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Organic: orgasmic? Or not?

Eddie Mair | 17:00 UK time, Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Pallab reports for us tonight - share your view by clicking on Comments. organic.JPG

Read more about the story here.


  • 1. At 5:19pm on 29 Jul 2009, Sarah wrote:

    Despite the weather we have a garden full of beans- runner, French or broad. All organic, all delicious. Nutritional value is a minimal consideration. Fresh food on the doorstep that is incredible value for money, provides exercise and tastes completely different from the pale imitations you can buy is the real consideration.
    Organic food may not have the edge nutritionally but in every other way it does and no number of expert scientific views can change that.

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  • 2. At 5:22pm on 29 Jul 2009, phil7hugo wrote:

    The person you interviewed has missed the point. It's not about nutrition, it's about freedom from consuming pesticides and herbicides. He has wasted his time researching the wrong thing.

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  • 3. At 5:23pm on 29 Jul 2009, Big Sister wrote:

    Frankly, this is a non-story for me. I've never thought organic contained more than non-organic - It's what organic DOESN'T contain that makes it better, as far as I'm concerned. In other words, no residual pesticides, herbicides, etc.

    My stepdaughter, to my horror, presented us on Sunday with some unwashed strawberries. I couldn't eat them.

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  • 4. At 5:29pm on 29 Jul 2009, Happyhomeworker wrote:

    As someone who grows my own fruit and veg, I agree with the commenters above - organic produce has more taste, is less plumped with water, and most importantly contain no pesticides and herbicides. On my allotment I have lots of toads and other predators to get the pests for me.

    I also know that my produce does not contribute to the degradation of the soil or water courses, travels about half a mile to my plate and saves me a lot of money - over £500 so far this year and counting.

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  • 5. At 5:30pm on 29 Jul 2009, Anne P. wrote:

    As Big Sister says, it's what non-organic contains by way of pesticides, fungicides and so on and what impact these methods of farming have on the long term environment and health of the soil, that have many of us buying organic. Plus locally grown organic has fewer food miles than mass produced agri-business food. And then there's what I grow myself, but that's another story.

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  • 6. At 5:35pm on 29 Jul 2009, pagarus wrote:

    I find it hard to understand that anyone thinks organic food has health giving properties over and above the same non-organic food. I thought this was pretty much common knowledge. The benefits are to the environment, the welfare of the animals and, often, the taste. Anyone who buys for other reasons are fooling themselves. Of course not all organic food is the best for the environment - for example, some is flown vast distances and so may have a net damaging effect. The story is complex and a short two minute article does not do it justice.

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  • 7. At 5:35pm on 29 Jul 2009, Peter Barry wrote:

    Maybe listeners should be made aware that 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.
    Says it all.

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  • 8. At 5:39pm on 29 Jul 2009, lenathehyenauk wrote:

    Since when has anything coming out of the FSA been worth listening to? It's like asking a spokesman from the Ministry of Defence to give an objective view on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Failing to look at the amount of residue pesticides on fruit and veg is disgraceful but then the FSA works hand-in-glove with big agri businesses - as did its predecessors.

    Take this report with a bucket of salt.

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  • 9. At 5:40pm on 29 Jul 2009, fallingjonathon wrote:

    Having been an agricultural consultant working with fertilisers, pesticides and plant breeding for over thirty years I am not surprised by the results of this work. It is possible to 'find' evidence to 'prove' anything if one already believes it but organic food can in no way be 'proven' to be any better for us just as opposition to GM crops cannot be justified.
    If individuals want to eat organic then let them but PLEASE the rest of us (around 96% of UK citizens) eat what we want without continually esposing poor science and non-existent evidence suggesting that I should do otherwise. Mothers with babies are especially susceptible to such claims and as a result are often the victims of the idiots who make such claims.

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  • 10. At 5:41pm on 29 Jul 2009, sepiasunrise wrote:

    I agree with comments above, I've bought a few organic products off and on over the years but it was for benefits to the environment and to animals who are treated in a more humane way (eg chicken when you can't get free range products) that I have bought them. I was also aware that people bought them because they didn't want to be eating the residues of pesticides, and that some people do this especially for babies and children. I had no idea anyone thought they were nutritionally better. (Except perhaps meat, but mainly I thought that was a taste issue rather than a nutritional one).

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  • 11. At 5:42pm on 29 Jul 2009, Henry Nield wrote:

    The study is missing the point entirely: a primary reason for eating
    organic food is to avoid environmental pollutants and genetically
    modified food, like GM soya for example. Would you prefer an organically
    grown apple, or one sprayed with chemicals?
    If you have suffered with any immune system disorder you want to
    minimize the toxic load you ingest, and that means shopping carefully to
    improve the possibilities of reasonable health.

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  • 12. At 5:43pm on 29 Jul 2009, largeredfogey wrote:

    I agree with all of the previous comments. Most importantly organic food is valuable not necessarily for what it does, but particularly for what it doesn't do. We live in the country, with large scale industrial farming going on all around us. The soil in most of the fields is completely dead. There are no worms, small insects etc. Modern farming methods with its total reliance on fossil fuels for insecticides, pesticides, fertilisers etc is completely unsustainable. No one ever measures the 'external' costs of non organic methods of production...
    As for the researchers who produced this report, did they measure the impact on human health of inhaling the foul sprays and vapours which fill the air when farmers are treating the soil and crops? No, of course not, the food standards agency wouldn't want to know anything about such a touchy subject.

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  • 13. At 5:46pm on 29 Jul 2009, ttweed wrote:

    The FSA is yet again whoring for its industry (informal) sponsors--that is the only explanation for their perpetual ignoring the published independent evidence, which overwhelmingly shows organic produce has better nutrients.

    Exactly 8 years ago the Soil Association put paid to FSA's nonsense, in the form of a review of 400 studies, including an evaluation of their quality (including their independence from monetary influence); the weight of the evidence clearly showing that the stress of foreign chemicals lowers the nutrients (antioxidants, minerals & more) of plants.

    This review directly rebuts the current claims of good quality evidence by the FSA today; but I specialize in 'data diddling' so I have dozens of reviews showing that industry sponsorship correlates with findings favoring their interests while independent research findings show no such relationship.

    Since 2001 much more published evidence has accumulated, including a finding that pesticides disrupt the critical function of nitrogen fixation; and a fascinating finding that rats, with their superior olefaction, avoid biscuits made from conventional wheat in favor of organic-wheat biscuits! Most recently early this year a panel at the annual Amer Assoc for the Advancement of Science considered the evidence, again concluding that "Scientistst agree that Organic Farming Healthier, Richer Soil & Nutritionally Enhanced Food" ( http://www.organic-center.org/news.pr.php?action=detail&pressrelease_id=28 )

    As to the broader related issues, still critical, such as crop yield/profits, soil health and biodiversity, a broad if dated review of that literature is at: http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/~christos/articles/cv_organic_farming.html

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  • 14. At 5:47pm on 29 Jul 2009, Peter Barry wrote:

    Gill Fine, the FSAs 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."

    That's true Gill. So when are you going to resign?

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  • 15. At 5:50pm on 29 Jul 2009, zombieites wrote:

    Why are we so constantly bogged down with nutrition regarding organic food, it seems to be, unless we are getting something out of it for ourselves why bother, surley this is missing the point, I personally buy organic chicken primarily for the welfare of the chicken and to move away from factory farming, the same applies to free range eggs.

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  • 16. At 5:51pm on 29 Jul 2009, Hawk wrote:

    I too think this is a complete non-story. I buy organic for chemical free food. It has nothing to do with nutrition.

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  • 17. At 5:51pm on 29 Jul 2009, David_McNickle wrote:

    Amazing, somebody missed the point. Do posters just come here to say that?

    They misspelled 'ORGASMIC'.

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  • 18. At 5:51pm on 29 Jul 2009, dolcetto23 wrote:

    I agree with many of these posts - and it would nice for PM to ask the Food Standards Agency why they didn't - and when they are going to - conduct a review of the research into the following:

    The pesticide / herbicide levels in organically vs conventionally farmed food.
    The environmental impact of organic vs conventional farming.
    Or even - I'm sure this is difficult to measure - the taste quality and flavour concentration of organically vs conventionally farmed food.

    These are, in my experience, why people - like me - buy organic.

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  • 19. At 5:51pm on 29 Jul 2009, oclafma wrote:

    hi. I buy organic foods because they taste a lot better. Particularly fruit and veg. Try an organic apple and one that isn't. I dislike pesticides going into the water and we know that we have a problem with bees and they think there may be a connection with pesticides. Anyway, I don't belive and wouldn't trust any research done for the government. They get the research money for giving the answers the gov want. Lobbying by chemical companies goes on. But the taste difference is enormous.

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  • 20. At 5:53pm on 29 Jul 2009, magicpagan wrote:

    With organic produce it's not just about what you put in your body but what you choose to leave out

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  • 21. At 5:53pm on 29 Jul 2009, timbobucks wrote:

    Why such a defensive posture by the pro-organic crowd? Why not accept that this study is good science and carry on doing what you want to do. Less evangelism would make a nice change, though.

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  • 22. At 5:53pm on 29 Jul 2009, gallantSocrates wrote:

    I hope that this little shock horror story about oganic food does not send the 'Established Middle Class' into such a 'moral panic' that they will start smoking again..will it?

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  • 23. At 5:54pm on 29 Jul 2009, SecretAgentX2Zero wrote:

    I got two organic lettuces in the week. They were full of slugs and I salvaged about five leaves from the middle of both. Nice though.

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  • 24. At 5:55pm on 29 Jul 2009, nobleXav wrote:

    Common! We are all accustomed to hearing the pros and cons of different perspectives surrounding food! I do not accept that we haven't got enough evidence to make a scientific judgement on pesticides, fungicides and environmental impact. Look at our approach in other domains!

    Pesticides are basically synthetic and can be found in most foods we eat, will the Food Standards Agency contest this? This report sounds like we are propping up the pesticide industry in a crisis! Why doesn't the BBC demand answers surrounding this very newsworthy issue!

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  • 25. At 5:59pm on 29 Jul 2009, Richard_SM wrote:

    Eddie and Team

    It would have been better interesting if you had dove-tailed the 'Corby birth defects' piece with the 'Organic Foods' piece.

    Deformities to hands and feet were due to mothers in Corby being exposed to a "soup of toxic materials" between 1985 and 1999.

    What about all the crops in the area?

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  • 26. At 6:02pm on 29 Jul 2009, dolcetto23 wrote:

    PS to my earlier post: Why didn't your reporter (Pallab Ghosh) put these points to the FSA?

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  • 27. At 6:02pm on 29 Jul 2009, anne27sav wrote:

    I don't buy organic because it is much more expensive but mostly because I am worried about bacterial contamination. I once wrote an article pointing out that the incidence of gut infections has risen pari passu with the sale of organic fruit and veg. It could be as C Diff and E Coli are both soil organisms and the Soil Assocation states that it does not check for bacterial, only GM contamination. Manure has to be left for a considerable time before it reaches a sterilising temperature so the next project of the London School of HYGIENE and Tropical Medicine should be to look for bugs. My grandaughter, a veterinary student, tells me that all the dung produced from their animals is burnt and the ash put on the land.

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  • 28. At 6:04pm on 29 Jul 2009, lucibee wrote:

    I object to the headline on the BBC news website that says "Organic has no health benefits". This is not correct, and should be that it does not have any "significant extra health benefits". That's like saying "Eddie Mair is a pm" instead of "Eddie Mair is an excellent pm presenter".

    I eat organic food coz I grow it myself in my garden, and not because I think it is nutritionally superior.

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  • 29. At 6:06pm on 29 Jul 2009, Gorf99 wrote:

    I am an engineer not a plant biologist, but wonder how there could be any difference between the nutritional value of organic and non-organic fruit and vegetables? As the genes are identical and thus the processing of light, water and nutrients must have the same output.

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  • 30. At 6:06pm on 29 Jul 2009, nobleXav wrote:

    Having taken into account and agreed with most comments on this Blog, I would say that the FSA's statement amounts to SPAM. They should be investigated, people are no longer uneducated fools and will see through this report. Common BBC, scrutinise this issue - it is our everyday life!

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  • 31. At 6:09pm on 29 Jul 2009, clairelynch13 wrote:

    I have never had the beilief tht organic food has more nutritional value. I buy it because I don't want my children eating meat which is pumped with growth hormone or ingesting chemicals.

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  • 32. At 6:13pm on 29 Jul 2009, normanmugabe wrote:

    A couple of miles from us there are orchards. The farmers spray around the bases of the trees. There are two weeks for harvesting as fruit must be sized perfectly but afterwards, there is much fruit left on the trees. The farmer doesn't object to locals helping themselves. But under no circumstances can one eat the fruit that has fallen to earth. This stuff morphs into something quite disgusting. A pesticide bomb.

    If you are in any doubt about pesticides, try Binging "agent orange".

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  • 33. At 6:18pm on 29 Jul 2009, frownstrong wrote:

    Rats may prefer organic biscuits but will leave a sinking ship on any snack that floats I would imagine. Is tamiflu organic?

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  • 34. At 6:21pm on 29 Jul 2009, oldhippydavy wrote:

    It's not for what organic food contains, but what it doesn't - insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, anti-biotics, hormones, food dyes etc etc. All of which either end up in us, or in the fields, streams, rivers and seas, and in the wildlife that lives in those habitats. Is this the same FSA that promotes GM crops, I wonder.....

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  • 35. At 6:24pm on 29 Jul 2009, Ctrl_Alt_Doh wrote:

    ttweed wrote

    "...I specialize in 'data diddling' so I have dozens of reviews showing that industry sponsorship correlates with findings favoring their interests while independent research findings show no such relationship.

    No doubt your 'data diddling' will now be able to show that pressure group sponsorship correlates with findings favouring their interests. As the symposium at the AAAS which issued the press statement "Scientistst agree that Organic Farming Healthier, Richer Soil & Nutritionally Enhanced Food" was co-sponsored by the Organic Centre whose vision is:-
    "Conversion of agriculture to organic methods, improved health for the earth and its inhabitants, and greater awareness of and demand for organic products."

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  • 36. At 6:26pm on 29 Jul 2009, Jonathan Holt wrote:

    I am sorry but I have just read the executive summary of this report and it is patently clear that the researchers HAD found significant differences - not least in terms of Nitrogen content. How this can be interpreted as "no difference" escapes me. Nitrogen content will undoubtedly have some connection to the quantity of artificial fertiliser in non-organic production systems.

    I quote:

    "In analysis restricted to satisfactory quality studies, significant
    differences in content between organically and conventionally produced crops were found only in nitrogen content (higher in conventional crops), phosphorus (higher in organic crops) and titratable acidity (higher in organic crops)."

    Additionally, organic food is produced in a system of production which will inevitably improve the quality of the food but in ways not necessarily within the FSA's narrow interpretation of nutritional value. Examples of how this happens include a value being placed on freshness and locality, animal welfare and the promotion of bio-diversity all of which are either not mentioned or dismissed as of no significance.

    The scientific objectivity of this report is clearly flawed.

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  • 37. At 6:28pm on 29 Jul 2009, Juno19 wrote:

    Glad to see pesticides has been raised as the primary issue...and raised again...and again on this blog. And that everyone was equally dumbfounded that pesticides were not central to the FSA 'study'. What gives? More pulling wool over our eyes - feebly - by answering a question that wasn't there. Grovel grovel to the food industry...(not to mention the pesticide industry). PM blog has filled a public service today, for sure.

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  • 38. At 6:37pm on 29 Jul 2009, Blogtumi wrote:

    What a coincidence finally made the effort to visit an Organic Veg shop, slightly off my beaten track and there's a news report saying that nutritionally organic food is not better than intensively grown produce! I don't believe the report how can soil depleted of minerals produce food of equal quality? I made and make the effort to buy organic for several reasons as mentioned already but especially taste.

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  • 39. At 6:50pm on 29 Jul 2009, Jonathan Morse wrote:

    Eating organic is more about not contributing to the more dubious parts of modern agriculture, knowing you're not eating GM, than about food quality, although I suspect if you picked a large enough sample of non-organic food you would probably find something dodgy in it, as organic farmers are less likely to practice dodgy practices such as led to the foot and mouth outbreak. I can't say I agree with all of the above because there's one entry in support of non-organic!

    Before the FSA was set up there was a lot of pressure for an independant foods agency, I remember MAFF pushing us to eat everything and Edwina Currie at the D of Health publicly worrying about the quality of eggs. Blair relised we needed it when others opposed it but either Blair or someone else ensured it's now a front for the food industry.

    There's also the issue of nitrogen fixation - when it doesn't get into the food plants it can do more damage to the environment, climate change, than CO2.

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  • 40. At 6:59pm on 29 Jul 2009, fallingjonathon wrote:

    Dear sepiasunriseI see you wish to eat food without pesticides, if that is so then you should not eat all all! ALL plants contain pesticides, YES ALL. Some of them (Eg: Pyrethrum)we then manufacture ourselves (synthetic pyrethroids)and most of these are safer than the 'organic' one. If you eat carrots, caulifloweers, mushroms, peppers, wheat, rice, almost anything you will be eating pesticides. One of the advantages of man made ones is that they have been properly tested unlike the ones you seem to want to eat.
    If you don't believe me try reading Alex very's book, The Truth About Organic Foods' If you don't believe him then ask the Food Standards Agency. Oh then but you don't believe them either do you.
    How about doing a degree in plant science, that might help?

    I'm off for my dinner, (non organic of course).

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  • 41. At 7:06pm on 29 Jul 2009, Richard_SM wrote:

    Ref 27. anne27sav

    My understanding is that cooking destroys bacterial contamination, but does not destroy all 'chemical' contamination. Of course, that doesn't help with food that is not cooked, but copious water goes a long way towards ridding any traces of bacteria. Some people rinse their salad and fruit in dilute Milton/sterilising fluid, then rinse in clean.

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  • 42. At 7:18pm on 29 Jul 2009, U14056677 wrote:

    Nutritionally aren't the effects of ingested additives and their absence included in the study on the effects on consumers and ignored in studies on the food contents whilst the environmental effects will be autocorrelated with non-organic food?

    I know nothing.

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  • 43. At 7:22pm on 29 Jul 2009, Jumbleweed wrote:

    The organic movement has learned the hard way that rubbishing conventional food merely antagonises conventional farmers and food producers while doing nothing for their own cause, something the FSA would do well to understand.
    What they are frightened of is that Organic Farming is actually a highly productive method of food production and would compete on price with conventional production if it ever achieved the economies of scale which the major food processors enjoy.

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  • 44. At 7:31pm on 29 Jul 2009, stopwater wrote:

    It is almost irrelevant what organically grown food tastes like - although it tastes better - it is the benefits to the soil and the environment that counts most. This "taste" discussion is a smokescreen as used by politicians to divert from the real benfits to be had by growing food in as simple and cheap a way as possible with the least expense involved. Nobody with connections to big business is going to tell you cut down on your outgoings.
    There is a great fear we will all start to grow our own food.

    As a matter of interest the fields around where I live have had barley grown for the last 60+ years with added fertilisers. The soil now is completely sterile. Nothing can be grown without them. There are no worms or insects. You never see Seagulls folowing the plough. Should you plant a tree or shrub it takes 4/5 years for it to get established.

    Dennis Manson

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  • 45. At 7:46pm on 29 Jul 2009, snowfan wrote:

    I thought the aim of organic food production was to remove the dangers of pesticides herbicides and insecticides in the food we consume, not the improvement of the products nutritional value. I don't want to seem cynical or jaded but is this just an attempt to muddy the waters by the FSA

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  • 46. At 7:58pm on 29 Jul 2009, Greeniegrower wrote:

    I have two further research reports in front of me, issued this very month (July 2009)which contradict this research by the FSA.
    (1) Organic systems produce food containing higher concentrations of nutrients than conventional systems ("The Impacts of Yield on Nutritional Quality: Lessons from Organic Farming by Benbrook (2009) HortScience 44 (1) 12-14")
    (2)Southwestern University scientists (USA) looked at healthful compounds in basil and found that less nitrogen fertiliser results in higher levels of antioxidants that protect our cells (Organic Gardening magazine Aug/Oct 09 p 23)
    I have looked at around 100 reports on the quality of organic food. Much of the earlier research on food nutrition was of poor quality, but newer technology and analytical techniques are finding new substances, such as phytonutrients (e.g. lycopene in tomatoes, and similar substances in blueberries, gogi berries, broccoli etc)
    -green gardener

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  • 47. At 8:50pm on 29 Jul 2009, pacgroberts wrote:

    So the research was set up to "quantitatively assess the differences in reported nutrient content between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs" - and this is what it did, by systematically searching PubMed, Web of Science, and CAB Abstracts.

    It did not set out to do any of the following:
    a. investigate the dangers of pesticides herbicides and insecticides in the food we consume
    b. establish the benefits to the soil and the environment from an organic approach
    c. investigate the effects of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, anti-biotics, hormones, food dyes etc on the population and /or environment
    d. .....(I've only gone back to message 34 and am losing the will to go on... but I could!)

    If the Soil Association , or any other group, would like to fund similar systematic and independent research into any of the above then I am sure it would be money well spent.

    There is no point complaining that a piece of research ably designed to to one thing does not do something else The conclusion of the published report says the following:

    "This review does not address contaminant content (such as herbicide, pesticide and fungicide residues) of organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, or the environmental impacts of organic and conventional agricultural practices."

    So why all the angst (and bad science) in many of the above comments?

    PS to Yakbuttersandwich - nitrogen is unlikely to have any nutritional value, if it did then the value of Tesco shares would plummet!!

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  • 48. At 8:56pm on 29 Jul 2009, jeanniemehta wrote:

    If I eat fruit with pesticides on it, I get swollen lips. If I eat processed food with additives, preservatives etc , I become unwell, eczema, rashes, swollen eyes etc. I choose to eat organically produced food to avoid as much added chemicals as possible. I also, like other people prefer organically produced food as its production encourages better soil health, and is restoring the depleted ecologies around our country. A walk in the country, among fields is a depressing business now. No birds to speak of except crows and magpies...thanks to pesticides, monocultures, big agribusinesses with scant regard for the effects their massive crop spraying is having on the environment. When can we have somebody in the BBC who asks penetrating questions regarding the content of chemicals in harvested food,and effects of chemically dependent agriculture. "SilentSpring"...it's here now. Only the organic farmers can rebuild those chains again to bring back the insects and birds. This would be better for all human health.

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  • 49. At 9:06pm on 29 Jul 2009, ttweed wrote:

    40. At 6:59pm on 29 Jul 2009, fallingjonathon wrote: "...you wish to eat food without pesticides, if that is so then you should not eat all all! ... One of the advantages of man made ones is that they have been properly tested unlike the ones you seem to want to eat.."

    Yes, ALL organisms manufacture chemicals to defend themselves from invaders; but it's thoughtless to believe that synthetic chemicals (the petrochem industry) which life did not evolve with, are safer because they've "been tested":
    A) evolution has adapted us to many natural toxins (not completely, but a lot more than the new ones!)
    B) even though pesticides are one of the of classes of synthetic chemicals undergoing pre-marketing approval for safety (ie toxicity testing; & note than cosmetics, personal care product ingredients and many more chems are not!), the party with millions to billions at stake in the agency (FSA or the EU's EFSA) deciding that their chemical is safe enough to use is the party that does the tests!!! The toilet-paper quality of these studies is proven over the next decades, as academia--still roughly immune from such interests--publishes studies that find the industry's study findings are crap. This is in the literature; it is incontrovertable and it happens every time,

    35. At 6:24pm on 29 Jul 2009, Ctrl_Alt_Doh wrote: "...No doubt your 'data diddling' will now be able to show that pressure group sponsorship correlates with findings favouring their interests. ..."

    More incomplete thinking: Yes, pressure groups have a very strong special interest, but think what it is: the public's interest; here public health!! That is a bias that everyone, including the news media, should be glad to see! In contrast, the very narrow & private interest of for-profit corporations is to do whatever it takes to increase the profit reported to their shareholders. Every quarter, that pressure builds, and it leads them to capture agencies as the FSA (a subject a bit too complex to discuss here). In sum, yes there are other biases that are dangerous to the objectivity of science research (beliefs, etc.); but only the financial bias is measurable (though its effects--self-worth, supporting family, etc; are manifold). More & more journals are requiring disclosure of researcher's financial conflicts. Environment pressure groups would love to see more objectivity in science!

    BBC News, you should have asked & reported on the only mentioned reseacher Dr. Dangour, the lead or corresponding author of this newly published paper, who funded this work , incl. in-kind, and who they have professional financial relationships with (patents, jobs, etc.). The last time I read the journal this paper is in, it did not require disclosure of such ties. A quick look at his published papers (via PubMed) reveals that he has never published on pesticides before, rather he seems to specialize in nutrition on a population-wide basis. Thus he hasn't published in any journal that I know of that is influenced by the pesticide industry. Nevertheless you should ensure no other researchers have such publications; and publish what you find about all the authors' financial disclosures.

    Final note to many: yes, there are better reasons than nutritional quality to avoid pesticide use, but as this industry still dominates our food, we must gain footholds wherever we can.

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  • 50. At 10:39pm on 29 Jul 2009, sportypipsqueak wrote:

    weather - remember remember the 15th of July - St Swithins Day. those guys from the good old days got it right

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  • 51. At 10:47pm on 29 Jul 2009, sportypipsqueak wrote:

    its not what you eat, but what you don't eat that matters

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  • 52. At 10:56pm on 29 Jul 2009, smfhouston wrote:

    Hormones, hormones and more hormones.... why do you think that our children are developing earlier these days? Farmers are injecting hormones into the cows and sheep and all the by products are contaminated. Look at America,they at least admit it, everything here is hush,hush. It is deceitful. Go for it organic farmers, I and all my friends and their friends will continue to support you. God help those farmers that continue to inject the poor animals to get more money and to destroy the innocence of our children.... We won't support you. If the organic farming don't make it,long live the the vegetarians. Wake up people, look at your 10 year old going on 17....Have another slice of non organic beef!! Look at the hundreds of organic only stores in America. Wake up, stop being fooled by your government and Europe. They are even worse.....Sorry, but it is a money racket, fatten your livestock, sell your meat, where are your morals. How about antibiotics... Research the American journals. Wake up ENGLAND!!

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  • 53. At 01:10am on 30 Jul 2009, Jonathan Holt wrote:

    #47 pacgroberts,
    As you point out, the researchers did not set out to do all sorts of things. They left out the important analysis of factors that have massive impacts on the health-giving or debilitating qualities of our food. If those are not the determinants of nutritional value, I am at a loss to know where to start.
    My understanding of nutrition is that it is the content of food and drink that will do me good. Stuff that will not do me any good or will do me harm is, by definition, less nutritious.
    The whole point about my earlier comment about nitrogen is that the increased incidence of higher levels in conventional foods must have come from somewhere. I made no claim that it was good or bad though I suspect the latter.
    This fact of the dismissal of disparity in nitrogen levels gives the lie to the widespread - and I believe convenient to the food industry - misinterpretation of this report, the subtext of which might be read as "there is no difference between the two - why are you wasting your money?"
    For an organisation such as the FSA, having published such an easily misunderstood report and thereby allow the subject to be examined in such a limited manner with many of the crucial factors determining the fitness of food to be eaten left not discussed, so that the public ends up possibly less well informed than before is a dereliction of their remit of public service.
    #29 Gorf99,
    The best engineering accepts that nuances, details and fine tolerances will have marked effects on the performance of the machine. So it is with plants and all life. There is so much more to growing food than the few variables you mention and so much more than is generally understood by any bottom-line fixated corporation.
    Food production and agriculture should not be mechanistic processes. Raw chemicals are not the building blocks of a healthy diet. The plain fact is that the more synthetic pesticides are in the food I eat, the lower its nutritional value. That is unarguable. Pesticides are poisons and for the FSA to have ducked this issue even if they hedge around by admitting so is truly bad science.

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  • 54. At 08:22am on 30 Jul 2009, phil wrote:

    Whoops, Looks like I goofed again. I wrote complaining about this story after ONLY hearing the headline. Then I misinterpreted what it was going to be all about and accused the PM programme of acting as a mouthpiece for the GM industry.
    Sorry PM programme. the piece wasn't all about GM, it was, as I now see, all about "ORGANIC".
    I apologise and totally withdraw my original comments.
    (Actually I'm a fan of the PM programme and am therefore relived to be wrong).

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  • 55. At 09:01am on 30 Jul 2009, Northdevonfarmer wrote:

    We should be very concerned that the FSA that ought to be an objective body working for the public good is so consistently biased towards big business interests, denigrating organic farming (which does not provide easy opportunities for pharmaceuticals and agribusiness to profit) and promoting GM (which is effectively about powerful interests gaining control over World food supply).

    Peter Melchett points out that the FSA study "..rejected almost all of the existing studies of comparisons between organic and non-organic nutritional differences."

    Carlo Leifert, a professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University whose major EU-funded study involved 31 research and university institutes, said he was worried about the FSA's conclusions.
    "... they are so blocked by not wanting to say positive things about organic farming. the conclusions of the study were selective."

    The EU study found nutrient levels were higher in organic foods.

    The FSA study was not new research. It seems to have been a selective review of ill defined previous research selected to produce the conclusions desired by politicians.

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  • 56. At 11:42am on 30 Jul 2009, mittfh wrote:

    OK, let's try a slightly different angle on the story.

    I assume one of the main reasons agrichemicals were introduced in the first place was to increase usable yields of crops - a possibly useful strategy in the post-war years when imports to the UK were very low.

    However, nearly 60 years later, chemicals are still applied in large quantites and fairly indiscriminately - when you'd think technology would have advanced sufficiently that they could be deployed only on an "as-needed" and "when needed" basis, and then only the minimum quantity required to do the job, and deployed as close to the plants as possible (rather than from several feet above, where the slightest bit of wind would cause significant drift). Logically, you'd think that would save farmers money as they'd need less of the chemicals in the first place.

    As for the nature of the chemicals in the first place, how about ones that are as similar as it's possible to get to naturally occurring defence chemicals / mechanisms - after all, if they've been in use by organisms for thousands / millions of years without the targets developing resistance...

    As for the distribution of food, it would be interesting to compare the costs of farms supplying food directly to the supermarket against regional distribution centres (say, 50-100 mile radius of farms) against a national distribution centre.

    And for 'quality', whatever happened to the old "Class I" / "Class II" divide - premium quality stuff sold at a higher price, with acceptable (but less aesthetically pleasing) food sold at a lower price.


    So, in general, there are many ways in which farmers can adopt a more responsible attitude to their business (including maintaining hedges / wide field margins), even if they're not confident enough to go fully organic.


    One final point - GM. Theoretically, GM could have benefits - but not with the current methods of inserting the gene. What happens at the moment is that the required genes are manufactured into an artificial chromosome, which is inserted via a variety of methods into the nucleus of cells (including using a 'deactivated' virus or even coating metal particles with the gene and 'firing' them into the cells). Unsurprisingly, this method doesn't allow them any control over how the gene is expressed (i.e. how frequently the gene is decoded to produce the chemical - so it might get expressed infrequently and only produce a small amount, or expressed regularly and produce lots) - and as it's completely separate to the rest of the plant's DNA, it's relatively easy for it to transfer to other species (e.g. the pests themselves).

    If GM was to become more popular, I'd like to see at the very least the gene included in the plant's regular DNA - even better if it could be split up between multiple sites in the same chromosome, or best of all, split between multiple chromosomes. IIRC, many 'ordinary' genes aren't present in one contiguous lump in the same chromosome, but scattered throughout the genome, with 'markers' indicating where to start and stop transcription. If a newly introduced gene could be split up in this way, it could be possible to adjust how the gene was expressed, and reduce the chances of it 'escaping'.

    Even more acceptable still is if the donor gene came from a closely related plant - perhaps not close enough to allow conventional breeding, but close enough for botanists to discover its precise location within the genome, and replicate it in the crop of interest.

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  • 57. At 12:06pm on 30 Jul 2009, LincolnCripter wrote:

    I've worked in the agrochemical industry for over 25 years supplying farmers and growers with products to aid the production of plentiful and nutritious food. I'm comfortable in the knowledge that Pesticides have helped millions of people and animals to live long and healthy lives. As a general rule - eat food - live, don't eat food - die. The fact that we have such a choice should be celebrated..whether the food is organic or not. Just a point of correction. Pesticides is the term used to describe a group of products that are used to control pests (any organism that damages crops) which INCLUDES herbicides (weeds), fungicides (fungi), insecticides (insects), acaricides (spiders), rodenticides (rodents) and so on. Please use the term correctly.

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  • 58. At 2:33pm on 30 Jul 2009, UptheTrossachs wrote:

    smfhouston @ 52 "Farmers are injecting hormones into the cows and sheep and all the by products are contaminated."
    Where's the evidence?
    Growth promoting hormone implants have been banned in the EU since 1988. The UK government has consistently opposed the ban on scientific grounds but dutifully supported it and introduced its ban in December 1986 well before the deadline.
    The ban extends to imported beef from implanted cattle. The USA, where several hormone implant products are still licensed, considers the ban to be a non tariff trade barrier erected without proper risk assessment and has successfully pursued this view with the World Trade Organisation.
    Want to check?
    You're very welcome to visit our abattoir where we are killing approximately 2,000 cattle each week and 7,000 lambs. No hormone implants. Although, come to think of it, there's a couple of Kiwi slaughtermen on the line who are suspiciously muscular.........

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  • 59. At 6:17pm on 30 Jul 2009, Ctrl_Alt_Doh wrote:

    49. At 9:06pm on 29 Jul 2009, ttweed wrote:

    "Yes, pressure groups have a very strong special interest, but think what it is: the public's interest; here public health!! That is a bias that everyone, including the news media, should be glad to see! In contrast, the very narrow & private interest of for-profit corporations is to do whatever it takes to increase the profit reported to their shareholders."

    Thank you for providing this additional information. I think I understand the basis of your "Data diddling" now.

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  • 60. At 8:38pm on 30 Jul 2009, timlangford wrote:

    I'm generally in the "its not about the nutrition it's about the pesticides" camp, but what horrified me was that both PM and newspapers have had such slack reporting as to say things like "Not nutritionally better so the conclusion is no health benefits" - the whole point is Nutrinio is only 1 aspect. I feel the FSA have got away with a propaganda victory due to lazy unclear reporting here, makes me think the BBC is maybe not so independent after all...

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  • 61. At 10:50pm on 30 Jul 2009, ttweed wrote:

    As to crop yield:

    A few posters do not seem to know that "the post-WW2 "green revolution" innocently believed that petrochem. inputs into agriculture--synthetic nitrogen (N) fertilizer & synthetic pesticides -- would boost crop yields and so in the 3rd world solve the hunger/population problem. Aside from ignoring the many other variables in economic development, it took decades-long trials (side by side experiments) to prove that synthetic fertilizer boosts the depletion of nutrients from most (all?) soil types. Thus, orgnaic farming with its natural N (& P & K) source--manure, ends up yielding more crop per acre. Much cheaper, and farmers get the organic premium on the sale price of organics.

    Also, the process to create plant-available N synthetic fertilizer is massively energy intensive. We really have unbalanced the geochemical (rocks to soil/organisms to water to air and back again, eternally) N-cycle, as one poster already pointed; in fact it is one of several global mineral cycles--P, Hg, CO2, and others-- in which man's movement of those elements is larger than nature's! Just one of many measures showing that we are destroying the very biosphere that keps us alive and is required for ALL of our preening economic activity.

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  • 62. At 11:49pm on 30 Jul 2009, Victases wrote:

    Synthetic pesticides have the potential to cause harm. So have natural pesticides which are part of the plant's natural defence system. If we eat our 5 fruit and veg a day we are likely to consume 0.1mg per day of synthetic pesticides AND 1,500 mg of natural pesticides. If we eat organic fruit and veg that has been attacked by a pest of disease because it was not protected we will be eating far more that 1,500 mg per day of potentially harmful natural pesticides because the plant's immune system has been stimulated to produce natural pesticide as a defence. Toxicology studies on both natural and synthetic show that on average they are similarly harmful.
    The message is clear if you want to limit the intake all kinds of pesticide DO NOT EAT ORGANIC PRODUCE.

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  • 63. At 7:20pm on 03 Aug 2009, lucibee wrote:

    Frownstrong asks whether Tamiflu is organic. Don't know, but I do know that any flu vaccine will, by necessity, be genetically modified...

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