Another study, another dose of reality for organic-only foodies. A review published this month in the prestigious American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finds that the evidence from previous studies (after tossing out many whose scientific rigor was found lacking) indicates that organic food isn’t any healthier than ordinary, conventionally grown food. This follows on the heels of, and supports, a similar review last summer from the same team. That review, released by Britain’s Food Standards Agency, came to the same conclusion after the authors sifted through 162 peer-reviewed research articles from the previous five decades.
As you might expect, the review last summer came under instant criticism from groups that promote organic foods by making health claims. So who’s to say who’s right? Writing in the Institute of Food Technologists’ journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety this spring, Rutgers University professor Joseph Rosen analyzed the marketing and health claims made by organic proponents. After noting that experts at the Mayo Clinic and American Dietetic Association don’t find any real benefits in organic food, Rosen concludes:
Much of the proof advanced by both the Soil Association and the Organic Center are based on research articles that have not been reviewed by independent scientists and data that are not statistically significant. Nonexistent or incomplete data are nevertheless “published” in the media. In some cases, organic food proponents omit data that do not support their views… Consumers who buy organic food because they believe that it contains more healthful nutrients than conventional food are wasting their money.
And while we’re at it, let’s just dispose of the ridiculous idea that the whole world could go organic if we all agreed to do it. Limited crop yields mean organic agriculture simply can’t feed the world. University of Manitoba agronomist Vaclav Smil calculated that in order to replace synthetic nitrogen (widely used today) with organic nitrogen, the U.S. alone would need an additional 1 billion livestock (for manure) and 2 billion acres of forage crops (for the livestock). That’s the size of the lower 48 states.
In other words, the organic niche is just that—a niche, and a feel-good boutique system for those who can afford it. But the idea that its widespread use would bring widespread benefits to humanity belongs in the compost.