The Organic Food Nutrition Wars. By Joseph D. Rosen, Ph.D.
ACSH, Sep 08, 2009
A few weeks ago, the world of organic food proponents was rocked by new research that organic food was not any more nutritious than conventionally-grown food. Consumers have long been interested in knowing if the extra money they have been shelling out for organic food is justified and the subject, therefore, is of much interest.
A Little Bit of Background
Food nutrients include minerals (trace elements), vitamins and antioxidants. Up until about ten years ago, people interested in nutritional differences between organic and conventional food concentrated on nutrients such as minerals and vitamins. Nitrates were not thought of as a nutrient but were included in many studies. In recent years, emphasis has shifted to differences in antioxidant content.
Dating back to 1924, numerous studies dealing with the nutritive advantages, or lack thereof, of organic food have been published. These studies were reviewed by Katrin Woese and her colleagues in 1997 (Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture Volume 74, pp. 281-293), Virginia Worthington in 2001 (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Volume 7, pp. 161-173), Diane Bourn and John Prescott in 2002 (Critical Reviews in Food science and Nutrition, Volume 42, pp. 1-34) and Faidon Magkos and co-authors in 2003 (International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, Volume 34, pp. 357-371). Except for higher nitrate content and lower vitamin C content in some conventionally-grown vegetables, Woese et al. concluded (after examining about 150 publications) that “with regard to all other desirable nutritional values...no major differences were observed” between organically- and conventionally-grown vegetables. Worthington’s review of forty-one publications noted increased vitamin C, magnesium, iron and phosphorus as well as lower nitrate content in organic vegetables. She found no differences between organic and conventional vegetables for any other minerals or vitamins.
Bourn and Prescott looked at forty-nine publications and found that “with the possible exception of nitrate content, there is no strong evidence that organic and conventional foods differ in concentrations of various nutrients.” (They also reported that organic food did not taste any better than conventional food in blind taste tests.) The Magkos review concluded that “a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and adequate in foods from the other groups, is unequivocally able to maintain and improve health, regardless of its organic or conventional origin.” A recent article in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture concluded organic food did not contain any more trace elements than conventional food.
In recent years, the emphasis has shifted to antioxidants. It is widely believed that antioxidant chemicals may be important in the control of free radicals, chemical species that we produce as part of normal metabolic processes, which may be responsible for the initiation of certain cancers as well as contributing to hardening of the arteries. There are several types of antioxidants found in food: beta-carotene, lycopene, vitamin C; phenolic acids such as caffeic acid and flavonoids such as quercetin. Phenolic acids and flavonoids are many times measured together and the results are referred to as total phenols.
The Soil Association
The Soil Association is a British charity (roughly the same as a not for profit organization in the US) dedicated to the growth of the organic food industry. According to the latest available figures, the association derives its annual income, about $31M, from grants, certification of organic farms, membership dues, sales of agricultural reports and donations. More than one-third of its income is derived from certifying organic farms.
The association was founded in 1946 by Lady Eve Balfour who had become a convert to organic farming. She started a thirty-year experiment at her farm at Haughey in order to prove the nutritional superiority of organic food. Experimental results, however, failed to provide any evidence for this hypothesis. In spite of that setback, the association has, over the years, claimed that organic food is nutritionally superior to conventional food.
The current policy director of the association is Lord Peter Melchett . He is the owner of an 890-acre organic farm in the UK and served as Executive Director of Greenpeace UK between 1989 and 2000. He is the grandson of the founder of Imperial Chemicals Industry and the son of the founder of the British Steel Corporation. In 1999, Lord Melchett was arrested for trespassing and destroying crops on a farm where genetically modified crops were being experimentally grown. He beat the rap by convincing the jurors he feared that pollen from the GM crops would “contaminate” the crops on his own farm.
A Great Day for Lord Melchett
October 30, 2007 was a great day for Lord Melchett. For the past few days, the major London newspapers had carried stories about new discoveries proving the nutritional superiority of organic food. These results had been announced by Dr. Carlo Leifert, Professor of Ecological Agriculture at the University of Newcastle and the head of the Tesco Centre for Organic Agriculture which he set up in 2001 with an $870,000 investment from Tesco, the largest seller of organic food in the UK. Dr. Leifert also headed the Quality Low Input Food (QLIF) Project, a four-year, $25M project funded by the European Union that “aims to improve quality, ensure safety and reduce cost along the organic and low input food supply chains through research, dissemination and training activities.” The project included scientists from thirty-three research institutions, companies and universities throughout Europe
According to information supplied by Dr. Leifert, organic fruits and vegetables were grown alongside conventional produce on a 725-acre experimental farm near Newcastle University, and their nutritional qualities were compared. Professor Leifert said that the organic produce contained “up to 40% more beneficial compounds in vegetable crops and up to 90% more in milk.” High levels of minerals such as iron and zinc were also found in organic produce.
In addition, Leifert said that moving to organic food was like “eating an extra portion of fruit and vegetables every day” and implied that conventional produce was responsible for obesity and heart disease. He told the BBC that the study, whose results were “due to be published over the next twelve months,” showed “more of certain nutritionally desirable compounds and less of the baddies in organic foods,” but “the study showed some variations,” the nature of which he did not explain.The UK media were ecstatic. “Eat your words, all who scoff at organic food,” headlined The Times; “Organic food is healthier and safer, four-year EU investigation shows,” wrote The Independent; “Organic produce ‘better for you,’” said the BBC. The Telegraph chimed in with “Organic food better than ordinary produce,” while The Guardian used the more subdued headline “Organic food is healthier: study.” None of the media reporters asked Leifert for independent proof of these findings, which he claimed would be published within the next twelve months (i.e., by November 1, 2008).
The fact that Leifert had no data to back up his claims did not appear to bother the media reporters, who were much more interested in the running battle between the UK government and the Soil Association, intimating that the government would soon have to recognize that it was wrong. In an opinion piece that appeared in the The Guardian on October 30, Melchett chided the FSA and its chief scientist, Andrew Wadge to admit that organic food was better.
By this time, the FSA had commissioned an independent group of scientists to study and evaluate the relevant literature dealing with nutritional differences, a. study that was vitally needed to confirm or to counter assertions by the Soil Association and the media that organic food was nutritionally superior to conventional food.
A Press Release from the Soil Association -- October 30, 2007
Also on that day, the Soil Association weighed in with a demand that the FSA “publicly acknowledge the nutritional benefits of organic food,” a demand that was based on five points that essentially summarized the Soil Association’s case:
1-a 2001 report written by an “independent nutritionist” who “reviewed over 400 scientific papers” and found “indicative evidence” for higher levels of “vitamin C, minerals and trace elements”
2-three presentations by French and Polish scientists at a QLIF Symposium held at the University of Hohenheim in Germany March 20-23, 2007 (according to the UK press, higher concentrations of antioxidants were found in organic peaches, tomatoes and apples)
3-a peer-reviewed article written by University of California scientists suggesting that organic kiwis had more vitamin C and antioxidants than conventional kiwis
4-research at several UK farms that found higher levels of “beneficial” vitamins, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids in the milk of cows that were raised on grass and clover
5-the results from the QLIF study announced by Dr. Leifert just a day or two earlier that were going to be published in peer-reviewed journals during the next twelve months.
A Closer Look at the Soil Association October 30, 2007 Press Release
1. The 2001 Report
In 2000, Sir John Krebs, at that time Head of the UK Food Standards Agency (the FSA was set up to ensure food safety and to protect consumer interest) said that there was not enough scientific information available to be able to say that organic food is nutritionally different from non-organic food. In order to counter the damage done by the FSA pronouncement, the Soil Association commissioned a report titled “Organic Farming, Food Quality, and Human Health: a review of the Evidence.” The author, Shane Heaton, was described as a nutritionist, but there is no record of his ever graduating with a degree in nutrition or any other scientific discipline, for that matter.
An August 6th press release (no longer available on the Internet) accompanied the report and claimed that “over 400 published papers” were examined and that “on average” organic crops “are not only higher in vitamin C and essential minerals,” but also higher in chemicals that “are often beneficial in the treatment of cancer.” A second press release claimed that “alternative cancer therapies have achieved good results relying on the exclusive consumption of organic food.” One would think that the report would spend more than 105 words discussing a subject of such import. The major UK newspapers treated the report favorably, using only the Soil Association August 6th press release for information.
Had the reporters read the actual report instead of relying on the Soil Association for analysis of its own publication, they would have found that of the over 400 published papers only ninety-nine compared organic to conventional food and seventy of these were rejected by the author because they did not fit his self-imposed criteria for valid comparisons or for proper organic certification. Of the twenty-nine remaining studies, only sixteen had been published in peer-reviewed journals. Five publications dealing with antioxidant differences were found, but only two of them were published in scientific journals and the reported differences were not statistically significant.
Note: Pre-publication peer review is extremely important in science because it allows other scientists to examine the research methodology that was used and to determine if the manuscript’s conclusions are warranted based on the data submitted. Responsible scientists do not pay attention to published information that has not gone through the peer-review process. In addition, results must show statistical significance to be considered as meaningful.
So what had been touted as a thorough review of the literature turned out to be a review of only sixteen articles. And even in these precious few studies, the results were inconsistent. Combining all reports that fit the author’s criteria for consideration revealed that organic produce had higher levels of minerals in only seven out of fourteen studies and higher levels of vitamin C in only seven out of thirteen studies, hardly a reason to rush out to the store for over-priced organic food.
2. Reports from the QLIF Symposium
On March 28, 2007, The Daily Mail (“Proof at last that organic apples can be better for you”) said that studies in several countries had shown organic tomatoes, apples and peaches contained greater concentrations of nutrients “said to protect the body against heart attacks and cancer-causing chemicals.”
Later that week, The Independent (“It’s not just a fad -- organic food is better for you, say scientists”) reported new research that organically grown peaches and apples contained higher levels of chemicals that “protect against heart attacks and cancer” than conventional fruits. Both newspaper articles implied that UK government officials were wrong in not admitting how healthful organic food was, and both articles contained errors which indicated to me that neither newspaper reporter had ever attended the symposium at which these results were presented or had even spoken to the scientists who made the presentations.
Reading the summaries written by the scientists, however, provides more accurate accounts of the symposium. For example, one QLIF investigator wrote that organic peaches grown in 2004 had 46% higher total phenol content than conventional peaches, but there were “no significant differences in 2005.”
If you do a little simple algebra with the data provided by the investigators, you can calculate that conventional peaches contained 30% more total phenolics than the organic peaches in 2005. This information is available on the Internet but was not in any of the newspaper stories, Soil Association writings or the 2008 Organic Center report (which will be discussed later).
A second lecture compared organic and conventionally-grown tomatoes cultivated at different farms in Poland. But the distance (thirty-six miles) between the farms and the fact that the organic tomatoes were grown in a soil of a different type than the soil in which the conventional tomatoes were grown made meaningful interpretation of the results impossible. A graduate student involved with this research “found different levels of the nutritional compounds in every year of her studies” and “concluded that organic production methods did not guarantee a higher quality product”
A third presentation reported higher antioxidant capacity in three different varieties of varieties of organic apples, but no statistical data was given, making the data useless. Some of the data made no sense. For example, total polyphenol content, an important factor in antioxidant capacity, was not significantly higher in the organic than in the conventional apples.
More than two years have passed since these three presentations were made but none has ever been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
3. Comparison Between Organic and Conventional Kiwis
The University of California investigators made two serious errors. First, the test they used measured not only antioxidants but also vitamin C. They did not subtract vitamin C content (which was 14% higher in the organic kiwis) from the antioxidant (17% higher in the organic kiwis) content, thus coming up with too high a value for organic kiwi antioxidant content. Second, antioxidant concentrations are usually higher in the peel of a fruit than in the flesh. In this experiment, the organic kiwi peels were 35% thicker than the peels from the conventional kiwis, suggesting that most, if not all, of the antioxidant increase observed in the organic kiwis were in the peel. Since kiwi peels are inedible, it would have been more meaningful to measure only the edible portions of the kiwi.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Research published between 2003 and 2006 reported increased (about 64-71%) amounts of an omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), in the milk of cows that had grazed on red clover and grass as opposed to those cows that were fed corn and hay. Omega-3 fatty acids have gotten good press in recent years, and there is some evidence that two of these acids, eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoinoic acid (DHA), which are found in salmon and tuna fish, may be helpful in preventing cancer and heart disease. ALA is also an omega-3 fatty acid but is not the same as EPA or DHA. A publication authored by world-class epidemiologists has warned that while EPA and DHA may reduce the risk of advanced prostate cancer, ALA may increase the risk. True, ALA is converted to EPA and DHA in humans, but the conversion is very low (about 8%). The bottom line is that a huge ALA increase in cow milk is meaningless because ALA is found in very small amounts in milk to begin with and increasing that small amount by 71% will not result in any appreciable health benefit.
For example, nutritionists recommend that we eat two three-ounce portions of salmon per week. If we preferred instead to get our EPA and DHA from conventional milk, we would have to drink 185 quarts of conventional milk every week. Drinking organic milk would cut our weekly intake to 110 quarts.
But the pro-organic folks were undaunted. Sally Bagnal of the UK’s Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative called on the FSA to “start recommending organic milk as part of a healthy diet.” Kathryn Ellis, a University of Glasgow scientist who was the lead author on one of the studies, published an open letter signed by thirteen other scientists requesting the FSA change its stance on organic milk and “recognize that there are differences that exist between organic and nonorganic milk.”
In the USA, the Whole Foods website proclaimed that the UK studies confirmed that “organic milk is a good source of omega-3”, neglecting to mention that the organic milk you would need to drink was also a good source of saturated fat and that ALA had been linked to advanced prostate cancer.
(Another article on this subject was published in 2008 in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture by scientists from Newcastle University and the Danish Institute for Agricultural Science (DIAS). Large increases in contents of vitamin E (33%), beta-carotene (30%), lutein (67%), zeaxantin (45%) conjugated linoleic acid (60%), and the omega-3 fatty acid, ALA (39%) were found in milk from cows that had been raised on pasture grass and clover as compared to cows fed standard grain. Again, the UK media sprang into action. “Drinking organic milk may cut the risk of heart disease and cancer” headlined the Daily Mail. Similar reports were also published in the other major UK newspapers except for The Guardian, which apparently had caught on to the scam. An article published by the UK National Health Service explaining that it had “not been demonstrated that any type of milk protects against cancer or heart disease” was totally ignored by the media. And, as I pointed out in The Guardian, a person would have to drink between 3 and 170 quarts of organic milk every day in order to get the currently recommended quantities for these nutrients. What’s more, the consumer would have to drink milk that contained a full complement of saturated fats. There is nothing magical about the organic milk produced at the Newcastle University farm -- when you remove the artery-clogging saturated fats you also remove all the “beneficial” constituents.)
5. The QLIF Four-Year European Union Project “Results”
By the end of this August, it will have been twenty-two months since Dr. Leifert told reporters that peer-reviewed publications detailing the nutritional superiority of organic produce would be published within a year. If any of these reporters had bothered to ask just a few questions, they would have discovered, as had Dr. Todd Carroll of the Skeptik’s Dictionary, that there was no new data for produce! (Note: you will have to scroll down to the section headed by “update Nov. 2, 2007” in the Skeptik’s Dictionary for this information). About a year later, Leifert confirmed this when he told the Montreal Gazette that “the data are quite clear on livestock products,” but there was less evidence for the nutritional benefits of organic produce. “It’s not as clear a story on the cropping side,” Leifert said. And if there is still any doubt, the QLIF Workshop 1 Report of June 2008 stated, “while there is a trend for more of the nutritionally desirable secondary metabolites (i.e., antioxidants) to be found at higher levels...some compounds were unaffected and some were increased when conventional fertilization and/or crop protection schemes were applied.” In other words, when ALL the data are examined, conventional crops are just as high in beneficial nutrients, if not higher, than organic crops.
A Summary of the Soil Association’s Five Points
The five points picked by the Soil Association to advance its argument that organic food is nutritionally superior fall apart upon examination. The 2001 report turned out to be eighty-eight pages of nothing; the milk studies demonstrated that organic production methods give much higher quantities of chemicals that some consider good for us, but not high enough to make us healthier; the kiwi study had two serious flaws that made its conclusions questionable; there was a wide gulf between the Soil Association interpretations of the QLIF peach, tomato and apple studies and what the scientists actually reported; and the Leifert study was actually a classic study of media manipulation.
The Empire Strikes Back
The conclusions of the scientific review commissioned by the FSA to respond to the Soil Association attacks were made public on July 29, 2009. According to Dr. Alan Dangour, a senior lecturer in nutrition at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, after a thorough review of all the available literature, he and his research group found “no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.” Unlike Dr. Leifert and some of the QLIF investigators, Dr. Dangour laid out his results in a respected, peer-reviewed publication, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition for comment and criticism.
Criticism was not long in coming. Leading the charge, of course was the Soil Association. Their major complaint was that the study “failed to include the results” of the QLIF project and the “publication, so far, of more than 100 scientific papers.”
Never mind that these publications are not concerned with nutritional differences between organic and conventional produce. Writing in The Guardian on August 1, Dr. Ben Goldacre found that almost all of these publications were “irrelevant” and the overwhelming majority of them were “unpublished conference reports.” But this had no effect whatsoever on Melchett who wrote that “The full results of the five years of EU research, presented at a conference in April, and including a positive review of nutritional differences, will be peer-reviewed and published next spring.”
The Soil Association also complained that the Dangour study failed to consider pesticides, but Dangour was asked to look only at Soil Association claims about nutritional superiority. In fact, it was the Soil Association’s unfounded claims about nutritional superiority that led to this study in the first place. Lord Melchett had the chutzpah to tell the BBC that the Dangour review “rejected almost all of the existing studies of comparisons between organic and non-organic nutritional differences,” ignoring that many of those studies were of poor scientific quality, omitted important information or found large increases of constituents that would be of no benefit to human health. Leifert, for his part, thought the “conclusions of the study were selective” -- apparently because his non-existent data was not included.
The Organic Center is Heard From
On this side of the Atlantic, the Organic Center (OC) has also been trying to convince us of the nutritional superiority of organic food. The OC is a “not for profit” organization supported mainly by the organic food industry which is now controlled by the same large food companies we were previously told were poisoning us. These relationships may be found here.
The Organic Center is an entity set up by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) for the promotion and the sale of organic food. According to the Organic Center’s website, donors of $50,000 or more include Aurora Organic Dairy, Horizon Organic, Organic Valley Cooperative, Silk Soy, Stonyfield Farm, White Wave and Whole Foods Market, the leading organic food retailer in the world. Individual donors of $50,000 and above include Walter Robb, co-president of Whole Foods; Eugene Kahn, a General Mills vice president and founder of their subsidiary, Cascadian Farm; Mark Retzloff, founder of Horizon Dairies; and Steve Demos, president of combined operations for White Wave, Horizon Organics and Dean Foods.
In a 2008 report, the OC claimed organic food was 25% more nutritious than conventional food, a finding at odds with the Dangour study. That finding is also at odds with my own evaluation of the OC’s report, in which I pointed out how they erroneously arrived at conclusions based on results from publications that had not been peer-reviewed and contained data that was not statistically significant. And, just like the Soil Association, the OC report ignored results not to their liking. A detailed version of my criticisms was published in July 2008 by the American Council on Science and Health. The OC rebuttal is here and my reply to their rebuttal is here.
The OC had several complaints about the Dangour report. One complaint was that an important nutrient quality, total antioxidant capacity, was not addressed by the British scientists. However, the OC listed only eight publications in this category in their own report. One was favorable to conventional food; five were not peer-reviewed; one contained data favorable to both organic and conventional pac choi, but the OC did not include the latter; one was the questionable kiwi study that I discussed earlier.
A second complaint was that the Dangour study found no differences in the phenolic content of the “twenty-five” matched crops that the OC had studied. But according to the OC report, they had identified only twenty-one such studies. There were no statistically significant data for thirteen of the matched crops. Of the remaining eight studies, two were not peer-reviewed; one was the kiwi study; another was a study of organic flea- beetle infested pac choi, which may have contained more phenolics but was inedible.
Dietary Nitrate Is Not Only Safe...
A third complaint was that Dangour and his group did not consider lower nitrate concentrations in organic crops, supposedly a nutritional advantage. The problem with nitrate, according to the OC is that “most scientists” (was there an election I missed?) regard nitrate “as a public health hazard because of the potential for cancer-causing chemicals to be formed in the human GI tract.”
Several months ago I called the OC’s attention to the fact that nitrate in conventional food was not as bad as they were making it out to be, but they chose to ignore my arguments. Several months later they still maintain this fiction, so I’ll try again. Perhaps some of the references I’ve added will cause them to change their minds.
There is no epidemiological evidence for a connection between nitrate in food and human cancer. Current scientific belief is that people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables (even with nitrates) have lower cancer rates than those who do not. The European Food Safety Authority has declared that “the estimated exposures to nitrate from vegetables are unlikely to result in appreciable health risks.”
Carlo Leifert, when he was still publishing results in peer-reviewed scientific journals was a key member of a team that found no epidemiological evidence for an increased risk of gastric and intestinal cancer in population groups with high nitrate intake.
...It’s Good for You!!
He and his co-workers also discovered that nitrate fueled an important mammalian resistance mechanism against infectious disease. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported a statistically significant drop in systolic blood pressure after ingestion of sodium nitrate. Drinking a glass or two of beet juice substantially lowered blood pressure. Scientists writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that mice fed a high nitrate/nitrite diet were more likely to survive an induced heart attack.
Nitrate has also been shown to protect against stomach ulcers and the gastric side effects of aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. A comprehensive review in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes that “the data on nitrate and nitrite contents of vegetables and fruit bolster the strength of existing evidence to recommend their consumption for health benefits” and that plant origin nitrates and nitrites “play essential physiologic roles supporting cardiovascular health and gastrointestinal immune function.” An on-line article published recently in _Medical Hypotheses_ suggested that ingestion of high nitrate-containing fruits and vegetables such as pomegranates, lettuce, spinach and beets might be useful in lowering obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and coronary artery disease.
If any group has reason to complain to Professor Dangour, it’s the conventional farmers who use fertilizers that deliver high nitrate doses to soil. It turns out that high dietary nitrate is not only safe, but provides a health benefit that the Dangour team was apparently unaware of.
Table 1 gives a concise summary of the numerical claims for the nutritional superiority of organic produce, claims that have no basis in fact. Organic food proponents have learned that they do not need to provide evidence for their assertions. All they have to do is publish any plausible evidence, keep on repeating it ad infinitum and it will be magnified by news organizations and their self-serving commercial organic and environmental allies on the Internet.
Table1. Numerical Estimates for Nutritional Superiority of Organic Produce
AUTHOR: Brandt, 2001
CLAIM: 10-50% more nutrients
COMMENT: No data, just a “guess”
AUTHOR: The Organic Center, 2005CLAIM: 30% more nutrientsCOMMENT: Only 5 studies: 2 did not meet standards for inclusion in 2008 OC report; 1 not peer-reviewed; 1 comparison invalid
AUTHOR: Leifert, 2007
CLAIM: “up to 40%” more nutrients
COMMENT: No data to support claim and it appears that there never will be
AUTHOR: The Organic Center, 2008
CLAIM: 25% more nutrients; a good part of this number depends on mistaken claim that nitrate is harmful
COMMENT: Included key publications that were not peer reviewed; many results were not statistically significant; included several invalid comparisons; ignored some unfavorable data; entire report not peer-reviewed
AUTHOR: Rosen, 2008
CLAIM: Essentially no difference
COMMENT: Not peer-reviewed either
AUTHOR: Dangour, 2009
CLAIM: No difference
COMMENT: Methods and results peer-reviewed
Organic food proponents such as the Soil Association and the Organic Center are organizations with missions to promote and sell organic food and they have done an incredible job, as borne out by the large year to year increases in organic food sales.
But in their zeal to fulfill their missions they many times stretch the truth. In my opinion, any reporters who rely on organizations such as the Soil Association or the Organic Center for information without checking the facts are complicit in defrauding their readers.
Organic food proponents do more than act as unreliable sources of information. They may actually cause harm. For example, in order to obtain the supposed nutritional benefits of organic milk, you must drink copious quantities of high-fat milk. And then there is the alarm sounded by the epidemiological study that too much ALA may increase the risk of advanced prostate cancer. Those who are so concerned with human health should stop promoting the sale of organic milk until that question is resolved.
Organic food proponents are so concerned with distinguishing their products from conventional food that they have campaigned against useful practices such as food irradiation and genetic engineering. In addition, organic food proponents cause unnecessary guilt and angst in parents who cannot afford to buy overpriced (and completely useless) organic food for their children.
In the United States, some food activists have demanded that because organic food is “more nutritious,” it should be provided to mothers and children in the government–funded WIC Program. WIC stands for “Women, Infants and Children” and its mission is to support low-income women who are at nutritional risk by providing food to supplement diets. Government funding is a zero-sum game, and if money is provided for more expensive (and unneeded) organic food there will be less food to go around. Although it is a federally-funded program, WIC is administered separately in each state. Washington State was assailed earlier this year for not giving organic food to the program participants. Their replies provide a perfect way to end this article:
1-The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association have not supported the need for organic food.
2-The Mayo Clinic and the American Dietetic Association state that there are no benefits from organic food.
3-The US Department of Agriculture states there is no conclusion about the need for or benefit from organic food.
4-After a thorough study of WIC foods, the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine made no reference to the need for organic food.
Joseph D. Rosen, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Food Toxicology at Rutgers University School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and an ACSH Advisor.