UPDATE: Jill at LaVidaLocavore has a good post on why this whole report needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
The front page of the British tabloid Daily Express has a headline in type two inches high: “ORGANIC FOOD NO HEALTHIER.” The article begins, “Eating organic food in the belief that it is good for your health is a waste of money, new research shows.”
The article is based on the conclusions of a lengthy report just released from the British Food Standards Agency, Comparison of composition (nutrients and other substances) of organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs: a systematic review of the available literature. The report is by the prestigious London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and looked at the results of 162 studies comparing organic to conventionally grown foods for their content of nutrients and other substances. Although it found higher amounts of some nutrients in organic crops, it found higher amounts of others in conventional crops, and no difference in others. On this basis, the report concludes:
That is fine and dandy but a very narrow view of what 'organic' really is all about. The 'organic' movement has diverged from what the original intent of the 'organic' concept really was. It's now become some official designation which frankly doesn't mean shit. There are not nearly enough inspectors to actually insure that things labeled 'organic' are actually organic and the reality is that the whole concept has actually become rather meaningless. Regulations now allow for 'non-organic' additives and there is no real system to truly trace the origins and heritage of all the ingredients in your box of 'organic corn flakes'. The chances that some of the corn in the box is actually GMO is very high.
There is no good evidence that increased dietary intake, of the nutrients identified in this review to be present in larger amounts in organically than in conventionally produced crops and livestock products, would be of benefit to individuals consuming a normal varied diet, and it is therefore unlikely that these differences in nutrient content are relevant to consumer health.
We actually need a new word instead of 'organic'...something that incorporates the things that are actually really important in defining the food that we eat. We need food grown locally. We need food grown sustainably. We need food grown as naturally as possible with as little industrial chemicals as possible and it means organic fertilizers and natural insecticides where possible. It means crop rotation and maximized use of our arable land. It means fresh foods and foods that taste good. If we have to use insecticides and fungicides then we need to use those derived from natural sources like BT, pyrethrins and neem and we need to reject things like DDT, and glycophosphates and chlorodane. We need to encourage beneficial insects and take advantage of companion planting as well as heirloom varieties that have proven their worth over the generations.
Like I said, fine and dandy, I know food that is grown locally or in my backyard is fresher and better tasting and probably more nutritious than food flown in from New Zealand or Chile or even grown on some mega farm somewhere in the U.S.. It is also cheaper in the broader sense. If the farmer down the road doesn't strictly abide by all the 'organic rules' like buffer zones and such but he does try and grow his food naturally and with care then I think he still wins...strictly organic or not.