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Organic food no better for you: study

Organic food may come with less pesticides but there’s little evidence it’s better for you, say researchers from Stanford…

Studies find organic food is no better for you, but it is 30% less likely to be contaminated with pesticides. AAP

Organic food may come with less pesticides but there’s little evidence it’s better for you, say researchers from Stanford University.

In a study published today in Annals of Internal Medicine, Dena Bravata from Stanford’s Centre for Health Policy argues there isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods if consumers are making a decision based solely on their health.

The researchers analysed 237 papers including studies of populations consuming organic and conventional diets, and studies that compared either the nutrient levels or the bacterial, fungal or pesticide contamination of various vegetables and meats grown organically and conventionally.

“Some believe that organic food is always healthier and more nutritious,“ said study author Crystal Smith-Spangler, who is an instructor of medicine at Stanford. "We were a little surprised that we didn’t find that.”

Based on their review of the health outcomes, nutrition and safety of organic and conventional foods, the study authors argued there is limited evidence for the superiority of organic foods.

“The evidence does not suggest marked health benefits from consuming organic versus conventional foods,” they wrote in the report.

The study did however find that organic produce is 30% less likely to be contaminated with pesticides than conventional fruits and vegetables.

“Our research shows organic consumers are more interested in what’s not in their food - such as pesticides and antibiotics - than what is,” said Liza Oates, who is currently researching the health effects of organic diets at RMIT University.

“This review has confirmed that organic foods have lower levels of pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The fact that they failed to find strong evidence that organic foods have more nutrients is relatively predictable,” Ms Oates said.

She added that research in the US has shown eating organic food has a dramatic effect on pesticide residues in children.

“Substituting non-organic fruits and vegetables with organics for five days resulted in an almost complete reduction in organophosphate pesticide residues.”

However Tim Crowe, associate professor of nutrition at Deakin University, said pesticide levels are always checked in Australia and found to be within safe limits.

Professor Crowe said while there’s a very strong perception that organic foods are going to be much better for us, and for our health, studies have found little evidence of a major difference.

“The biggest health problems facing Australians are to do with over consumption of food, not inadequate consumption of fruit and vegetables,” Professor Crowe said.

If you get a feel good health effect from eating organic fruit and vegetables, by all means eat them, but I’d be more worried about eating five serves of fruit and veg a day rather than eating organic food.”

But taste, environmental benefits, and animal welfare issues are other important aspects of organically grown food said Rosemary Stanton, nutritionist and visiting fellow at University of New South Wales.

“Animal welfare is a major issue for many people and reducing use of pesticides is always wise. Many permissable pesticide residue limits have been reduced over time,” Dr Stanton said.

She said taste is another factor with some studies showing better taste from organically produced foods, although added this is a difficult area and may also reflect the varieties of crops grown in large commercial conventional farming versus the varieties that may be grown by smaller organic farmers. “I think in home, school and community gardens, organically grown produce is definitely to be preferred since exposure of growers to chemical substances can be problematic and the general public has no training in appropriate use of pesticides.”

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75 Comments sorted by

  1. Blair Donaldson

    logged in via Facebook

    " “The biggest health problems facing Australians are to do with over consumption of food, not inadequate consumption of fruit and vegetables,” Professor Crowe said."

    Bingo.

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    1. Ian Donald Lowe

      Seeker of Truth

      In reply to Blair Donaldson

      No, not really.
      You can't really get fat on fruits and vegetables for a start, no matter how much you 'over-indulge' on them. When you eat mostly fresh produce, organic or 'conventional', you start to lose the gravings for fat and salt and sugar. All of which are found in abundance in processed and fast foods. People who are passionate about what they eat care about where it comes from and how it has been treated. People who are complacent about food eat anything they feel like and the influences of time constraints, advertising and prices lead many people into making bad food choices on a regular basis.

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    2. Tracy Heiss

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ian Donald Lowe

      While agree with your overall comment, I'd just like to point out that people can get fat from over indulging in fruit and vegetables. It still boils down to calories in / calories out. Obviously the fruit / veg option is still better :)

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  2. Chris Aitchison

    logged in via Twitter

    Any links to any of the papers would be awesome. What an interesting study.

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    1. Grendelus Malleolus

      Senior Nerd

      In reply to Chris Aitchison

      Crystal Smith-Spangler, Margaret L. Brandeau, Grace E. Hunter, J. Clay Bavinger, Maren Pearson, Paul J. Eschbach, Vandana Sundaram, Hau Liu, Patricia Schirmer, Christopher Stave, Ingram Olkin, Dena M. Bravata; Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?
      A Systematic Review. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2012 Sep;157(5):348-366.

      http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1355685

      :)

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  3. Tim Scanlon

    Debunker

    No surprises here. How the food ripens determines nutrition and taste as much as anything, so comparing apples to apples there is no difference. Well, except for the 30-40% less production on the organic farms.

    Although, I'd point out that they didn't test for residues of the organic pesticides. I'd also point out that the findings show that residue levels in both conventional and organic produce was not at levels that would cause an issue:
    "The risk for contamination with detectable pesticide residues was lower among organic than conventional produce (risk difference, 30% [CI, −37% to −23%]), but differences in risk for exceeding maximum allowed limits were small."

    As people in agriculture keep pointing out, organic really isn't any better at all, just different. Time for people to get on board and support agriculture instead of these red herrings about organic produce.

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    1. Ian Donald Lowe

      Seeker of Truth

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Many agricultural chemicals are accumulative in the system and the run-off of chemical nutrients and sprays causes problems in our rivers and oceans, affecting more species than just humans. Spray drift can travel many miles on a gentle breeze before settling on whatever it comes into contact with, including us.

      I support farmers but the modern model is not really farming. It is corporate agriculture controlled by chemical companies and financed by the banks. It is usually monocultures and that requires more pest and disease management on a larger scale, which means bigger machinery and more fossil fuel use. The farmers of today struggle to make their businesses profitable in the face of cheap imports and this leads to switching from traditional food crops to more profitable export crops such as soy beans, canola or cotton. None of these are edible in their raw form. That has to say something, all by itself.

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    2. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to Ian Donald Lowe

      I don't really feel like addressing your statements Ian, as most are plain wrong. The only part you and I (and the science) agree on is the residual and drift of chemicals. This is understood and is why there are chemical regulations for wind speed, withholding periods, safe limits and these vary by environments due to rainfall and soil types.

      Your opinion on modern farming is out of touch with reality and is trying to insinuate that farmers are beholden to some corporate conspiracy. If you have to dumb down the realities of modern business and technology to conspiracy theories your assertions have little place in this discussion.

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    3. Kate Pascoe

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      This study seems to be like a meta analyses in evidence based science in the sense of looking at a large body of studies. This could be problematic if those studies included such "organic" food grown in a field plonked with a bit of cow manure, which did, laughably happen in some studies 10+ years ago. Anybody who understands organic agriculture knows that it takes years to build up the organic matter and fertility of soil and organic is not simply the absence of chemicals. Were all the studies being used for this assessment from certified organic food or not? There are no details about the quality of each study being looked at.The details are always important.

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    4. Ian Donald Lowe

      Seeker of Truth

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      I see you are still using that obscene gesture Tim. Funny thing is, when you hold your hand that way, you are making it at yourself.

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    5. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to Kate Pascoe

      The study is linked and the original studies cited, so you can check. But to be classed as organic for the studies they were looking at certified farms as far as I'm aware.

      As anyone who understands agriculture knows, organics is nothing new, it is operating off of basic agricultural techniques that have been developed over thousands of years. Conventional agriculture has built upon this and advanced agriculture, hence why it consistently yields more and produces similar quality of food. The reason people in agriculture are not surprised about this result - that there is no nutritional difference between organic and conventional - is because there is nothing special about organics.

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    6. John Holmes

      Agronomist - semi retired consultant

      In reply to Ian Donald Lowe

      RE chemicals - consider the outcome of the problems of St Helen's oysters etc. Blamed on the use of forestry pesticides, yet was the exudates from a very productive clone of of eucalypts. Built in pesticides.

      The point I am making is that Nature is not benign, and as mentioned a few days ago plants are very good chemists and do not have to get their pesticides approved by the APVMA.

      For any agriculture we need to be careful. Wind erosion on the South coast of WA carries added trace elements into remnant bushland so that some of the natives become un thrifty and many invasive weeds which other wise will not grow, will dominate. Include P in this problem. We reduced that problem by going NoTill. Now that the weeds are becoming resistant to our main chemicals, next? Robotics at the centimeter level using some sort of disruptive system (UV light?), yet every advance has something which bites us on the bum.

      The same scrutiny must be given to all forms of agriculture.

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  4. James Yates

    logged in via Facebook

    I feel misled and confused.

    The headline is "Organic food no better for you: study". Is that really an accurate representation of a study that "failed to find strong evidence that organic foods have more nutrients", but did find "that organic produce is 30% less likely to be contaminated with pesticides than conventional fruits and vegetables"? Is nutrition the only factor in working out whether something is "better for you"?

    I wouldn't have a problem if the headline just said "Organic food…

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    1. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to James Yates

      James, a little melodramatic. I commented on this below and the actual article is linked to for you to read.
      "I'd also point out that the findings show that residue levels in both conventional and organic produce was not at levels that would cause an issue:
      "The risk for contamination with detectable pesticide residues was lower among organic than conventional produce (risk difference, 30% [CI, −37% to −23%]), but differences in risk for exceeding maximum allowed limits were small.""
      http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1355685

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    2. James Yates

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Thanks for your assessment of my tone. Really helpful and relevant.

      My comment was about the way that this piece was written, not about your comment or the study. The piece doesn't cite the finding you've highlighted, and this makes it seem like it's conflating nutrition and "good for you", while not properly addressing other issues that it raises only briefly. It doesn't properly address the antibiotic issue either. The study says "However, the risk for isolating bacteria resistant to 3 or more…

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    3. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to James Yates

      You wanted to be critical of an article that was referencing another article that you hadn't bothered to read. Did you expect them to cover every single point? Did you expect them to present all the results? Or did they provide the link in the expectation that you would go and read the article? The latter is what they decided and you decided to be critical of both the authors and those whose comments you haven't bothered to read.

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  5. Glenn Albrecht

    Murdoch University

    There is more to health than the personal consumption of food. 'Cides' are about killing life ... that is their reason for being. Ecosystem health is supported by organic food production in ways that agribusiness and nutritional studies fail to comprehend. Life is much more than computations about profit and nutrition ... it is about ... life.

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    1. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to Glenn Albrecht

      Glenn, your statements run counter to reality and fail to understand how herbicides and pesticides are used.

      This morning I was standing in a canola field discussing chemical strategies with farmers. We talked about using herbicides early to allow high sugar grazing of canola and control early vigour of plants so that the crop would survive to produce food. We also discussed insect management, insecticides that would target predatory insects that destroy crops, but favoured beneficial insects that control other pests and pollinate crops, allowing the production of food.

      So your statement is overly simplified and overly biased. Organic production also uses rotenone, copper, nicotine sulfate, and pyrethrums, which are all toxic and cause environmental damage. Saying that organic is about life is either a complete misconception or blatant lie.

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  6. Benjamin Shepherd

    Researcher in the Food Security Program at the Centre for International Security Studies at University of Sydney

    Um. Isn't the real point of organic food to:
    (a) have lower impact on the environment and be a more sustainable food choice, and
    (b) to feel more confident one is avoiding consuming pesticides and inorganic fertilizers?
    I feel that this research (or at least the headline - the reference to pesticides is at least made in passing) is seeking to discredit the value of organic foods based on a false premise, that people consume them because they are "more nutritious." I'm curious to know whether most people who eat organically really do it because they believe it to be more nutritious. Has this been assessed as part of the study or elsewhere?

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    1. Ian Donald Lowe

      Seeker of Truth

      In reply to Benjamin Shepherd

      Personally, I prefer to grow my own produce when I can because it just tastes better and is cheaper than the store-bought product. I did read an article some years ago that certain vitamins are lost over time from harvest to consumption, so the commercial produce with many food miles may be less nutritios than my backyard produce because of that but it's not a major factor in my thinking. Sustainability, cost and taste are the big 3 in my choices.

      (I'm also not a big fan of chemicals.)

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    2. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Benjamin Shepherd

      I choose to buy organic produce, when I can, as well as grow my own fruit and vege, because these foods are not grown with pesticides and inorganic fertilizers. Its harm minimisation for me, at least I can control, to a certain extent, the amount of toxic chemicals I ingest.

      Home grown produce always tastes better as well, and as the fruit and vege can be picked as needed, and when fully ripe, it does contain more nutrients as nutrient content is not lost due to cold storage, or being picked unripe.

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    3. Paul Savage

      Theme Leader, Biotechnology at CSIRO

      In reply to Judith Olney

      Judith, I certainly agree with your second paragraph and I'd add fresh eggs to that as well. However, I despair when I see people use "toxic" as the default adjective to "chemicals". ALL chemicals are toxic at high enough doses. Some chemicals are beneficial at lower doses, and all chemicals are benign at low enough doses. Pyridoxamine and ascorbic acid are toxic at high doses, beneficial at the right dose (as they are vitamin B6 and vitamin C, respectively), and benign at very low dose.

      So it…

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    4. Paul Rogers

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Paul Savage

      Paul, I often use the example of vitamin A (retinol form) as an example of an essential vitamin that is quite a toxic substance at higher doses. (Acute toxin and teratogen).

      Even so, there is an optimum approach to health and safety with this issue, the two poles being chemophobia and wanton carelessness at the two extremes. Very small doses of some pesticides can be toxic when bio-accumulated through the food chain. Often maximum residue limits do not adequately account for this propensity. Most…

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    5. Paul Savage

      Theme Leader, Biotechnology at CSIRO

      In reply to Paul Rogers

      Paul, I would certainly not like to be lumped into the "wanton carelessness" camp when it comes to chemical use. I am merely reacting to the common public chemophobia, often at its most strident and unbalanced on the subject of pesticides. I wholeheartedly agree that phasing out OP pesticides is a good idea. Carbamates also inactivate acetylcholinesterase but are reversible, unlike the OPs, so there is a higher safety margin there. It's also worth noting that many people equate "long-lived" and "bioaccumulating…

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    6. Paul Savage

      Theme Leader, Biotechnology at CSIRO

      In reply to mark mc dougall

      Mark, I read these articles (not the German one) and really I don't know were to begin. The first alarm bell is the emotive, value-laden language used in the gmwatch articles. The second alarm bell was the source -- web sites with an agenda against genetically modified foods will often attack glyphosate as a secondary target. Much of the GM food is engineered to be glyphosate tolerant to assist with weed control so sounding an alarm about glyphosate indirectly attacks GM food.

      The first article…

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    7. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Paul Savage

      I understand very well that the dose makes the poison, however, I deliberately used the word 'toxic' because I wanted to separate chemicals that have a known detrimental effect on human beings, that are used commonly, and in unknown amounts for the most part, on our food, as opposed to chemicals that would have little detrimental effect.

      I have watched my own Father suffer for years because of agent orange exposure, being told that it was harmless to humans, by chemical companies Australian soldiers…

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    8. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Paul Rogers

      Thank you Paul, well said. You've said what is in my mind, but much more eloquently then I would be able to.

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    9. Paul Savage

      Theme Leader, Biotechnology at CSIRO

      In reply to Judith Olney

      I'm truly sorry to hear about what happened to your father Judith. There have been some really appalling, irresponsible and reckless behaviours with chemicals and materials... nuclear radiation testing, asbestos, smoking, chemical weapons... over the years. I'm as saddened and outraged by corporate greed affecting our health as you are. I'm just saying that these behaviours are the outliers that should be dealt with, case by case, for what they are. The public assumption that some chemicals are dangerous therefore all chemicals (except those from nature, of course) are bad, is just wrong. More than wrong, it's dangerous. By punishing the good we run the risk of giving the truly bad a place in the shadows to hide.

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    10. mark mc dougall

      educator

      In reply to Paul Savage

      Come to think of it, a laboratory probably wouldnt find much difference between a monet a leonardo and an apprentice oil painter. Maybe they dont have machines that can measure complex life-related phenomena.?

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    11. mark mc dougall

      educator

      In reply to Paul Savage

      A laboratory probably wouldnt find much difference (chemically-good and bad substances) between an astronauts dinner in a toothpaste tube and a farmers homely wood fired dinner either!

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    12. mark mc dougall

      educator

      In reply to mark mc dougall

      Nor would this laboratory find much health difference between a dom perignon, or biodynamic gold medal winner as against a caskwine (colloquially and rightly known as battery acid).

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    13. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Paul Savage

      Most of the people I know, that are concerned about the type and amount of chemicals in our food, do make the distinction between those that are dangerous, and those that are helpful. The problem is that we don't know what we don't know, until we do. There have been numerous cases of what was thought to be perfectly safe, (and we were told by chemical companies that they were perfectly safe), that has turned out to be dangerous, and even deadly, when used in the way the manufacturer prescribed…

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    14. Paul Savage

      Theme Leader, Biotechnology at CSIRO

      In reply to Judith Olney

      Cautious is good and I recommend that approach for any with the luxury to do so. You're right, Judith, that this is a global problem as is starvation and mosquito-carried disease, for example. If you or I were a parent with a starving child or a child suffering from malaria we would probably be unconcerned with trace pesticide residues. It's hard to argue for environmental and social equity without standard of living equity.

      Modern agriculture, including chemicals, has made good quality food abundant and cheap (maybe too much when you look at Americans and Australians). World starvation, where it still exists, is a problem of distribution not production. I have no doubt that chemical companies are doing this for profit just like pharmaceutical companies are trying to cure breast cancer for profit. That doesn't mean the fruit of the tree is, ipso facto, poisonous.

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    15. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Paul Savage

      So, people who are starving, or those suffering from malaria, are fair game for corporations, because they have no choice but to take what they are given, whether it harms them in the long run or not? Perhaps that's why we see chemicals that have been banned in the west, commonly used in developing countries.

      I guess beggars can't be choosers, and starving or sick people have no voice to protest.

      I wonder if this is why so much of the chemical production is done in countries where there are…

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    16. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Paul Savage

      Modern agriculture, including chemicals, have produced abundant food in western countries, but as to good quality food, I totally disagree.

      It will be interesting when we run out of phosphates for food production, finite resources will run out, its the nature of being finite. We in the west may find out just what its like to be starving.

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    17. Paul Rogers

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Judith Olney

      Judith, good point about phosphate fertiliser. This is a serious problem.

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    18. Paul Rogers

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Paul Savage

      Paul Savage, you proved my point to some extent. In my book I assessed 120 common pesticides on the basis of these toxicological characteristics:

      Acute toxicity
      Delayed/chronic toxicity
      Carcinogenicity
      Teratogenicity
      Mutagenicity
      Neurotoxicity
      Aquatic toxicity
      Avian toxicity
      Toxicity to bees
      Persistence

      To suggest that DDT is relatively non-toxic because of moderate acute toxicity (LD50) is very naive indeed. I gave DDT (and metabolites) the lowest possible safety ranking, 1 out of…

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    19. Paul Savage

      Theme Leader, Biotechnology at CSIRO

      In reply to Paul Rogers

      "Your defence of DDT reminds me of the propaganda that attempts to deny anthropogenic global warming, and also the denials about asbestos toxicity in earlier decades."

      Come on Paul, surely that sort of 'false analogy' argument is beneath you. DDT is such a touchstone for the environmental movement I'm really reluctant to wade into this. But if you look at any published figures on historical malaria deaths you will see that the introduction of DDT into countries, where the disease was endemic…

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    20. Paul Rogers

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Paul Savage

      DDT is still used judiciously for malaria control in Africa, along with pyrethroids and other insecticides. Some Asian and South American countries also use DDT in agriculture, and we import food from them under WTO.

      History is what it is, and I agree that it saved lives at the time, and probably still does, although resistance would have made it somewhat useless for malaria eventually had it continued to be used indiscriminately in agriculture. That's the irony, and it was indeed one of the reasons…

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  7. John Newton

    Author Journalist

    Oh God here we go again - let's leave aside 'no better for you' (whatever that means) and think about - is it 'no better for the earth? Sustainable farming practices, returning rather than robbing - let's look at another study

    According to the American-based Rodale Institute, because organic soils have a greater capacity to retain water, carbon and nutrients like nitrogen, 10,000 medium sized organic farms would be equivalent to taking around 1,100,000 cars off the road.

    A 23-year side-by-side…

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    1. Dave Hawkes

      Postdoctoral Researcher (Viral tools and Neuropeptides) at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health

      In reply to John Newton

      This is very much not my area of expertise but the question that comes to my mind is whether organic food has a similar/better/worse yield per acre/hectare of land. I had a look at the Rodale Institute and they are strong proponents of organic farming but they don't seem to publish any of their studies in peer-reviewed journals (feel free to correct me if I have overlooked something) and as such I view their studies with some trepidation.

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    2. John Newton

      Author Journalist

      In reply to Dave Hawkes

      David yes they are proponents and they have been at it for a long time - but one point - everyone - especially the biotechs who don 't do it any better - go on about yield. Yield is not the point. Quality of produce is the point. And the argument raised by POaul Rogers re phytonutrients is a very important one - and more resesrch is needed in that area

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    3. Dave Hawkes

      Postdoctoral Researcher (Viral tools and Neuropeptides) at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health

      In reply to John Newton

      No worries John, and as I asked Paul, could you please link to some studies showing this. By "quality of produce" what do you mean? I would think that yield would have to be a concern at some point as we have a finite amount of land and an increasing population.

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  8. Gary Barnes

    logged in via Facebook

    The review's conclusions are clear, and quite different to the headline here.

    "Conclusion: The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

    "nutritious" ≠ "better for you"
    lack of strong evidence for ≠ evidence against

    On the "better for you" front: "Only 3 of the human studies examined clinical outcomes…".

    There is an important story about the real value of the various different categories of "organic"; including pesticide residues, nutrients, taste, environmental impact, psychological attitudes to food, etc. And this review contributes to that discussion.

    But the headline is completely misleading.

    Perhaps it is intended as linkbait.

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  9. John Newton

    Author Journalist

    And one more thing – there’s disagreement on the efficacy of withholding periods. For a story in the Sydney Morning Herald, Immunolgist Dr Robert Warlow told me “They have no meaning whatsoever”.

    And biochemist and pesticide expert John Pollak, a retired reader in the Department of Histology and Anatomy at Sydney University said “one should talk about pesticide formulations – the active component can only make up from five to thirty per cent – other components like detergents and solvents can themselves be toxic and can often enhance the toxicity of the active component.”

    Pollak believes that withholding periods are “useful - to a certain extent. It doesn’t get rid of them, but it may decrease the amounts and the potential toxicity.” He agrees we should minimise exposure to pesticides, although we probably can’t really avoid them.

    And how do we minimise exposure? Why, it'd those useless organic foods again.

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  10. Paul Rogers

    logged in via Twitter

    Two main points:

    1. Most early studies did not assess phytonutrients like flavonoids, flavonols etc. More recent analyses have shown superior levels of phytonutrients in organic food. (That's an interesting ongoing research project for someone interested.) In the scheme of things, I would agree that even if this is true, the nutritional benefits may be inconsequential in a healthy diet high in plant foods. Even so, it is an interesting technical point about which we should strive for accuracy…

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    1. Paul Rogers

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Dave Hawkes

      Re phytonutrients? See Alyson Mitchell's work for a start. Mitchell is Professor and Food Chemist at University of California LA.

      http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf300051f

      http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf070344%2B

      The other point I should make is that when comparing nutrients in organic V non-organic, it is important to use fresh weight (not dry weight) in initial selection for comparison purposes because that is how we select food. Organic crops are likely to have less water because of lower soluble nitrogen fertiliser use, and this alone could create favourable differences in organic food.

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    2. Paul Savage

      Theme Leader, Biotechnology at CSIRO

      In reply to Paul Rogers

      Paul, these are interesting papers. The evidence seems pretty solid that for the foods tested, organic production led to an increased vitamin C and flavonoid concentration over conventional foods. However, it also seems that the differences are quite small in comparison to those caused by other variables. As Gene Lester commented: "Pairing common production variables such as the physical, biological, and chemical/nutritional concentrations of soil types, irrigation sources and amounts, crop cultivars…

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    3. Paul Rogers

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Paul Savage

      Paul, I agree with much of what you say. As I stated in an earlier post, the differences nutritionally may be inconsequential, but from a pedantic perspective, I would be surprised if some nutritional premium is not apparent over the spectrum of production, especially for home grown organics.

      Second, I'm well acquainted with the pesticide spectrum. In fact my book Safer Pest Control (Choice Books, 1986, 97, 2005), lists and rates around 120 commercial, synthetic and organic pesticides for safety…

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    4. Paul Savage

      Theme Leader, Biotechnology at CSIRO

      In reply to Paul Rogers

      Paul, I agree with you -- while my "reply" was prompted by your post most of my comments were general observations rather than in any way countering your points. I have no objection to organic foods, just some of the hype from the fanatics you mention -- and the absence of scientific rigour accompanying the claims. I'm a keen home gardener myself and the food I grow tastes much better than the stuff in the supermarkets. So do the eggs my chickens lay. But I'm pretty sure the reasons for that have…

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    5. Paul Rogers

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Paul Savage

      Paul, re aflatoxins, environmental and growing conditions affect aflatoxin production from A. flavus substantially.

      In addition, across susceptible crops and pesticides, including fungicides, insecticides and herbicides, the suppression or stimulation of aflatoxins is variable. Application of fungicides to crops is not always a guarantee of aflatoxin suppression. See here (note the anthraquinones):

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10356798

      Then, there is a biological approach to aflatoxin, and that is an atoxic A. flavus (produces no aflatoxin, Aflagard?), which can inoculate crops and suppress the toxic form. In addition, there are organic fungicide approaches. Organic does not mean product is contaminated with toxic fungi any more than other crops.

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    6. Kriisa Heart

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Savage

      Couple of considerations:

      1. 2010 Washington State University study showed increased Vitamin C in organic strawberries http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0012346. When queried about why this important study was omitted from the Stanford analysis, Dr Crystal Smith-Spangler, a member of the Stanford team commented that she doubted it would have changed the conclusions. [Last I checked personal doubt is opinion, not a valid scientific defence?]

      2. 2010 President's…

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  11. Glenn Albrecht

    Murdoch University

    Another take by EWG Public Affairs on the same study:

    Organic Produce Reduces Exposure to Pesticides, Research Confirms
    Stanford Univ. Study Also Finds Organic Meat Has Fewer Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
    http://www.ewg.org/release/organic-produce-reduces-exposure-pesticides-research-confirms

    CONTACT: EWG Public Affairs: Alex Formuzis (202) 667.6982 or alex@ewg.org
    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 3, 2012

    Washington, D.C. – Consumers can markedly reduce their intake of pesticide…

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    1. Dave Hawkes

      Postdoctoral Researcher (Viral tools and Neuropeptides) at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health

      In reply to Glenn Albrecht

      This is the abstract from the original article unfortunately I can't get access to the full article at the moment;
      Data Synthesis:17 studies in humans and 223 studies of nutrient and contaminant levels in foods met inclusion criteria. Only 3 of the human studies examined clinical outcomes, finding no significant differences between populations by food type for allergic outcomes (eczema, wheeze, atopic sensitization) or symptomatic Campylobacter infection. Two studies reported significantly lower…

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  12. Anthony Nolan

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    I grow as many of my own veggies as is possible. They may be organic or not; wouldn't know as the soil's not been tested. My reason is that they simply taste better. They're nothing like the cardboard replica food from any of the fresh food people. No pesticides, manure as fertiliser, from the garden to the plate in 10 minutes and the lowest possible carbon footprint (no transport and no refrigerated storage).

    Sure they're better for us in every way.

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  13. Ian Donald Lowe

    Seeker of Truth

    This report (it's not even a proper scientific study) is a direct attack upon the organics movement, mainly because the corporations know the movement is nearing critical mass and when that happens, everyone would eat organic because it would be cheaper and better in every way. That is why it is so obviously biased and so obviously flawed. The mainstream media has been trumpeting a similar headline around the world in the last 24 hours or so as it is controled by the corporate advertisers. I sort of expected better here but then again, (bitter) experience should have told me not to expect much from The Conversation at all.

    Agriculture and science have brought us to the point of needing to discuss food security, even here in Australia and for all the cheap imports, food prices just keep rising and rising and rising. Make up your own minds but realise that this is not as straight forward as it may first appear. Those who control the food, control the future.

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  14. Max Bourke AM
    Max Bourke AM is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Thinker

    Ms Oates says: The fact that they failed to find strong evidence that organic foods have more nutrients is relatively predictable,” Ms Oates said.
    She may find it predictable but go to any farmer's market or organic conference of fruit and vegetable growers (and I have been to many over decades) and that is precisely what you will not hear! Even though it is scientifically almost a no-brainer.

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    1. Paul Rogers

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Max Bourke AM

      "The fact that they failed to find strong evidence that organic foods have more nutrients is relatively predictable.”

      Considering the quantitative approach of the reviewed studies, we will not know that until data are in on phytonutrients, and modern analytical and comparative approaches are used (MItchell et al), so that is a false conclusion.

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    1. mark mc dougall

      educator

      In reply to mark mc dougall

      Conclusion
      The switch from conventional to biodynamic food can
      ■ improve physical and spiritual well-being,
      ■ lower blood pressure, and
      ■ result in an immune status that seems to indicate less stress.

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  15. Kriisa Heart

    logged in via Facebook

    So many people misinterpret statistics. When writing stories like this to be credible it is vital to double check the accuracy of how statistics are presented, to ensure there is no inference of bias.

    The study showed: 30% of conventional foods studies having pesticide residue, versus 7% organic foods analysed is what the study showed.

    Your story incorrectly asserts:
    "The study did however find that organic produce is 30% less likely to be contaminated with pesticides than conventional…

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    1. Kriisa Heart

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Kriisa Heart

      correction: 30% less is 30% versus 21%, not 30% versus 20% as stated in my example above.

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  16. mark mc dougall

    educator

    How do nonO spud growers keep them a marketable size (stop them growing too big)?
    Roundup!
    How do nonO european wheat growers accelerate the ripening/drying off of wheat and oats?
    Roundup!
    Why dont they do the same for barley?
    Because it wont germinate,ie no malting, no german beer.
    Isnt roundup systemic?
    The glyphosate is carried top to toe, even into the seed the blossom and into the roots(spuds)..
    Doesnt glyphosate also derail fertility?
    yes for animals, yes for humans, yes for cellular regeneration,
    but if this piece, an analysis of numerous studies finds organic is no healthier....?
    Then let them (and all in agreement) relish their lacings of glyphosate, 245D, 24T, neonicotinoids,.. et al in a revel of conceit and contempt for the foolish biodynamic and organic farmers and purchasers...

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  17. mark mc dougall

    educator

    recent study
    http://research.sustainablefoodtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Final-Paper.pdf
    a b s t r a c t
    The health effects of a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize (from 11% in the diet), cultivated
    with or without Roundup, and Roundup alone (from 0.1 ppb in water), were studied 2 years in rats. In
    females, all treated groups died 2–3 times more than controls, and more rapidly. This difference was visible
    in 3 male groups fed GMOs. All results were hormone and sex dependent…

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