Editorial: Organic Windfall

7/19/2014 7:00 AM
By Dennis Larison Editor

Organic producers have reason to celebrate this summer in the wake of a major scientific study that supports the idea that organically produced food offers some of the nutritional benefits the organic movement has long claimed.

The study, led by scientists at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom and published this week in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that organic foods and crops have higher levels of antioxidants and fewer pesticide residues than their conventionally produced counterparts.

The conclusions were not the fruits of any new research but the result of an analysis of 343 earlier reports published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. For a story on the study, see Page A26.

Such studies and the primary research they stem from are valuable, not only to validate the growing market for organic food, but also to guide other farmers on ways to boost the nutritional value of conventionally produced food.

For far too long, the marketing of organic foods has been based on people’s faith in the goodness of nature, equating “natural” methods of production with higher quality food.

It’s an easy sell to urban consumers whose lives are so distant from the “natural” world that they see only its goodness and not its harsher realities.

Earlier generations that were closer to the natural world understood that nature is often more of an adversary than an unqualified dispenser of goodness.

Be that as it may, the organic food movement has been a boon for many farmers, especially beginners with more energy than capital to invest in getting a foothold in the industry.

A scientific basis would provide a more substantial foundation for those footholds.

Still, Carlo Leifert, the Newcastle University professor who led the study, told The New York Times last week that the evidence remains insufficient “to say organic food is definitely healthier for you.”

These findings do point that way, though, since other studies have linked some of the antioxidants to reduced rates of cancer and other diseases.

But they continue to fall far short of determining whether organic foods are worth the extra cost to consumers.

The Times also found that the new study has its detractors.

Alan D. Dangour, a researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who led a similar review in 2009 that found no nutritional differences between organic and conventionally grown foods, told the Times that the Newcastle group should have excluded some of the weaker studies from its analysis.

“To my mind, there’s no convincing evidence that these foods are different in nutritional composition,” Dangour said.

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