Monday, May 10, 2010

The free range and organic debate rolls on

Yet another academic voice has been raised to try to defend conventional farming by claiming that there is no nutritional difference between food from conventional, free range or organic farms. This is part of an article which was published in Melbourne's Sunday Herald-Sun.

Despite the claims of advocates, independent studies that compare the nutritional value of conventional produce with organic fare remain open-ended about the differences between the two.

Associate Professor Samir Samman, from the School of Molecular Bioscience at the University of Sydney, says there is little evidence to suggest that organic food is nutritionally better than conventional food, especially in relation to fresh fruit and vegetables.

In a yet-to-be released major study that has been accepted for publication in the international scientific journal Critical Reviews In Food Science And Nutrition, Professor Samman and his team “surveyed the international literature and critically evaluated the results” – and they aren’t heartening for the organics industry.

“Our review showed that when all the published articles on this topic are considered, organic food is reported to contain more vitamin C and phosphorous than conventionally produced food,” Professor Samman says. “But when the articles are scrutinised for scientific quality, and only
the better-quality articles are considered, only phosphorous remained significantly higher in organic food as compared with conventional foods.

“Phosphorous is not in any way a limiting nutrient in the diet. The presence of higher amounts in organic food has probably little significance. We conclude from the analysis that the nutrient composition differs very little between foods that are produced by organic and conventional methods.”

Professor Samman’s team also analysed the nutritional content of food bought from conventional shops and organic stores, and found that with oils such as olive, peanut and canola, “the method of production [organic or conventional] has no real impact on the composition” of the fatty acids contained in the food. The same result was found for eggs. His team is now conducting research on nuts, dairy foods and meat.

“Some health professionals believe that organic foods have more nutrients and elicit favourable effects on health,” Professor Samman says.

“This advice is given despite the lack of scientific evidence to support it.”
He says it’s more important to simply consume as many fruit and vegetables as possible rather than worrying about whether they are organic.

“The really important thing for consumers is that they continue to consume fruits and vegetables regardless of the source, because this is going to bring about health benefits,” he advises. “If you only eat one organic apple because that’s all you can afford, instead of having two conventional apples, surely you’re better off having two.”

So how does all that explain those eggs that tasted and looked so great? Perhaps it’s not so much a matter of the eggs being organic, but is more about the way the chickens were raised, organically or otherwise. Like any product that’s more expensive, it is probably more a quality issue.

It would be interesting to find out who funded this research and which studies were chosen for these 'independent' studies. Did they compare things like Vitamins A and E, folic acid or Omega 3 fatty acids. Have a look at some research in the US. It seems that Professor Samman likes pesticide and herbicide residues with his food.
I've conducted quite a few farm audits recently and at least six veggie growers/orchardists have said that they don't eat the conventionally-grown produce from their farms. They either have a separate garden where no hebicides or pesticides are used or they buy certified organic food for their own families. 

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