICROUS is the expectation that pest control products will someday and somehow no longer be necessary for agriculture.

    ANY RESTRICTION on the use of pest control products would result in a SUBSTANTIAL REDUCTION IN HARVESTS and a related SUBSTANTIAL INCREASE…

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    1. Ian Donald Lowe

      Seeker of Truth

      In reply to Norah G Fon

      You make a lots of big claims in big font but provide absolutely no evidence to substantiate them.

      Pest control in agriculture and horticulture is moving away from the spray-for-everything-just-in-case model to intergrated pest management systems that may involve the use of some sprays but only when pest numbers are seen to be exceeding defined levels. Intergrated pest management uses predatory species and crop rotations, along with monitoring and planting of host plants for beneficial species…

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    2. John Holmes Holmes

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ian Donald Lowe

      Re issue of 'organic' versus 'Non organic'. I am not sure that your statements re soil biota etc stand up. In some studies I have seen, a single cultivation destroys about 60% of the available organic matter. Sure WA sandy soils, low om, extremely low inherent fertility.

      Having watch and participated in long term tillage trials I have watch soils regarded a very difficult 'Sunday Soils' improve in tilth and infiltration to become far more productive than from the pasture/cropping rotation…

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    3. Tim Scanlon

      Author and Scientist

      In reply to John Holmes Holmes

      John, you're pretty much spot on.

      On the tillage thing, yes it does destroy the OM. This is because it allows oxidation to occur more freely, thus causing rapid pool turnover. This can be a major cause of soil acidity.

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  4. roger_f

    logged in via Twitter

    This piece is lacking in objectivity. The reported "fact" that 86% don't eat enough fruit and veg has nothing to do with methods of production. The "fact" that 11% of cancers are due to lack of fruit and veg is also irrelevant to the manner in which fruit and veg is grown.

    Another "fact" missing is loss of nutrient due to extended periods of storage.

    Does this writer exhibit bias? Having failed to prove her point I would say yes.

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    1. Marcus

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to roger_f

      Also the link between 86% don't eat enough fruit and veg and the cost of them is crap. Fruit and veg are very cheap here. There is no one that can't afford them. Meat is a completely different story. What people lack is the knowledge/will to create healthy meals from just fruit and veg.

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  5. Tony Linde
    Tony Linde is a Friend of The Conversation.

    retired

    I'm not sure anyone really believed that fruit & veg grown organically was constitutionally different to those grown industrially. I prefer to eat organic to promote the health of the environment.

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    1. Debbie Hoad

      student at University of Canberra

      In reply to Tony Linde

      I prefer to eat it to promote my own health, not because I believe there are more nutrients in the organic fruit & veg (if the two are equally fresh), but because of what is missing from it - pesticides, chemical fertilizer, etc. I also prefer to eat my apples without wax.

      Not only that, but I eat organic in order to support aspects of that industry I find beneficial to both me and society. If I buy organic from my local farmer's market, the food is locally grown (they limit the distance from…

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  6. Tim Scanlon

    Author and Scientist

    Nicely put Clare. The environmental impacts of conventional vs. organic is neither here nor there. The fact is that a more productive system has higher inputs and greater organic matter return to the system (as the majority of organic matter in agriculture comes from crop/pasture biomass returns). So it can be argued that conventional systems, which are noted for their much higher yields and through-puts, will be healthier.

    As an agricultural scientist I have to disagree with Ian Donald Lowe's statements about soil health. Every study that has been done has shown that there are no real differences in organic farming soils, just different management techniques and emphases. The reason people talk about soil health, is because it is a poorly understood area, thus easy to pervert with inaccuracies. Biota measurements (something I have worked with SARDI researchers on) are only relatively recent and ever changing.

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    1. Ian Donald Lowe

      Seeker of Truth

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      As a person with extensive practical rexperience in working in agriculture and hands-on experience of both petrochemical and organic production, I stand by my statement that organic methods improve soil health. I don't need a degree to see the dust clouds in my region from conventional farming methods. I also don't need a degree to see with my own eyes the lack of life (biomass) in soils that have been farmed using chemical fertilizers in comparision to soils that have been farmed using organic practices…

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    2. Tim Scanlon

      Author and Scientist

      In reply to Ian Donald Lowe

      Ian, I'm afraid you are confounding several factors rather than viewing the situation objectively.

      Wind erosion of soils is not because of chemical fertilisers or soil health, it is because of a lack of ground cover, usually during summer. The lack of ground cover is often due to overgrazing or lack of stubble retention. Minimum and no-till is actually moving toward full stubble retention and seeding placement to retain as much ground cover as possible.

      Biomass is not biota. Biomass is the…

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    3. Ian Donald Lowe

      Seeker of Truth

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Tim, the dust clouds I talk of are a direct result of ploughing activities on conventional dry land farms but they are exacerbated by the lack of structure in those soils. I agree with you that the lack of ground cover is a major contributing factor to wind erosion and retention of stubble and pasture management can help minimise the damage. No-till methods can greatly improve the situation as well but that is neither here nor there because organic systems use the same good farming practices but…

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    4. Tim Scanlon

      Author and Scientist

      In reply to Ian Donald Lowe

      Once again, lack of ground cover and, as you point out, ploughing is the cause, not the style of agriculture.

      Ploughing actually ruins soil structure regardless. Unless you have a very rich soil (i.e. not one found in Australia) then ploughing will always destroy structure.

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  7. Tom Hennessy

    Retired

    When a plant is 'abused' it produced 'substances' IN the plant in order to keep itself healthy. These substances produced by the plants are known to us as ? antioxidants and antibiotics.
    IF a plant is NOT abused / subjected to wind , rain , heat spells , bugs , etc , it will not HAVE to produce anywhere near the ? antioxidants and antibiotics.
    Now , as reasonable people , WHICH plant WILL contain more antioxidants and more antibiotics ?
    More lycopene as evidenced by the , "USDA: 55% more lycopene in organic ketchup "

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    1. Tom Hennessy

      Retired

      In reply to Tom Hennessy

      This is an example of typical 'abuse'.

      "Metabolism of terpenes in the response of grape (Vitis vinifera L.) leaf tissues to UV-B radiation"

      Lupeol is a terpene and IT has shown an increase of 40X for cisplatin cancer therapy.
      "Lupeol, a fruit and vegetable based triterpene, induces apoptotic
      death of human pancreatic adenocarcinoma cells via inhibition of Ras
      signaling pathway"

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    2. Tom Hennessy

      Retired

      In reply to Tom Hennessy

      "Tomato plants ( Lycopersicon esculentum ) synthesize the glycoalkaloids dehydrotomatine and alpha-tomatine, possibly as a defense against bacteria, fungi, viruses, and insects."
      "There was little inhibition of the cells by the three low-tomatine red tomato extracts."

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    3. Tom Hennessy

      Retired

      In reply to Tom Hennessy

      This would evidence another one of the 'abuses' required which would make one wonder whether NOT allowing abuse would result in LESS of the healthful nutrients just like the increased lycopene in the tomato?

      http://www.biologynews.net/archives/2012/03/19/solved_the_mystery_of_the_blood_orange.html

      "The anthocyanin pigments that provide the "blood" color of blood oranges are not produced in significant amounts unless the fruit is exposed to cold conditions during its development or post-harvest."

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  8. Chris Harries

    logged in via Facebook

    Like many health researchers, Clare is frustrated that the Australia's biggest health issue (poor diets) is largely being ignored whilst much media and public focus is on organic foods. Her frustration is understandable, but I think it is illogical to point the finger at organics or to try to diminish their value. These are simply different aspects of food health and I agree with the author that poor diet should be our chief national concern.

    But there is a cross linkage between the two issues…

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  9. Clare Collins

    Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics at University of Newcastle

    Chris
    Thankyou for bringing the discussion back to helping Austrlaian eat more vegetables and fruit.

    Not all Australians have acess to fresh fresh fruit & veg, at reasonable cost, have a desire to eat it, or then know what to do with it, when they do.

    It matters who you are, where you live, and who gets on board to help you eat better and cook better.

    If you want to help us help families eat better, can make a donation to the University of Newcastle Foundation at UONFoundation@newcastle.edu.au

    How about we all work together to give those with less opportunity to eat healthy food a chance. We have started an after-school cooking club for disadvantages families to improve cooking skills and promote a love of fresh fruit and vegetables within a tight budget.

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    1. Ian Donald Lowe

      Seeker of Truth

      In reply to Clare Collins

      Clare, thanks for the article, even if I disagree with some of your statements within it, such as this one:

      "Organic food does cost more than other food – sometimes a lot more. This is due to the extra costs to produce organic food, the need for more labour and, often, smaller crop sizes."

      We could debate this one sentence for days I think. I will agree to disagree with you on these claims. I have no argument with your nutritional comparisons because as I stated in the first comment I made…

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  10. Under_Exposed

    logged in via Twitter

    The difficulty with the comparability studies is that they (generally) compare freshly harvested conventionally-grown produce and freshly harvested organically-grown produce. That does not reflect the reality of the consumption patterns of a large volume of produce in Australia, where time from harvest to consumption is significantly greater (although this is diminishing for some produce) for conventionally-grown versus organically-grown produce. There is simply insufficient data to be able to say therefore that they are comparable in terms of nutrition and taste (differences arising because of early harvesting and from degradation during storage).

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  11. Under_Exposed

    logged in via Twitter

    Clare, have you linked the correct study for your nutrition claims? The article you have linked makes none of the claims referred to in your post, other than the say the data does not support a claim that organic is more nutritious than conventional (but goes on to say the studies and available data are severely lacking, and so it is a bit difficult for you to say that the study suggests they are "comparable"). I can't find any reference in the article as linked to "titratable acidity" or to the vitamin and mineral claims.

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  12. Ben Heard

    Director, ThinkClimate Consulting

    I enjoyed the article, thanks Clare. Covered a lot of issues, and those being picky ought to try writing for The Conversation within the word limit some time. I think you brought out the most important points for consideration very well, and you look to have drawn on solid references. If I seem surprised, it is because I have read some rubbish around here once or twice.

    Ian Donald Lowe said "I totally disagree that organic production is more expensive and less productive than the conventional…

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  13. Paul Rogers

    logged in via Twitter

    After 30 years of observing the evolving literature on organic foods and nutrient comparisons with non-organic food, one thing is apparent: in an epidemiological sense, there is no good evidence that eating organically confers superior health. The studies have not been done, nor is it likely, and even so, the confounders for such a study would be considerable. However, as Carl Sagan reminded us: "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence".

    On the other hand, there is substantial evidence…

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    1. Under_Exposed

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Clare Collins

      Thanks for that reference. That is not the Dangour article that is linked (the one that is linked is 92(1), 203) but with the correct article the Nutrition section now makes sense.

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  14. Clare Collins

    Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics at University of Newcastle

    Paul
    thanks for that reference
    Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2011 Jul;51(6):571-82. Evaluation of the micronutrient composition of plant foods produced by organic and conventional agricultural methods. Hunter D, Foster M, McArthur JO, Ojha R, Petocz P, Samman S. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21929333)

    Sounds to me like we all agree on one thing -
    That we should all work together, across all sectors, to make it less hard for people to acess and enjoy more fruit and vegetables, preferable those grown close to home.

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    1. Paul Rogers

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Clare Collins

      Clare, I do sympathise. It must be frustrating knowing that, first things first, the main message to eat more plant foods is diluted by secondary considerations -- and it's true even in my fitness training field.

      I must admit the 'myth and magic' organic people drive me to distraction, as do many in the 'natural health' movement. I'm more a practical guy, and I'm looking at the numbers, if you get my meaning.

      Regards.

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    2. Ian Donald Lowe

      Seeker of Truth

      In reply to Paul Rogers

      Paul, nothing in my comments is based on 'myth and magic' (the original term is 'muck and magic' but that is neither here nor there) but is based on science, observation and practical experience. That reference was first applied to a very specialised branch of organics called biodynamics and that relates to the beliefs of it's creator Rudolph Steiner. Personally, I have no opinion on the claims of magical properties of the biodynamic recipes but having visited a number of biodynamic farms, I have…

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    3. Paul Rogers

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ian Donald Lowe

      Ian, my comments were not addressed to you specifically, and having been a pioneer of the wider organic movement in Australia, my choice of "myth and magic" was deliberate. Organic growing and farming deserves our support, but it does not have to be unequivocal. We need to get rid of the myths (on both sides) and the idea that organic growing confers magical properties on soil or health.

      Keep on Truckin'.

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  15. Alison Moore

    Senior Lecturer in Modern European History, University of Western Sydney

    Of course more fruit and vegetables would be beneficial to most people. The problem is that short and simple forms of analysis are not what we need in public conversation about nutrition. Nutrition is far more complex than most people imagine.

    Do the studies you cite take into account only the sheer nutrient measurement of the pre-digested foods because that is not very meaningful in its itself. There is also a question of their actual bioavailability as measured through absorption.

    There…

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  16. imogen birley

    logged in via Twitter

    Hi Clare

    I'm a bit surprised to see you make no mention of chemical residues on conventionally grown food, which is an issue of growing concern - try here for instance - http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/

    I too was also surprised to see you make no mention of the loss of nutrients through cold storage and other techniques utilised to prolong the life of fruit & veg out of season.

    (Also while I appreciate you trying to do an overview of a very complex area, it's also not as simple as saying that organic is better for the environment. Large monocultures of organically grown produce can have significant negative environmental impacts.)

    To conclude I get that your central message was people need to eat more fruit & veg in Australia, and organic vs non-organic is a bit of a sideshow, but by raising the other issues it actually highlighted to me the above two issues that are related to health & fruit/veg intake which you didn't talk about.

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  17. Bob Phelps

    Director at Gene Ethics

    Bon Apetit, organic! Consider Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) of active synthetic chemicals allowed in food when comparing organic and conventional. The allowable MRLs of registered synthetic chemical active constituents for use in the production of conventional foods is here. http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Series/F2008B00619

    Recall that the MRLs are only for the active ingredients (that kill the insect, weed, fungus, etc.) in synthetic chemical mixtures. Yet the many 'inactive' constituents (such as…

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    1. Paul Rogers

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Bob Phelps

      Hi Bob, nice to see you're still at it. I agree with Bob, the MRL/ADI practices and the market basket surveys of pesticide residues in Australia are pretty much a convenient smokescreen for public opinion. The whole thing is very ordinary and little can be predicted from it in terms of public health and safety.

      One obvious criticism is that additive and synergistic considerations are not accounted for in calculation of MRLs and ADIs. The safety factors are for inter-individual susceptibility, young, old, ill etc, and not for the additive or even multiplicative effects of a cocktail of chemical residues.

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    2. Chris Harries

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Rogers

      I'm no expert on the impact of chemical residues on health, but it is of concern that quite a number of modern ailments, including chronic ones, appear to be statistically on the rise, without known cause. A reasonable inference can be drawn that pesticide residues and food additives may be contributing factors.

      Proof of that has proved hard to obtain. There are far too many factors at play to isolate any one cause. A precautionary approach would be to assume that pesticides and additives may be collectively contributing to some of these negative trends, even though the jury may be out.

      Meanwhile, we do know as a matter of hard fact that Australians are dieing in their thousands as a consequence of their poor eating habits.

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  18. Dina Clingman-Bell (AGvocacy)

    President

    On the topic of organic foods and nutrition - I have much more content on the subject and would be happy to share at any time; for the time being, please read ten years of research cited below (provided by the Organic Trade Association).

    Nutritional Considerations

    Growing crops in healthy soils results in food products that offer healthy nutrients. There is mounting evidence that organically grown fruits, vegetables and grains may offer more of some nutrients, including vitamin C, iron…

    Read more
  19. Sarah Ettienne

    Nutritionist

    This 'myth' has been addressed in the mainstream media on a fairly frequent basis for the last few years. The list of factors consider -cost, nutrition, taste and environment impact- are all fine, but this leaves out the important matter of the impact of agricultural chemicals on human health. Obviously avoiding these is unlikely to be as important as eating fruit and vegetables. However, as long as consumers don't have the right to know what kind of pesticides and herbicides are present in the produce they are eating, and as long as Australia continues its 'safe until proven otherwise' approach to regulation of these chemicals, consumers are wise to choose organic produce whenever they are able.

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  20. wilma western

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    An awful lot of assertions without evidence among the pro organics posts as well as those from some defenders of conventional agriculture . No acknowledgement that proven cases of salmonella contamination from "organic" fertilisers , such as manure from intensive chook farms ,have happened . The latest of these (heavy metals contamination )sadly is from a "city farm " established on an old tip site, which has had to close down its organic produce production and distribution , also test employees .

    No acknowledgement that copper sprays are OK from the organics point of view .No acknowledgement that without the "green revolution " so often attacked by the true believers, famine would stil threaten in India .

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    1. Paul Rogers

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to wilma western

      Wilma, there is no evidence that organic producers are involved in any microbial pathogen contamination issues in excess of conventional agriculture. When it occurs in organics it seems to attract more attention, I agree. (I checked with an expert in the field.)

      Heavy metal contamination from existing sites again is not specific to organic producers. Good practice, in either case, is the key.

      Copper sulphate is not an ideal pesticide (fungicide) because of the persistence of copper in soils. I agree there is some fuzzy logic in toxicological assessment in the organic movement for some things. But without cherry picking like this, the toxicological burden -- occupationally and for consumers -- is vastly less with organic production.

      But please go ahead and eat up the captafol, benomyl, carbendazim, chlorothalonil and other fungicides that have a much more suspect tox profile than copper sulphate. And for the systemic ones, you can't wash residues off your fruit and veg either.

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  21. Eric Richards

    Political Reasearcher

    Those lovely apples in the top picture could be so different. If not grown organically they would typically have received approximately 20 chemical treatments of one sort or another. Residues are inevitable. If grown organically they will boringly have received none of these sprays. So no residues possible. That's why I eat organic.

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  22. Harrison McIntosh

    Head of Mathematics Department

    For many people the issue isn't about the nutrient densities but rather the avoidence of chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones etc. For example, organic milk strives to produce milk without the aid or antibiotics or HgC. Likewise for beef. It also includes the desire to distance themselves and loved ones from genetically modified produce.

    I think for most people, the reason they wish to buy organic is not because they believe that it produces more, but rather it is better for them personally for the reasons cited above, but also for the life of the soil and environment.

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