(Beyond Pesticides, August 11, 2008) Its findings in disagreement with other studies, University of Copenhagen research concludes that organic food may contain no more nutrients than food grown using harmful pesticides and chemicals, and is merely a “lifestyle choice.” The study finds that no clear evidence of any difference in the vitamin and mineral content of crops grown organically and those using legally permitted levels of fertilizers and pesticides. However, many others – including organic farmer Elizabeth Henderson of Peacework Organic Farm in western New York – disagree. In a post-publication comment on this blog entry, Ms. Henderson calls the new study, “just another example of really poor research,” pointing out several potential flaws in its design. Additionally, other research has shown that organic farming does indeed yield more nutritious food (See Daily News Blog of April 21, 2008 and June 13, 2008) as well as eliminates a significant source of toxic chemical contamination in the environment.
The study, published in the latest issue of the Society of Chemical Industry’s (SCI) Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture and entitled “Effect of plant cultivation methods on content of major and trace elements in foodstuffs and retention in rats,” investigated the effect of three different model cultivation systems on selected major and trace element contents of dried foodstuffs. Model 1 consists of growing the vegetables on soil, which had a low input of nutrients using animal manure and no pesticides. Model 2 involves applying a low input of nutrients using animal manure, combined with use of pesticides, as much as allowed by regulation, and model 3 comprises a combination of a high input of nutrients through mineral fertilizers and pesticides as legally allowed. The crops grown were carrots, kale, mature peas, apples and potatoes.
The researchers, led by Susanne Bügel, PhD, found that there is no evident trend towards differences in major and trace element content of the crops grown due to the use of different cultivation methods. The produce from the organically and conventionally grown crops was then fed to animals over a two-year period. Results here show there is no difference in retention of the elements regardless of how the crops are grown.
“No systematic differences between cultivation systems representing organic and conventional production methods were found across the five crops so the study does not support the belief that organically grown foodstuffs generally contain more major and trace elements than conventionally grown foodstuffs,” said Dr. Bügel.
However, this study overlooks the importance that organic farming in reducing toxic contamination of food by harmful pesticides and other chemicals used in conventional farming. In other words, organic food contributes to better human health through reduced pesticide exposure. The most vulnerable to pesticide exposures are children, and a study has shown that those who eat conventional diets of food produced with chemical-intensive practices carry residues of organophophate pesticides that are reduced or eliminated when they switch to an organic diet (See study here).
Organic farming also protects the farmworkers and their families from chemicals that have been shown to cause a myriad of chronic health effects, such as cancer, endocrine disruption and a series of degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease. Beyond Pesticides supports organic farming as effecting good land stewardship and a reduction in hazardous chemical exposures for workers on the farm, as well as the general population.
For more information of the many benefits of organic food, please visit Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Food program page.