/ Food & Drink

Time to clear the confusion about organic food

Lettuce growing in field

Do you think organic food is healthier or lower in fat? Not only are you wrong, you’re also not alone. So when exactly is it worthwhile to buy organic?

What goes through your mind when you see the word ‘organic’ on food? Is it healthier? More expensive? Low in fat? Or are you just left a little confused?

There’s been a rash of research into organic food lately, and confusion seems to be the key word coming out.

What research tells us about organic food

Last week’s big news was that one in five people think the term organic means the product is low in fat. In the same study, nearly a quarter admitted they were unsure what the term even means.

Rewind a few weeks to a Belgian study investigating consumers’ knowledge about organic vegetables. After questioning people on their knowledge about organic farming, researchers concluded that consumers could benefit from more information.

It’s an area we’ve researched in the past, too. We found that people buy organic for a number of reasons – one being the perception that it’s nutritionally better than conventional food. But the FSA busted that myth last year with a study that showed organic food provides no significant nutritional or health benefits compared to conventional food.

It’s not hard to see why people are confused. Stick the word organic on the packet and convenience food feels a lot less guilty. I should know – I’ve fallen for it enough times.

So when should you buy organic?

The FSA says ‘eating organic food is one way to reduce consumption of pesticide residues and additives’, so if you’re concerned about the environment it’s a worthwhile investment.

For me, it’s a matter of taste. I buy organic carrots and tomatoes purely because they taste better. But I can’t afford to shop exclusively organic, so if it doesn’t taste any different I stick to the conventional version.

But are these reasons enough to make you buy organic? Organic sales declined by 13% last year, but the Soil Association expects them to grow again by 2-5% in 2010.

That’s a lot of people who still buy-in to organic lifestyles. Let’s just hope they know what they’re getting.


It has always been my understanding that "organically grown food" is far more sustainable – and uses no or only tiny amounts of pesticides.. In fact you are prerpetuating the miss-information by calling the food "Organic" Not "Organically Grown" – ALL FOOD IS ORGANIC!!!!!!!

I will always try to buy organically grown food by choice – but with interest rates being so low I can’t afford to.

Surely it is up to the consumer to check.

Margaret Wiltshire says:
3 August 2010

I am quite angry that the FSA say that organic food is no better for you!!! It may not contain any more vitamins and minerals but it does not contain all the chemicals which contaminate the food and then our bodies. It is a known fact that these chemicals stop our bodies working properly and cause all sorts of illnesses and stops our bodies own slimming system from working too. I only wish we could afford to buy all organic.

Norma Ellis says:
3 August 2010

I also buy organic food because I have no desire to injest pesticides. When I bite into an apple, I feel reasonable confident that there is no pesticide or fungicide residue on the skin. However, we have to put trust an the industry that is supervised by I know not whom. I would be glad to buy everything I possibly could that is grown organically but the cost is extremely high. Sometimes it is worthwhile to pay the extra when the taste is often so much better but, of course, the FSA completely misses the point when it talks about nutrition.

This article doesn’t explain what organic mabels imply in terms of agriculture practice.
And yes the use of ‘organic’ only is totally incorrect like a lot of shortcuts used for marketing purposes.
Doesn’t organic or organically grown means that organic fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides (chemicals) are used instead of inorganic ones? Doesn’t mean that none are used.

Elizabeth says:
3 August 2010

Almost all the food we eat is organic. The term is misleadingly used to mean grown organically.
The FSA did, I believe, point out that some of the minerals and vitamins in organically produced food were often present in larger quantities.

The chief value is the fact that it benefits our environment, allowing an increase in insect life and therefore bird life etc., keeping harmful chemicals out of the soil and air, and freeing the produce from their taint. There is probably no proof, but the appalling increase in the number of children with asthma and hay fever, makes one wonder how much chemicals have played a part in this.

I grow my vegetables and fruit without using pesticides now, but I have to admit that I don’t search out organically produced food, when I buy it from the shops.

I personally don’t particularly buy organically produced food, but

The rise of asthma in children is due to the massive rise in cleanliness and over sterlisation of homes- There was a detailed research study showing that the obsessional cleanliness of today seriously inhibited the development of antibodies in children to prevent allergies.

This research interested me as a teacher – because I postulated this result many years before by observing that in the past children playing in normal ‘dirty environments’ did not suffer anywhere near as much asthma as they do now. The ‘proof’ I used was that boy scouts camping in ‘dirt’ still did not have asthma.

The overuse of pesticides and insecticides has also led to a 50% reduction in SPECIES of butterflies and mothsin the UK in the last 50 years – as well as a reduction in the numbers of individuals within a specie. (I am an entomologist)

pickle says:
4 August 2010

It’s a matter of quantity – if all food was grown organically there would not be sufficient to feed us all. The pests would get there first! Seriously, the use of chemicals and pesticides is controlled by the authorities, at least in this country. So, English non-organic food seems to me to be OK. Foreign non-organic food is rather doubtful since it is well known that regulations in Europeare often treated with scorn by farmers and food producers.

Elizabeth D says:
25 April 2011

Organically grown food, as I understand it, uses only ‘fertiliser’ (often compost) and pesticides which will not damage the micro-organisms in the soil, which appear to be necessary for ‘the environment’ in the largest sense of the word – varied species of worm, insect and beetle, and, higher up the food chain, birds and mammals. Crop rotation helps this process too, e.g. legumes fixing nitrogen to benefit following crops which need it.
We are now aware how much we need bees to pollinate our crops – they need plants of varied kinds. And as for the worry that we cannot feed ourselves ‘organically’ – productivity of food as a whole is lower in mono-crop fields (even if the yield of that particular crop is higher) than in muti-crop gardens and allotments where ‘catch crops’ can flourish and one crop can support another. (This was demonstrated in a Reith lecture some yeras ago.) Moreover we do not need to eat so much meat, which is wasteful in nutrition per acre terms – even without going fully vegetarian.

Organic has got to be preferable, if grown locally. Not so sure about from abroad, with less control about source of food and added transport costs.

To add to what richard states about the insects, of course, if we continue to ignore their demise, we shan’t live long ourselves as they pollinate the plants we need to eat.

As for the FSA who pays/runs it anyway? This report is not from up to date scientific research (which the FSA website claims to be its aim) – it is a review of previous studies done over the past 50 years (some which according to the person heading the research was limited, and therefore had to be based on that which was of “satisfactory” quality). This said, the FSA did not employ them to deal with the effect of pesticides on health from eating non-organic.

It is interesting to listen to the podcast of Dr Dangeur 2009 who headed the research.
He states at one point he cannot say if use of pesticides is against public health as it is not his field of expertise.

FSA’s stance is that GM is safe, irradiation is safe, additives/preservatives are safe. Guess what though – I don’t want all this money and time spent on proving these are safe because I already know that organic food is safe – that’s the way it grows, for free out of the ground and off the trees/bushes, without any help from the highly profitable food industry.