Organic food and inorganic reporting

Much as it pains me to agree with Peter Melchett of the pro-organic food Soil Association, I think he is quite right when it comes to the presentation and reporting of a new review of the nutritional value and health effects of organic and conventionally produced foods.

In the press release and media reports of this Food Standards Agency commissioned meta-analysis of scientific studies carried out over the past 50 years, it is claimed that there are no significant differences in nutrient content between organic and conventional foods, and no evidence for any additional health benefits of organic food.

Having read the bulk of both documents released today by the FSA, it is obvious to me as well as Melchett that this is not at all what the experts are saying. Their reports are loaded with caveats about the quality and amount of data available, and there is an admission that some organic foods contain higher levels of certain beneficial nutrients. Also, around two thirds of the studies included by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine researchers in the review failed to meet pre-defined quality criteria.

As Melchett says,…

“Without large-scale, longitudinal research it is difficult to come to far-reaching clear conclusions on this, which was acknowledged by the authors of the FSA review.”

So what have we got here? A non-story hyped up by FSA politicos and public relations people on the one hand, and on the other media outlets whose journalists have neither the time nor the inclination to investigate whether the report has legs.

I have long harboured doubts about the often wild claims made for organic food, and only buy the stuff where it tastes better than the alternatives, and is affordable. The FSA review certainly doesn’t reinforce my prejudice, and I’m unimpressed with the spin put on it.