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Dispelling Myths About Organic Foods

Sir John's comments led to a letter in The Guardian newspaper from the Policy Director of the Soil Association, Peter Melchett who wrote, 'Sir John's anti-organic prejudice is matched by his love of GMOs...". So, in 2006, has the organic information overload left us with facts or fiction? We take a look at the top 5 myths.

1. No nutritional difference between organic and conventional produce.

According to the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics the demand for organic foods are increasing due to consumers believing they are safer and healthier than conventional foods. Even though there are still gaps and limits in scientific knowledge, what we do know is that fewer chemicals are used in small organic farming than conventionally grown alternatives. It is well documented that residues remain on our conventional foods and consumed by us over decades, aids heavily to accumulating fatty tissue. Organic food regulations prohibit hydrogenated fat, phosphoric acid, preservatives, colourings, hormones, antibiotics, GMOs and 7000 other artificial flavourings that are permitted in conventional food.

There is also the environmental issue to which the organic farming method lends its benefits. The use of drugs is restricted in organic farming which not only keeps animals healthy but results in cryptosporidium, listeria and almonella being a rare occurrence in organic foods. There is a direct relationship between intensive cattle-rearing and E.coli which is virtually non-existent in organic beef, but kills over 200 Americans and Britons each year.

2.Consumers are paying too much for organic food?

This debate has grown since the days of comparing the price of an organic apple for a conventional apple. It seems that the 'value' of organic produce goes beyond its price tag.

Nutritionally: In terms of dry weight and nutrients, organic food tends to have more in it Why? Produce grown organically through modern methods of small organic farming must be done in enriched soil. The growth of a plant can be sped up by agrochemicals changing its structure to have more water in it. As a result, non-organic produce can sometimes shrink more on cooking as the water content dissipates.

Price: Average price difference is 20 per cent between organic and non-organic. However given that it can contain up to 26 per cent more dry matter (less water) could it actually be cheaper to buy organic?

Conclusion: It may still look like an apple you are actually buying less food if you don't buy organic.

3. Organic food and weight loss.

Organic butter can still make you put on weight and clog up your arteries. Organic sweets and sugar will still rot your teeth. However, certain kinds of organic food based nutrients found in vegetable broth can act as appetite suppressants as it does not contain excitotoxins. What are excitotoxin? These ingredients can cause neurological disorders by overexciting nerve cells and so causing hunger. Ingredients such as vegetable proteins, autolyzed yeast extract, MSG, yeast extract and others. This is perhaps more important in babies who can eat five times the amount of food per kg as an adult. Therefore, making sure they eat correctly and to not overeat is nowadays a growing concern. Babies in particular eat far more fruit and vegetables than most adults and are the very foods most likely to be covered in agrichemical residues.

4. The public is happy with regular, non-organic produce.

Some say that the public is happy with what's on the supermarket shelves, however various consumer surveys in Europe show many people are worried about pesticides, NPK fertilizers in small organic farming and processed food in general. In the United Kingdom a survey found 44% of all consumers were concerned about pesticides and 43% about the use of food additives (Food Standards Agency, 2003). This suggests that organic food based nutrients is something which people are taking more notice of.

5. Organic farming increases the risk of food poisoning.

The Department of Nutrition in Greece said:

"It is weigh the risks, but what should be made clear to consumers is that 'organic' does not equal 'safe'.

Much of this was based on the theory that if we don't use 'modern' day chemical pesticides that bacteria such as E Coli could not effectively be treated on crops. However studies made by S.K. Sagoo, C.L. Little & R.T. Mitchell on the microbiological quality of organic vegetables in UK small organic farming & demand showed that: "The majority (3185 of 3200; 99*5%) of samples were found to be of satisfactory/acceptable quality whilst only 15 (0*5%) were of unsatisfactory quality. Unsatisfactory results were due to Escherichia coli and Listeria spp.....The absence of pathogens and the low incidence of E. coli indicate that overall agricultural, hygiene; harvesting and production practices were good"

They suggested that the growth in the organic market has reflected an increase in the associated microbiological safety.

About the Author

Julian Hall of