I’ m writing this blog post from the Red Lion Inn in Yakima, Wash. It is the starting point of several days of interviews with apple industry shippers and other leaders as I will write The Packer’s Washington Apple special section this year.
As I scan the headlines and tweets for this morning, I note the recent study about organic food being not substantially different in nutritional value has spared pushback from organic advocates. First here is what the British Food Standards Agency said in the review of literature about the nutritional value of organic food.
An independent review commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) shows that there are no important differences in the nutrition content, or any additional health benefits, of organic food when compared with conventionally produced food. The focus of the review was the nutritional content of foodstuffs.
Gill Fine, FSA Director of Consumer Choice and Dietary Health, said: ‘Ensuring people have accurate information is absolutely essential in allowing us all to make informed choices about the food we eat.
This study does not mean that people should not eat organic food. What it shows is that there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food and that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food.
'The Agency supports consumer choice and is neither pro nor anti organic food. We recognize that there are many reasons why people choose to eat organic, such as animal welfare or environmental concerns. The Agency will continue to give consumers accurate information about their food based on the best available scientific evidence.’
The study, which took the form of a ‘systematic review of literature’, was carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). LSHTM’s team of researchers, led by Alan Dangour, reviewed all papers published over the past 50 years that related to the nutrient content and health differences between organic and conventional food. This systematic review is the most comprehensive study in this area that has been carried out to date.
The FSA commissioned this research as part of its commitment to giving consumers accurate information about their food, based on the most up-to-date science.
This research was split into two separate parts, one of which looked at differences in nutrient levels and their significance, while the other looked at the health benefits of eating organic food. A paper reporting the results of the review of nutritional differences has been peer-reviewed and published today by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Dr Dangour, of the LSHTM’s Nutrition and Public Health Intervention Research Unit, and the principal author of the paper, said: ‘A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance. Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority.’
TK: Note that FSA supports consumer choice is neither “pro” or “anti” organic food. Some organic advocates took quick exception to the report. From the Irish Times:
However, the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association yesterday criticized the report and said an important study carried out at Newcastle University last year was not included in the review as it did not meet the criteria outlined by the researchers.
This report, Quality Low Input Farming, which was carried out by 31 research institutes and universities throughout Europe, showed there were more antioxidants and vitamins in organic vegetables than non-organic ones, according to the growers association.
It had also found, it added, there was more Omega 3 in organic dairy products than those which were non-organic. “Nutrition is only one reason why people eat organic food; other major reasons include the fact that organic food does not contain pesticide residues.”
Minister for Agriculture Brendan Smith, attending a world convention of farmers in Dublin Castle yesterday, said he had noted the report.
TK: The FSA report really didn’t burst any marketing perceptions. While some consumers believe that organic food is better in nutrition (and taste), marketers have not been not playing to that concept. Earth friendly is where the market is. Still, some nettlesome critics of the organic movement make it hard for everybody to just get along. Note Dennis Avery from the Hudson Institute in a story from Feedstuffs online:
The survey results will make no difference in the sales of organic foods, said Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C. He explained that is because organic food buyers are irrational.
“They think buying the most expensive foods buys longer, happier lives. No such luck. If organic were healthier, African subsistence farmers would have been outliving American housewives and stockbrokers for the past 90 years.
“Americans eating industrially fertilized and genetically modified crops have been outliving Somalis and Nigerians by about 30 years. We not only have ample high-yield food, but our lives are also protected by vaccines, antibiotics and sterile operating rooms,” said Avery.
“Religion in recent centuries has mostly prodded us toward treating our fellow men more humanely. The Green movement has no such lofty pretentions. If the world went all-organic, half the humans would die of starvation. Most of the remaining wildlife habitat would be plowed down to make room for more low-yield crops,” said Avery.
TK: Avery is good for a reliable reactionary quote and he didn’t disappoint this time, either. Meanwhile, the recent House action on food safety is still very much in the news. Bill Marler writes in the Web site Culinate:
Frankly, I may need to start looking for a new job. As I penned a few days ago, in 2002, in the middle of the recall of 21,000,000 pounds of E. coli O157:H7-tainted ConAgra beef that sickened 50 Americans and killed one grandmother, I wrote an op-ed saying that it was time to “put me out of business.” My argument was that since people generally hate trial lawyers like me, the best way to get rid of me would be to stop poisoning people with contaminated food.
Since that outbreak, millions more have been sickened and permanently disabled by food tainted with salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, listeria, campylobacter, and other pathogens. Thousands have lost their lives. In that same time period Congress had more than 20 hearings on food safety — many attended by my clients — but had not enacted comprehensive legislation.
Well, “change,” the official Obama phrase, has come to Capitol Hill.
The bill, many times amended (why? perhaps, a later blog post) and nearly 200 pages long, will greatly strengthen the FDA’s power to regulate 80 percent of the food economy. HR 2749 will give the FDA the power to order food recalls and set record-keeping standards for food facilities. It will mandate increased frequency of inspections and have the fees to pay for them. There will be stiffer criminal penalties, and imports will have to meet the same standard as products produced in the U.S.
What it certainly will do is reduce the enormous number of foodborne illness outbreaks, keep kids out of ICUs and off dialysis, and increase the overall safety of our food
TK: Marler can be credited for advocating for tougher food safety laws for several years now, though I bet he is not planning to change his firm’s specialization to estate planning anytime soon. If anyone that gets sick from food related causes and needs to get lawyered up, Marler’s profile and communications machine assure him that the phone will keep ringing. Meanwhile, Marler’s plea “put me out of business” with the Food Safety Enhancement Act could be the inner dread of some growers who surely, in time, face a new era of regulation and new layers of costs.