BBC says “Organic ‘has no health benefits’”…misreporting at its best
30th July 2009
This year’s award for the most misleading and misinformed headline surely must go to the BBC for their report on FSA research into the health benefits of organic food. I read this yesterday and started making a list of points so as I could blog today. This is what I came up with….
- How many studies were included, which studies were excluded and what were the requirements for inclusion within the analysis?
- Differences in nutritional content is only ONE aspect of organic farming.
- Other benefits include higher levels of animal welfare, more care for the natural environment (protection of hedgerows, natural predators etc), and most importantly a reduction in the use of potentially damaging chemicals which contribute to the ‘cocktail effect’ in the body.
- How long have the organic farms been certified ‘organic’. This may have an impact on soil quality and therefore nutritional status of food.
- Research has shown that milk from organically reared cattle is nutritionally superior to conventionally produce milk – it is higher in many nutrients including omega 3 and this has been well reported.
Before I had the chance to write my article I found I was not the only one incensed both by the questionable quality of the research and also by the BBC’s very closed minded and limited reporting on this very important issue.
To sum up everything that I believe about this matter please read this blog from http://postpeakpublishing.com/
Personally, I wouldn’t expect an organic pepper to have significantly more nutrients than any other pepper, since they are usually not genetically engineered, though nutrient levels were the only factor in the study’s determinations. Turns out organic peppers do indeed have elevated nutrient levels, but not significantly elevated, according to the FSA. The health benefits of not ingesting a host of ingredients far too dangerous to be included in a child’s chemistry set is a glaring omission.
According to the study’s Executive Summary:
“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.”
And not all studies on organic and conventional practices were reviewed…
Articles were excluded if they:
- were not peer-reviewed
- did not have an English abstract
- did not address composition of nutrients and other substances
- did not present a direct comparison between organic and conventional production systems
- were primarily concerned with impact of different fertiliser (sic) regimes
- were primarily concerned with non-nutrient contaminant content (cadmium, lead and mercury)
- were authentication studies describing techniques to identify food production methods
In other words, only Western studies focused strictly on nutrient comparison were reviewed. That would seem to overlook many studies which might show organic food to be a much healthier option. It’s a safe bet that the overwhelming majority of the reviewed studies were the product of the traditional food industry.
Was the outcome of this study preordained? If you’re gonna talk health, why omit studying all the unhealthy stuff that the organic movement seeks to evade?
The study itself appears to come from the UK’s Food Standards Agency, which outsourced the analysis of about 50,000 papers published over the past 50 years to a group within the University of London’s London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), headed by Dr. Alan Dangour, nutrition specialist. A handful of University of Londonpersonnel are also credited, including Ricardo Uauy, M.D. Ph.D., Professor of Public Health Nutrition. Alan and Ricardo have co-published no less than 9 publications, in other words, they’re ‘tight’.
According to the Integrity in Science Database, Dr. Uauy has been a paid advisor to Unilever, Wyeth, Danone, DSM, Kellogg, Knowles and Bolton, Roche Vitamins Europe Ltd., and the International Copper Association. Probably not chicken feed either. My foray into research could very likely turn up Monsanto and/or its ilk lurking behind this study as well, had I the time.
Posted: July 29, 2009 at 1:30 pm
For those of us who have studied critical analysis and have the means and motivation to look deeper into these issues there is no reason why we should be mislead, however this is not the case for the majority of the public. They rely not only on the FSA for guidance but also, rightly or wrongly, the media. We all know that there are some sources that are more reliable than other but given the BBC’s status as a public body I think they should provide the facts rather than sensationalist headlines.
UPDATE 05/08/09: Here’s a link to a very well written article by food writer and investigative journalist, Joanna Blythman: