More natural doesn’t mean more healthy
By National Post
Aug. 1, 2009 – The debate is on, and this National Post editorial indicates it will be a long and lengthy exchange, including a stance that extends the perception of healthier eating from organics to the contention that it is not better for the environment.
Aug. 1, 2009 – A new study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine brings us the “news” that organically grown food bears no relevant nutritional differences from conventionally grown food. The real news is that anyone might have ever thought otherwise.
When you buy organic, you are plucking a single variable out of a dizzyingly large matrix of environmental, economic and ecological characteristics. What you are paying for is a guarantee that no synthetic pesticides, chemical weed-killers, pre-emptive antibiotics, or soluble mineral salts were used in the production of that food. Such a choice sounds appealing. But it does not guarantee that your food will be, in any way, better-tasting or healthier. It certainly does not guarantee that its production was more energy-efficient. Indeed, it is likely to be much less so.
So if you are more concerned with, say, the global atmosphere than with the local environment in areas where food is produced, you cannot even be certain that organic is the right moral choice ecologically. Mass-produced organic food, for example, is predicated on replacing applications of herbicide with laborious weedings performed by carbon-belching machines. Which way would Mother Earth vote?
Asked by Post reporter Charles Lewis to comment on the London School report, a spokesman for the Canadian Organic Growers wisely played defence, saying that they did not dispute the findings and “don’t make health claims based on the nutrition of organic food.” But surely this is a little disingenuous. The market for organic food is growing rapidly, and the evidence suggests that those who buy it are indeed paying for a perception that it is somehow better for them. In a 2007 Harris Interactive poll of nearly 2400 Americans, the percentage of frequent organic-food buyers who agreed that it is “healthier” was 98 percent.