Is organic food better for you than conventional food? It's the second most asked question we get here about food, the first being 'What is the difference between organic and inorganic food? (Also Lee Silver's What is the meaning of "organic" (and inorganic) food?)
If you like paying $15 a dozen for eggs you aren't going to like the answer to the first one. Even if you like paying $15 a dozen for eggs, you won't like the answer to the second one, since the list of inorganic ingredients allowed in organic food is as long as your arm.
Systematic review of the literature over 50 years finds no evidence for superior nutritional content of organic produce. Yes, yes, supposedly organic food has some superior process but that's all it is, a process. Like GMO hysteria, there is no difference in the actual food.
Hey, we're all about commerce. Yayyyyyy, capitalism. And if you want to pay higher prices for organic foods based on their perceived health and nutrition benefits, you're welcome to it. They certainly know their framing, since the global organic food market was estimated in 2007 to be worth nearly $40 billion.
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene&Tropical Medicine have now completed the most extensive systematic review, published today in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, of the available published literature on nutrient content of organic food ever conducted. The review focussed on nutritional content and did not include a review of the content of contaminants or chemical residues in foods from different agricultural production regimens.
Over 50,000 papers were searched, and a total of 162 relevant articles were identified that were published over a fifty-year period up to 29 February 2008 and compared the nutrient content of organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs. To ensure methodological rigour the quality of each article was assessed.
To be graded as satisfactory quality, the studies had to provide information on the organic certification scheme from which the foodstuffs were derived, the cultivar of crop or breed of livestock analysed, the nutrient or other nutritionally relevant substance assessed, the laboratory analytical methods used, and the methods used for statistical analysis. 55 of the identified papers were of satisfactory quality, and analysis was conducted comparing the content in organically and conventionally produced foods of the 13 most commonly reported nutrient categories.
The researchers found organically and conventionally produced foods to be comparable in their nutrient content. For 10 out of the 13 nutrient categories analysed, there were no significant differences between production methods in nutrient content. Differences that were detected were most likely to be due to differences in fertilizer use (nitrogen, phosphorus), and ripeness at harvest (acidity), and it is unlikely that consuming these nutrients at the levels reported in organic foods would provide any health benefit.
Alan Dangour, of the London School of Hygiene&Tropical Medicine’s Nutrition and Public Health Intervention Research Unit, and one of the report’s authors, comments, said "A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, 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. Research in this area would benefit from greater scientific rigour and a better understanding of the various factors that determine the nutrient content of foodstuffs."
This does not mean you want to eat food dipped in pesticides and it's certainly true that the pesticides in use today are much worse for the environment than the DDT they replaced, but food preparation was important 60 years ago too.
Citation: Am J Clin Nutr (July 29, 2009). doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.28041
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