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Organic foods may not really be healthier

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 24, 2010


No strong evidence shows more nutritional benefits than conventional foods

NEW YORK – Consumers who opt for organic foods often believe they are improving their health, but there is currently no strong evidence that organics bring nutrition-related health benefits, a new research review finds.

A “disappointingly small” number of well-designed studies have looked at whether organic foods may have health benefits beyond their conventional counterparts’, according to the review, by researchers with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Health in the UK.

Moreover, they found, what studies have been done have largely focused on short-term effects of organic eating — mainly antioxidant activity in the body — rather than longer-term health outcomes. And most of the antioxidant studies failed to find differences between organic and conventional diets.

The review, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adds to findings reported last year by the same research team.

In that study, the researchers combed through 162 articles published in the scientific literature over the last 50 years, and found no evidence that organic and conventional foods differ significantly in their nutrient content.

For the current review, the researchers were able to find only 12 published studies that met their criteria for evaluating the health effects of organic foods.

“A surprising and important finding of this review is the extremely limited nature of the evidence base on this subject, both in terms of the number and quality of studies,” write Dr. Alan D. Dangour and his colleagues.

Research in the area does appear to be increasing, Dangour’s team notes; 4 of the 12 studies they reviewed were published in 2008 or 2009.

But in the future, the researchers add, studies — both in humans and animals — need to be better-designed.

Of the 12 studies the researchers identified, 6 were short-term clinical trials that looked at whether specific organic foods changed markers of antioxidant activity in participants’ blood.

Those trials showed no strong evidence that organic eating boosted antioxidant activity, but the studies were also very limited in scope: they were small — with the largest including 43 men — and lasted no longer than a few weeks.


The Prince of Wales is not a scientist…obviously

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 10, 2009

As if we needed more proof that the prince of Wales has a completely science-free and evidence-free mind, here comes his reaction to the latest study on organic foods, the one that found that the organic foods were not superior to conventional foods from a nutritional point of view. So what does the good prince do with the evidence? Why refuse to accept it of course!

“This study hasn’t changed His Royal Highness’s views one bit,” one of the Prince’s friends tells me. “Charles thinks it’s ludicrous to suggest that vegetables treated with chemicals or meat raised with antibiotics can be as good for you as proper food.”

I don’t like it therefore it cannot be true! Typical true-believer attitude. Reality is “ludicrous” so I reject it!  I don’t care what the reality is, my make believe version is what I cling to! How can such a study not change ones views “one bit”? You must live in a completely evidence-free, logical thinking-free, reality-free world for that to make even the slightest bit of sense. What does this constant refusal to face reality say about ones ability to think through such issues? Aren’t Britons glad these titles are just for show, and these folks aren’t really running their country? I know I would be if I were a Briton!

The hereditary peer questions the validity of the FSA’s comprehensive study. “It’s a very poor piece of work,” he claims. “It seems that there will be a rebuttal from scientists around the world. It’s very disappointing. I thought the FSA had got over this anti-organic stance by now. It seems not.”

Of course, the “there’s definitive evidence right around the corner” attitude. The true believer is not convinced by the existing evidence because he is convinced that evidence for his side of the story is surely coming. Almost time now! I am sure that you see the faulty thinking processes in play here. Evidence is evidence! You do not refuse evidence you don’t like out of hope that evidence you like will come your way. Either you will accept evidence, wherever it leads, or you will reject evidence, no matter it’s conclusions.  You cannot pick and choose which evidence to accept, and you definitely have no grounds in reason and reality to reject existing evidence in favor of non-existing evidence. That is the definition of sloppy, poor, illogical thinking!

Furthermore, why this piece of work is very poor is not elaborated by the prince. One can only assume he thinks it is poor because he does not like the conclusion. That assumption is only reinforced by his subsequent ad hominem on the FSA and their supposed “anti-organic stance”. If the good prince has any valid critiques of the study, he should voice them. These ad-hominems are a bit pathetic, and one would think below of person of his stature.

He adds: “Our position is the science says organic food has nutritional benefits. I was a government minister for nearly five years and I’m really surprised at the behaviour of both the scientists and the FSA. They confused opinion with science.”

Oh, I think you are the ones that confuse opinion with science! See in science one rebuts a finding with scientific arguments and facts. Does it sound like this is what the good prince, and his people, are doing? Or does it sound more like name calling and refusal to accept a reasonable conclusion?

The prince of Wales and his people clearly do not understand the scientific process. It is unfortunate that their voice is heard by some many, simply because they are in a position of power/prominence.  How many will use a quick, sloppy, argument from authority and continue to refuse reality, based solely on the prince’s, pseudoscientific attitudes and opinions?

A Question to a Professor of Organic Agriculture

Posted in SkepticBlog by Skepdude on August 6, 2009


am in receipt of an interesting email exchange between a Skeptoid listener who prefers to remain anonymous (let’s call him Gump in retaliation for his anonymity) and a professor, Jim Corven in the Organic Agriculture program at Bristol Community College in Massachusetts.

Gump read on the school’s web site the following:

Organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture. Its earth-friendly, resource-gentle approach to providing food and fiber attracts a generation who worries that the overuse of synthetics and agribusiness techniques deplete the earth’s health and resources out of the world. The sustainable farming movement uses fewer nonrenewable resources and in that way nurtures not only our bodies, but our earth.

All perfectly reasonable statements. The doomsday scenarios described are indeed worries that some people have. But the web page continues:

Learn the techniques and science behind the movement with the new Organic Agriculture Technician certificate at Bristol Community College. The certificate is designed to prepare people to use ecological production techniques that minimize pollution and create a healthier, tastier product.

Whoa, horsey. Healthier? Tastier? Obviously this is a tired old claim that organic proponents have been making for decades, but it’s neither been evidenced nor is it plausible. And where do they get “minimize pollution”?

Gump began by emailing Professor Corven with a reasonable question, one that all too few people seem willing to ask:

I was reading the front page about organic farming.  I read the sentence about how organic farm produces tastier and healthier foods.  I am wondering how that comes to be. Does organic farming alter the foods DNA in someway making the foods tastier or healthier in someway?  Is there some test that can prove the foods are healthier?  I find it disingenuous that organic farming is being promoted as something that is better than modern farming techniques which use less land to produce more food.

Professor Corven had a most un-professor-like reply:

I’d like to suggest that you might like to study some scientific literature and read up on the issues of soils, agricultural productivity, and nutrition before making the kinds of erroneous comments contained in your email.


Stupid quote of the day

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 5, 2009

“I don’t see it as a matter of taking sides,” Crane added. “I see it as being informed, knowing what’s reputable, and in some cases what just makes common sense. … Organic has intuitively to be better for you.”

Diana Crane

Skepdude says: Obviously, the most comprehensive review of the literature HAS to be wrong. Why it contradicts with “common sense” and “intuition”!! What are those scientists thinking wasting their time doing their sciency stuff,  just to get a wrong result not backed up by this lady’s intuition? Don’t they know that science must conform to common sense?

Organic Food No Better Nutritionally Than Conventionally Produced, Research Review

Posted in News by Skepdude on August 4, 2009


Scientists in the UK who systematically reviewed research from the last 50 years concluded that from a nutritional point of view, organically produced foods are no better than conventionally produced.

The study was the work of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and appears in the 29 July issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Based on figures from 2007, the organic food industry is estimated to be worth 29 billion pounds (about 48 billion US dollars) worldwide and continues to grow while consumers appear willing to pay premium prices for food they believe to be superior in health and nutritional benefits.

Although some previous reviews have concluded that organic food is superior in nutritional content compared to conventionally produced food, nobody has yet done a systematic review of the literature, said a press statement from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

For this study, which was funded and commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), the authors sought to:

“Quantitatively assess the differences in reported nutrient content between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.”

They systematically searched abstracts databases for details of papers dating from the beginning of 1958 to the end of February 2008, contacted experts on the subject, and also manually searched bibliographies.

They included reports of research where the abstracts were written in English and the researchers had measured and compared the nutrient content of organic and conventional food.

To be of satisfactory quality and be included in the analysis, a study had to show it was designed with rigour. For instance, it had to include evidence of the organic certification scheme from which the studied foodstuffs were derived, the breed of livestock, the crop cultivar, plus details of lab methods and statistical tools used in the analysis.

The reviewers then analysed data on 13 nutrient categories.

They did not examine the content of contaminants or chemical residues.

The results showed that:

  • From a total of over 52,000 articles, there were 162 (137 on crops and 25 on livestock products) that met the researchers’ first level of inclusion criteria but only 55 of these were of satisfactory quality and went into the analysis.
  • Conventionally produced crops had a significantly higher content of nitrogen.
  • Organically produced crops had a significantly higher content of phosphorus and higher titratable acidity.
  • There was no evidence of a difference among the remaining 8 crop nutritient categories.
  • Analysis of the few quality studies on livestock products showed no evidence of differences in nutritient content between those that were organically and those that were conventionally produced.

The researchers concluded that:

“On the basis of a systematic review of studies of satisfactory quality, there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.”