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Organic food neither healthier nor tastier, watchdog finds

The Local · 27 May 2010, 12:20

Published: 27 May 2010 12:20 GMT+02:00

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In an embarrassing result for the organic food industry, the government-funded but independent foundation drew on 85 investigations over eight years to come up with an overall assessment of what's known as bio food. Only when it comes to use of pesticides does it come out in front.

The foundation concluded that organic products were not necessarily healthier, or even better-tasting, than regular groceries. Despite being on average 30 percent more expensive, there was little overall difference in quality, foundation tester Ina Bockholt told Deutschlandradio.

For example, 15 baby food products tested – 13 of which were organic products – all rated only in the “satisfactory” range, Bockholt said. The reason was that they actually contained too little fat and often too little iron for babies’ nutritional needs.

Some 45 percent of ecological products got a “good” or “very good” nutritional rating, compared with 41 percent for conventional foods. Some 15 percent of organic foods were rated “poor” – slightly higher than the 14 percent of regular products given such a score.

There was considerable variation among products, with organic performing well in some areas but poorly in others. Tea, full-cream milk and spiced cooking oils were better than their conventional counterparts, whereas organic products were worse when it came to rapeseed oils.

Bockholt however defended organic foods on ethical grounds, pointing out that someone who bought such products “invests in an ecological, animal-friendly and sustainable agricultural economy.”

Story continues below…

Some 75 percent of ecological products were pesticide-free, compared with just 16 percent of conventional groceries, she said. Yet ethical shopping carried a price tag.

“Admittedly you have to say, bio products have a price: they are about 30 percent dearer,” Bockholt said.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

13:12 May 27, 2010 by Portnoy
Only when it comes to use of pesticides does it come out in front.

Uh, duh. Sometimes Stiftung Warentest misses the point entirely.
13:51 May 27, 2010 by chimpansi
Organic food is not BAD. It doesnt spoil your health. Mankind survived for centuries by eating Organic foods. This research was either carried out after a bottle of whisky or some chemical gaint bought them out!!

What next?? Probably next they will publish a article praising GM foods.
14:17 May 27, 2010 by yuma67
I don't buy organic food for my kids because the are healthier or tastier I buy it because THEY HAVE LESS OR NO PESTICIDES/HORMONES....you are right Portnoy this guys missed the most important point.
14:53 May 27, 2010 by Edmond Schindler
I believe the point of the publication is to downplay the true value of one who ¦quot;invests in an ecological, animal-friendly and sustainable agricultural economy¦quot; by glossing over the pesticide free benefits as well as dig at the pocket book costs, where possible, trying to shake the frugal shopper from their Bio stance.

But to what end? I don't follow the intent here. The report sounds so Capitalistic...yet counter productive at the same time.
17:11 May 27, 2010 by Dlocal
Right Portnoy:

the more one reads the following the more one ends up laughing....(try to emphasize on: embarrasing, government-funded, 85 investigations, 8 years and the punchline ofcourse...)

In an embarrassing result for the organic food industry, the government-funded but independent foundation drew on 85 investigations over eight years to come up with an overall assessment of what's known as bio food. Only when it comes to use of pesticides does it come out in front.
17:30 May 27, 2010 by marimay
I always thought the point of buying organic was to avoid the pesticides anyway....

pezmom - your baby is a ninja? thats cool!

does darwiniandemon not know tee = tea in German? n00b!
19:37 May 27, 2010 by William Thirteen
important to note as well - different foods have different pesticide exposures. if cost is an issue one could simply buy bio only those foods which have extra high pesticide loads. EWG has a handy wallet card detailing what should be bought organic in order to avoid pesticide loads

00:04 May 28, 2010 by wxman
"Organic food neither healthier nor tastier, watchdog finds". Only difference is price.
08:54 May 28, 2010 by Talonx
This article should have as a title;

"Pesticide and chemically nurtured foods found to have no advantage in either taste or quality over organic foods"

Subtitle as;

"Though non-organics due tend to be associated with long-term health problems and environmental devestation"
11:34 May 28, 2010 by Soil Association
Response from the Soil Association, UK: This article, from the German equivalent of the UK¦#39;s Which?, is not a scientific study and makes no claims to be. Most of the food looked at are processed foods. It does not cover any research on the nutritional content of fresh food, so tells us nothing about the quality of food as it leaves the farm. The article says some of the faults found with the texture and colour of processed organic food were due to absence of transfats, nitrite and other food additives - something most would see as benefit of organic. The organic products score better on pesticide residues and environmental impact. Find out more here http://www.soilassociation.org
12:36 May 28, 2010 by Talonx
The modern Western attitude seems to be, If you can't make a buck off of it people would just as soon throw it out.

Hell, remember the 'Red' campaign for AIDS. I think we could call that AIDSwashing. Nevertheless, positive things can sometimes come of trends like greenwashing if people are able to force the issue enough.

It's probably best not to completely discount such things (though one must always keep the cynicism and skepticism handy).
15:24 May 28, 2010 by lordkorner
Man all these comments,Bio stuff really does get people frothing at the mouth!
17:16 May 28, 2010 by Legal E
being from the non tree hugging RHS of the political divide, next they will say that processed salt is no different from natural sea salt apart that sea salt does not affect your heart etc so much.. summary translation. "we took a research budget, spent it on booze until we realised that we had to produce a report at the end and had to put something in". .

Guess ninja Baby would have a word or two to say...Waack!
20:17 May 28, 2010 by Talonx
@ andyandy

We can't feed six billion people properly because some of them don't live near enough farmable land for it to work out fro them. Many such people were formerly nomadic and some, if they would like to continue living where they do need to either move out or return to such a lifestyle. Even if we could get all the extra food we produce into countries such as Ethiopia at a sufficient level to feed the population we would completely undermine the few successful farmers that are there. Further, farmers are paid in the States and Europe to not produce, they are too productive as it is for those that they can supply.

As for Fertilizers being 'just as good', aside from growability a healthy humus is generally the keystone 'species' of any healthy stable environment. And, generally speaking, fertilizers are used in such vast abundance with chemical concentrations of various plant nutrients previously never present in nature, that such concentrations actually poison the land and prevent natural humus from forming (e.g. make humus earthworm unfriendly) not too mention running off into streams and choking off aquatic life.

The messed up thing about pesticides is that we use them without having a clue as to what they might do to mammals. Nevertheless, it is unsurprising to find that most pesticides that have gone through stringent testing have turned out to be carcinogenic or otherwise pathogenic, afterall these are substances used to kill things general targeting metabolic pathways which though endemic to a particular organism are present in an analogous fashion in humans. As far as the govt. controlling levels of the stuff, it's worthless unless you know what amount is threshhold.

As for pesticides increasing longevity, you must be joking. They do nothing of the sort, they simply increase crop yield, which is already far above subsistence levels.

It's for these reasons that I join co-ops where I can, contra what you stated, co-ops are more sustainable than factory farming. Whole Foods is not a co-op.

Ultimately, what can be done to improve all this is currently being done. For example, the domestication of perennial versions of many crops is currently a project underway in many Western nations. Perennials send deeper roots and tend to hold the soil intact from year to year. Additionally, research is underway looking at the different synergies of various polycultures. Finally and perhaps most importantly research is being done to try and replicate the knowledge and to some extent the methods utilized in the production of the anthropogenic terra preta of the Amazon.

Unfortunately, like health care, such long term aims are never profitable for individuals in the short term. Meaning that, generally, these projects are underfunded in comparison to and by way of being in competition with the less ethically and scientifically stringent GMO development, fertilizer development, and pesticide development.
21:21 May 28, 2010 by Talonx
It's simply not true that any manmade fertilizer contains the exact concentrations of everything found in manure in exact proportion, even if it were true, as you've (I like pie and cinzia) have both stated, overreliance on manure is just as bad. This is a symptom of not only one-field one-plant monoculture, but as well a sort of global 'monoculture', wherein folks think it's appropriate to grow everything anywhere, even when their are perfectly edible local plants that could be cultivated and domesticated.
23:43 May 28, 2010 by proclusian
If one reads the actual survey of studies summarized in the article by Stiftung Warentest (to be found here: http://www.test.de/filestore/t200710020.pdf?path=/protected/46/51/5258cccc-7774-4403-8f9f-cacfd7dc1dbf-protectedfile.pdf&key=3001A03DA859B8A96F1AE78052C448E35A579B33 ), this headline above and the article that follows are not really an accurate summary of the article from SW.

The article from SW is more balanced, and neutral, and points out, as many have above, that Bio is good when you are dealing with 'whole foods' (i.e., foods close to nature, e.g. whole milk, eggs, apples, etc.) but not as much when dealing with processed foods.

Certain publications (and this article above seems to be summarizing from Die Welt, which took a similarly negative stance based on the SW summary of studies towards Bio products) have taken the SW summary of studies and twisted it to their own ends. Read, if you can, the original study, which is much more factual in tone.

Shame on The Local for being misleading.
00:22 May 31, 2010 by Talonx
@ farmerandy

Sadly, market forces wont be enough. Food and health are similar in this regard.

More money needs to be spent on those things I've already mentioned, none of which are profitable in the short term compared to the quick fixes and blunt force solutions provided by the anomie of the market.
08:47 June 3, 2010 by Kelly McDonald
When I look at organic bananas, then look at regular bananas and the organic bananas don't spoil any faster (which I feel they should be breaking down faster) it makes me ponder the thought that they use less or no pesticides, but they are still a genectically modified food, for that matter every other product in the produce department, and as such only have 40 to 50% of the nutional value as unmodified fruits and vegatables. So I buy regular and rinse, rinse, and rinse.
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