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Study of the United Kingdom set out to prove the claims of organic food has never been

4 August 2009 757 views No Comment

Last week England’s Food Standards Agency published findings of a study it had commissioned on the nutritional value of organic produce. Little to no nutritional benefit was found in organic fruit and vegetables compared with “ordinary” equivalents, the FSA reported.

The agency as well as the newspapers that published the report are perfectly respectable bodies. But we can still ask questions. In fact, aficionados of organics and the principles that guide it were astonished by reports braying that organic foods are no healthier (or not more nutritious) than ordinary produce. That’s because the study set out to prove a claim that nobody was making.

Organic farmers never claimed their apples, lettuce or milk have more vitamins, calcium or iron than apples, lettuce or milk grown using ordinary cultivation methods. What organic cultivators claimed, and still claim, is that their products are grown without the use of pesticides and fertilizers, and have no traces of industrial chemicals. Therefore, they are healthier for both the consumer and the planet.
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Organic farmers also claim that products made from animals raised without being given food additives and antibiotics is healthier and safer to eat. In other words – organic foods are measured by what isn’t in them, not what is.

Further, the study, at least judging by the press reports, doesn’t mention the impact organic farming has on the environment. Each kilogram of organic food produced is net gain for the planet, as the pesticides and chemical fertilizers used to grow ordinary food filter into the ground and contaminate the groundwater.

In Israel, more than 100 wells drilled along the coast, which drew on groundwater, have been decommissioned in the space of a few years because of contamination, nitrates and phosphorus originating from agriculture. Some of the contaminants are even suspected of being carcinogenic.

Poisoning from pesticides has also killed off wild birds and animals for decades. Israel’s raptor and vulture populations were almost wiped out in the 1950s because they’d been eating the carcasses of animals and rodents who had earlier eaten grass and plants that had been sprayed with deadly pesticides.

A study refuting a claim never actually made is more than a little bizarre. Perhaps the media simply failed to understand the researchers’ main message, or perhaps the real message was deliberately distorted in a manner that managed to fool the press.

None of this would matter, if not for the danger that the public would accept the reports on the study without thinking things through themselves. The result could harm the organic sector, which has been growing fast, in Israel and around the world – 15% growth a year over here – thanks to mounting awareness of the importance of healthy consumption.

Last year Israel’s organic sector produced a billion shekels worth of produce, of which more than 90% was exported to Europe. Some 600 Israeli farmers were registered in the Israeli organization of organic farmers in 2008 – most of them residing on moshavim. The sector employs thousands of people, from farmers and pickers to packers and exporters.

A quarter of Israelis consume organic products on a regular basis. Another 25% buy it from time to time. Chains specializing in organics have arisen, while the big supermarket chains have set aside sections for organic products. One should think twice before taking aim at the sector. Its products may not confer nutritional advantages, but there’s no question that they are better for our healthm and there are plenty of studies showing so, about which there is no controversy at all.
                                                                                                                               By Amiram Cohen

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