The great organic debate

August 31, 2009


Some things are inevitable; global warming, the sun rising every day and the routine argument that organic food has no real value, so here we go again. It’s not unlike the debate on alternative medicine, if you have found it valuable and it has worked for you then you will continue using it, despite what any scientific study tells you.

Homoeopathy is a case in point; it is frequently pointed out that it cannot be proved, but I know it works for me, and the Royal Family, so I consider that I know better because by taking the remedy Nux Vom after a rich meal I can sleep easy with a quiet digestive system. Am I an idiot? Possibly, but I am not stupid as to stop taking something that does me no harm and that I find effective and replace it with a chemical/pharmaceutical alternative.

This debate is up again because the Government’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) says that organically produced food is no better than the same food grown with the aid of chemicals. They asked the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to review all papers published over 50 years on the nutrient content or health impacts of organic food versus the products of mainstream farming.

Papers, you note, not human experience, and their chief researcher Alan Dangour 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.”

Depends how you define relevant doesn’t it? The organic movement is about having access to natural, untreated food that and also being concerned about larger issues such as animal welfare and the environment. As the researchers did not look into the possibility of contamination of non-organic food by pesticide residues, or into the environmental impacts of the different growing methods, they have certainly upset the Soil Association, responsible for most organic certification.

It said the researchers had set such strict criteria for judging whether other people’s work was worth taking seriously that they had rejected a lot of findings in favour of organics. Even within the facts and figures taken into the review, there was evidence that organic food had more of a whole range of nutrients.

But the FSA stood firm and said the differences the Soil Association referred to were not big enough to be significant and they have been supported, in a way, by the views of biodynamic farmers who have said for some time that the organic standards for food don’t go far enough as even organic farmers are permitted to use certain chemical herbicides on their crops or use antibiotics on their animals. Obviously this will have some impact on their nutritional value and purity and buying organic food from a supermarket does not necessarily give you the information you need.

I am a firm believer in organic and biodynamic farming for my health, and taste buds, and truly the best way to get your produce is directly from those who grow it. Most places now have a regular farmers market, there are over 500 of them round the country, and by talking to the person on the stall you will soon find out exactly what kind of farm they run and how organic they are.

To find your nearest one, go to


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