Skip to comments.Organic food: Pricey, not particularly healthy, won't save you from cancer
Posted on 04/05/2014 3:41:07 AM PDT by markomalley
Comment One of the primary drivers of the growth in organic food sales over the last couple of decades is the perception that organic food is healthier than conventionally farmed food.
It stands to reason, doesnt it? After all conventional crops depend on chemicals and organic food doesn't.
And we all know that chemicals, in this case mainly pesticides, are bad for you. Ergo organic food should be healthier, and the strong growth in organic food sales (up 2.8 per cent last year, after a few years of downturn during the recession) attests to how popular opinion has accepted this assertion.
This is why the results of a new UK study that looked at cancer risk and the consumption of organic food is so damned inconvenient. Where organic food advocates have pushed organics as a way of reducing cancer risk, the study shows that it makes little difference one way or another. Hence uncomfortable headlines from the likes of the Daily Mail: Eating organic foods does NOTHING to reduce the cancer risk among women, says new study.
6,000 eaters probed
The study in question appears in the latest edition of the British Journal of Cancer and is by Oxford University cancer epidemiology boffin Dr Kathryn Bradbury and co-workers. Part of the Million Women Study funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council, this particular bit of research tracked 623,080 middle-aged British women for almost 10 years and looked at their pattern of organic food consumption and the incidence of 16 different cancer types, as well as overall cancer incidence.
Based on their reported eating habits the women were put into three groups: never, sometimes, or usually/always eating organic food. The headline result showed that eating organic food was not associated with overall cancer incidence one way or another (in fact there was a tiny increased overall risk of about 3 per cent, but its the sort of noisy result one can ignore). Look at the specific cancer types and the results are mixed, with some showing increased or decreased risks, but again nothing to be alarmed (or pleased) about.
Of course this has upset some, especially the British Soil Association, the guardian of all things organic in the UK (including being the premier organic certification body in the country).
According to Peter Melchett (aka Lord Melchett or the 4th Baron Melchett, ex-Greenpeace head honcho and now Policy Director at the Soil Association) the study is flawed because certain confounding variables werent addressed and because, according to him, the authors dont understand what pesticides are found in food or how they get into food.
However, he was quick to pick out one of the results for particular attention the numbers show that there is an apparent 21 per cent decrease in non-Hodgkins lymphoma risk among the women who reported "usually or always" eating organic food.
However, there were other numbers that were not picked out by the Soil Association, the most alarming of which was the apparent 9 per cent increase in the risk of breast cancer. This was a result that the study authors subjected to a series of additional tests and the results still stood. More alarming still was the 37 per cent increase in the risk of developing a soft tissue sarcoma, a form of cancer which is rare and hard to treat. Why no mention of those figures at the Soil Association?
It's all relative
Of course the fact is that all of these figures are dealing with relative risk, which is standard practice in epidemiological studies. To get some perspective, the chances of getting non-Hodgkins lymphoma is about 2.1 per cent, so if the results of this study hold true, then sticking to an always organic diet will reduce that to 1.66 per cent.
The figures for breast cancer are around 12.3 per cent life-time risk, and this will be increased to 13.4 per cent if you go the all organic route. And if you really want to trade punches with the proponents of organic, you can point out that a high-organic diet will lead to more cancers as the incidence of breast cancer is much higher than the incidence of non-Hodgkins.
However, its unlikely that this finding is going to do much to dissuade the faithful that the benefits of organics have been over-sold. After all, this is not the first negative study when it comes to organics and health. A systematic review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2012 found that: "The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods".
There were differences reported to do with pesticide residues but nothing to cause alarm. In terms of nutrient content, there was one statistically significant nutrient where organics outdid conventional produce: phosphorous. Now, if youre starving, then eating organic is the better choice, but if youre not, then increased phosphorous is pretty much irrelevant as its abundant in the diet no matter where it comes from.
Of course its the pesticide residues that ultimately drive the idea that organics are better for us. This ignores the fact that even organic food uses pesticides, for example rotenone and pyrethrin, some of which are considered carcinogenic or otherwise hazardous to health.
And, just to throw in some numbers, a study by the United States Department of Agriculture in 2012 found that 4 per cent of organic food samples had pesticide residues above the 5 per cent EPA limit, which technically meant they would have failed the organic certification they carried.
But leaving that aside, the chemophobia of much of the population is stoked by the use of in vitro studies which show that certain pesticides are carcinogenic. However, there is a huge difference between the inside of a petri dish and the inside of a human.
Pesticides are amongst the most heavily regulated chemical agents in the world, and if there was a link to cancer incidence then we would expect to see it in studies such as this one, and in studies that looked at farm workers and others who have greater exposure to pesticides.
One recently published paper looked at the incidence of cancer in agricultural workers in France during the period 2005 2009 (the AGRICAN study). It reported that overall agricultural workers were healthier than the general population, with reduced cancer incidence compared to the general population in the same areas. So where are the bodies (so to speak)?
There are, of course, problems with this new study in the UK. For one there was no stratification by type of organic diet so, for example, we dont know whether the lymphoma result was skewed by an excess of vegans or carnivores.
And the categories of "never", "sometimes" and "usually/always" are by necessity coarse and difficult to quantify for example how can you tell how much non-organic food the "usually" group eats?
But for all that, this is study with a large sample size and if there was a positive signal that eating organic protects against cancer youd expect to see it.
The upshot? Its probably true to say that spending the pennies (or pounds) you save by eating non-organic on eating MORE fruit and veg is a healthier bet than forking out the extra for "organics". ®
do you want to eat poop and bugs with your food or do you want chemicals?
no right answer
Pass the RoundUp and 2-4-D, please,
Don’t know what to believe.
I remember that a new study found that man is causing the
earth to get warmer and we were going to burn up in
What I do know is that scientists will lie like an Obama
to get funding. Science and its scientists have been so
politicized that they are totally untrustworthy.
I am with you.
Yeah...yeah. That’s fine, but let me ask you a question, lady bug breath, tell me why it is that organic milk lasts ten times longer before going bad in the frig compared to regular non-organic milk? Huh? Huh? Huh? :-)
Why does today’s “organic” foods look so, well, perfect?
I grew up in a home overseen by a kooky health nut who fed the family blemished apples and Brewer’s Yeast as a steady diet. In all those long trips to the infrequent health food stores, I found their produce looked like hell and was distinctly unappetizing. I assume because they were not treated with pesticides. Go into Whole Foods today and organic food looks like pristine still life paintings. It makes me highly suspicious.
Oh my, I thought I was the only one raised by old hippies....lol
I’ll take the poop and bugs.
that’s the beauty of freedom and choices, you eat poop, I eat Round UP
Pass the Twinkies, yldstrk...
Here have an Oreo and a Coke, lol
I’ve taken to eating leftover Chinese takeout in the morning. The rebellious teen in me still lives and thrives!
Except your Roundup goes into my water supply.
I do not believe that the EU permits genetically-modified crops, which means that their residents would not have nearly the Roundup exposure that we have.
so you maintain it is healthier to eat poop? And you would force all of to do the same? How about no.
Or pizza, leftover pizza is good too. But anything with rice, I love rice.
That’s of course a false dichotomy—not overloading with pesticides does not require less-organic fertilizer.
But yeah, I’d take crops that are correctly fertilized with manure over Roundup-soaked vegetables any day of the week.
“Thats of course a false dichotomy”
I call your false dichotomy and bid you a straw man
I see you’re from Kansas. Not a Monsanto rep, by chance, are you?
Besides that, many avoid high fructose corn syrup. You're more likely to get fruits and vegetables that are fully ripened on the vine. It's easier to find breads that are whole grain or rye with nothing unnecessary added. The meats and dairy aren't anti-biotic or growth hormone laden.
That's why I wouldn't think this study applies to the US. "organic" might be less of a difference in countries that have all of these restrictions to protect the food supply.
Love crab rangoon after some cool down time and sweet sour chicken. Most other Chinese food never did much for me.
Pizza is always better with settling time.
If the ‘organic’ produce is picked by Mexicans; you’re probably still eating ‘poop’...
no I do custody battles, wish I had a job at some big corporation though, no my issue is having been raised by old hippies and coming of age in the 70s, I have been through this Age of Aquarius stuff before and it does not impress
I seem to remember 2 major groups from my college chemistry classes; Organic and inorganic.
I won’t eat organic crap!!
I don’t know if GMO will give me cancer or not, but I do know that my digestive system is fine with non-GMO tomatoes and gives me several days of intestinal distress with GMO. As for the lack of pesticides and eating the occasional bug that come gratis with organic, I’ll take my chances with organic.
We live next door to a 1200 head dairy. Tons to manure to deal with. I’ll give you three guesses what we fertilize our garden and hay pastures with and the first two guesses don’t count.
Best fertilizer there is.
My understanding is that it last longer because of a different pasteurization method, but I can’t remember the details. I buy organic milk, also.
I really hate to be the bearer of bad news for you, but chemicals or no chemicals you still get bugs and you still get poop on anything you grow.
I bough some fresh rosemary....
Consider growing your own. It’s not difficult, and it is so satisfying. And so much cheaper.
PS: Care to share the recipe for that bread?
Exactly! Why do foods look good and not as if they have worm/bug/ holes? Because of the use of pesticides to keep the worms, bugs, and birds off them. Wash your fruit and veggies. It removes the pesticides -— and the dew and rains wash most of it off before it comes to market, anyway. It is ridiculous!
yeah, well when I buy organic I have meal moths in my cabinets
Getting rid of the organic makes a huge difference
I do have the exterminator out though
Don’t like bugs and daughter hates them
As for poop, it is all over, true. Squirrels, rabbits, foxes, deer, turkeys, racoons, dogs, cats, birds.........
If it was picked by migrant field hands, the fecal matter is pretty much guaranteed in organic or in non-organic produce.
I don’t think you know what that word means.
true, some of the most off the wall people I have known were obsessed with food
I ask for the inorganic vegetables..
Makes your vegies taste better too.
Last time I bought broccoli in a store they had used so much sulfur in the soil it tasted like I was eating a match and it just plain stunk.
There is clearly reason for concern though in that some POPs disrupt the endocrine and reproductive systems, affect intelligence and the nervous system, can be found at high levels in tumors and diseased tissues of other types, and have harmful impacts on wildlife. Such associations and the epidemiological evidence suggest that POPs have a role in some human disease processes and may otherwise impair health and normal development.
Eating organic food goes only so far in avoiding POPs. Plastic and plastic lined food containers are also a problem, especially if they are heated or used in cooking. Similarly, furniture, floor coverings, and clothes have and emit a wide range of chemicals, some of which are already established as problematic.
Most likely, as the science advances in the next few decades, more and more of the chemicals that we routinely put into the environment and our bodies will be called into question and substitutes developed. For now, eating organic and otherwise trying to avoid POPs will be difficult, expensive, and incomplete, and may -- or may not -- be worthwhile.
“We live next door to a 1200 head dairy. Tons to manure to deal with. Ill give you three guesses what we fertilize our garden and hay pastures with and the first two guesses dont count.
Best fertilizer there is.”
So you are growing your vegetables in anti-biotic, growth hormone laden soil.
Composted animal poop isn’t nearly as likely to make you sick as fresh human poop.
Problem is a lot of people have gone to the extreme of not only washing their food but sterilizing it with some kind of sanitizer like bleach.
Their system can’t take it anymore if their is some type of bacteria on their food.
I’ve got nothing against using pesticides if I need to, but I prefer not to if I don’t have to.
I came of age in the ‘70s too, on a working farm, so I’ve seen plenty of toxic stuff that was perfectly acceptable—until it was found out it wasn’t.
I sure do.
Yes, it’s not as as nasty as carnivore or omnivore poop. Recycled grass, basically.