Most of us know that people who eat a balanced diet, exercise and have disposable income live longer. This may sound unfair to unemployed coach-potatoes but it is a blessing for a multibillion-dollar industry eager to market itself as health’s champion.
The “organics” industry asserts that you should go “organic” because it is the healthier option. If you ask for evidence it will be pointed out that consumers of organic products are healthier. True, they usually are. However, as they are the same people who also eat a balanced diet, exercise, and have disposable income, that claim is rather pointless.
A recent study on 60.773 women from Denmark, the world’s biggest per capita consumer of organic food, confirmed that organic food users have a healthier lifestyle than non-users. Frequent organic food users consumed a more ‘prudent’ diet compared with non-users and had significantly higher intakes of vegetables (167 %), fibre (113 %) and n-3 fatty acids (111 %) and less saturated fat (28 %). The study also found that non-smoker urbanites with higher proficiency jobs are the most likely consumers. This makes direct comparisons of the health benefits of organic food almost impossible.
Big population studies carried out by reputable scientific institutions (see London School of Hygiene and Stanford University) have always failed to find solid evidence for the beneficial effects of organic food consumption once the confounding socioeconomic factors are considered. Health-conscious organic eaters feed on grilled organic chicken and organic lettuce dressed with extra virgin olive oil, not on organic chicken deep fried in extra virgin olive oil, and that is what makes them healthier.
Most laboratory studies designed to avoid real-world confounding factors are also negative regarding the effects of organic food consumption. The few studies that show a positive effect seem to be designed by researchers who carried out their experiments in order to obtain the results that they wanted rather than to find out the truth (see previous post).
Scientific literacy -and also plain common sense- will indicate that there is no reason whatsoever for assuming that organic products are better than conventional ones. And there is no reason to assume that “natural” in general is better neither. A plague of locusts is natural and it is bad. Salmonella is natural and it is bad. Also pain is natural and who will say that it is not bad?
There are not solid arguments against organic products* and as a helpless foreigner aspiring to fit into British society -Prof Pesca-style- I have many reasons for purchasing them and to brag about it -Indeed some times I do**. However, as a scientist committed to the rational pursuit of truth I cannot be complaisant with those who invent pseudoscientific reasons to justify the consumption of any product. You should buy organic if you fancy -like you may fancy a pair of hand-made shoes- but do not feel compelled to purchase organic as a healthier option. Instead eat a balance diet, exercise and -if you can- get a high-proficiency job.
* I know some will comment that their use of resources is inefficient or that they promote soil erosion.
** Farmers’ market organic tomatoes taste better. This is because they are hand-picked when they are ripe rather than collected while still green.