back to article Organic food: Pricey, not particularly healthy, won't save you from cancer

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, doesn’t it? After all conventional crops depend on chemicals and organic food doesn't. And we all know that chemicals, in this …

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  1. Ole Juul

    Luxury item

    I never thought about organic vegetables and fruit as being anything other than a better grown product which I occasionally buy because of the better taste. I'm not concerned about whether it's healthier or not, and in that regard this article is a red herring.

    1. Professor Clifton Shallot

      Re: Luxury item

      Not only is it a red herring (is that GM gone too far?) it seems from reading the Reg article that the science could have been more rigorous.

      Given the relatively large sample size I guess we can allow for smoking, exercise, and other very relevant factors to average out across the groups but using "reported eating habits" to group these women seems a bit too vague - are people who report that they "always" eat organic being honest or trying to give what they think is the "better" answer? Are they eating mainly processed food? Do they eat a lot of (organic) meat?

      With the caveat that I haven't read the original publication I'd say that it looks every bit as flimsy as the straw man it seems to be aimed at.

      1. James Micallef Silver badge

        Re: Luxury item

        "Given the relatively large sample size I guess we can allow for smoking, exercise, and other very relevant factors to average out across the groups"

        On the contrary, I would expect people who care enough to buy organic would smoke less than average, excercise more than average etc and that this meta-difference would show up in the results... but even this seems not to be the case.

        1. Professor Clifton Shallot

          Re: Luxury item

          "On the contrary, I would expect people who care enough to buy organic would smoke less than average, excercise more than average etc and that this meta-difference would show up in the results... but even this seems not to be the case."

          So I guess you will now be considering revising your assumption seeing as the alternative would be to believe that the products used in non-organic farming somehow counteract the effects of smoking and taking insufficient exercise.

          1. Richard Wharram

            Re: Luxury item

            Organic claims to be both healthier and better for the environment without proving either. Some light reading. Plenty more out there:

            http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~lhom/organictext.html

            http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/06/06/synthetic-v-natural-pesticides/

            I suspect, although noone has absolute proof, that it all rather depends on the individual application of organic or non-organic farming.

            Flavour's a different matter. Personal choice init.

            1. Cliff

              Re: Luxury item

              Health claims have always been spurious, but I can see other valid reasons to choose organic food over agri-chemical food.

              Principally - avoiding 'innocent bystander' insects from being killed with pesticides (the value of biodiversity is hard to argue against), avoiding sudden/high volume leeching of nitrates and ilk into the water supply, reliance on agri-chemical companies.

              Some people try to push the boundaries of 'organic' by creating naturally-derived analogues of synthetic treatments - but they're more about the cash-in than the ethos behind organic farming.

              Ultimately it comes down either feeding the plants, or feeding the soil which in turn feeds the plants (and other wildlife). I'm for feeding the soil.

            2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Luxury item

              "I suspect, although noone has absolute proof, that it all rather depends on the individual application of organic or non-organic farming."

              It's also important to learn which "natural" chemicals such as copper sulphate are allowed to be used on "organic" crops by the Soil Assoc.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Luxury item

          "On the contrary, I would expect..."

          And thats where you go wrong - letting pre-concieved notions in.

        3. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Luxury item

          "On the contrary, I would expect people who care enough to buy organic would smoke less than average, excercise more than average etc and that this meta-difference would show up in the results... but even this seems not to be the case."

          I've seen morbidly obese people order a double bacon cheeseburger, a large bag of chips and a DIET Coke. Given that, I won't believe any blanket statements about the people that eat more "organic" veg smoke less and exercise more.

          1. Cirdan
            Mushroom

            Re: Luxury item

            "I've seen morbidly obese people order a double bacon cheeseburger, a large bag of chips and a DIET Coke. "

            Screw you. Just because we're fat doesn't mean we should give up completely.

            And stop by the health food store sometime to see the supplements to PUT ON WEIGHT. If those folks' metabolism let them keep their calories, they wouldn't need the help, now would they?

            ...Cirdan...

            192 cm

            150 kg

            P.S. Look up "leptin" and postulated receptor issues & variances resulting in atypical homeostasis ("obesity"). Or just decide that all those native Hawaiians are just lazy self-indulgent pigs...not noticing the only ancient Polynesians surviving long sea voyages would be those who held on to their calories...and passed on the genes. Whichever.

          2. DiViDeD Silver badge

            Re: Luxury item

            I'm not 'morbidly obese' but on those occasions I buy fazt food I'll have acouple of sausages, a medium chips and a DIET coke, simply because I like the flavour and can't abide the taste of full fat coke or the abysmal Coke Zero. Should I be buying sugar drinks so I don't upset your preconceptions?

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Luxury item

            "I've seen morbidly obese people order a double bacon cheeseburger, a large bag of chips and a DIET Coke".

            What a strange thing to say. Do you really think they would be better off adding an extra 330 calories (all from sugar) to their intake, when they can get an equivalent drink with no calories? Those 330 calories are of absolutely no nutritional value, in contrast to the rest of the meal.

            Actually the main problems with the meal you describe are the burger bun and the potatoes. Subtract those and you have some beef, cheese, and garnish - nourishing and not too calorific (apart from the inevitable sugar which will have found its way into any sauce or relish). Unfortunately, for that very reason, they are also by far the most expensive components of the meal, which is why burger chains minimize them and maximize the bread and potatoes.

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Luxury item

      Well no. The organic movement contains an awful lot of people who think organic=natural=Good whereas using modern pesticides in agriculture=unnatural=Poison, irrespective of the effects/evidence.

      1. Franklin

        Re: Luxury item

        "The organic movement contains an awful lot of people who think organic=natural=Good whereas using modern pesticides in agriculture=unnatural=Poison, irrespective of the effects/evidence."

        Indeed. And rather a lot of those folks don't know that organic food is often grown with pesticides, or if they do, assume for some bizarre reason that "natural" pesticides must be less poisonous than "synthetic" pesticides.

        There's a wide range of pesticides used by "organic" growers, ranging from pyrethrins to copper sulfate. You really, really don't want to eat any of those pesticides--in many cases, they're more toxic than synthetics.

      2. Charles Manning

        unnatural=Poison

        This sort of "information" is often twisted in some sort of morality framework by linking modern pesticides and fertilizers to war. An easy thing to do since many fertilisers and agricultural chemicals are made from similar ingrediants to explosives,

        What they fail to mention is that many of the worst poisons out there are perfectly natural: botulism, the arsenic in wells, etc.

        This is how we end up with a million people dying every year of malaria for want of a bit of cheap, safe, DDT.

    3. Psyx

      Re: Luxury item

      Indeed. From my perspective, a better reason to buy it that some mysterious and intangible 'health' reason is that more organic food means less pesticides and nitrates being pumped into our water table and environment. I view my own health as somewhat less of a motivator than my countryside's.

      I would also argue that ten years is not sufficient time for a study to really be of much use.

      Even smoking 20 a day probably won't give you lung cancer in ten years, so what validity is the report? Very little I would suggest.

      1. RobHib

        @Psyx -- Re: Luxury item

        "...less pesticides and nitrates being pumped into our water table and environment. I view my own health as somewhat less of a motivator than my countryside's."

        In a long-winded post further on I argue the case for using a pesticide based on currently available scientific evidence that shows it to be reasonably safe. I did this to show not only how emotive the public discourse on this issue has become but also how woolly some of the thinking behind the arguments actually is. We've now a situation where it's nigh on impossible to have a sensible conversation with an organic farmer (or organic devotee) about pesticides, and on the other side, we've pesticide advocates and manufacturers etc. who think the organic mob is simply wacky. This doesn't solve anything.

        The issues surrounding organics and the use of pesticides etc. is substantially more complicated than two opponent sides just facing off and shouting at one another (all that achieves is that the opposing mantras being broadcast from both sides only further confuse the naive public). Moreover, what is of considerable concern is how this Mexican standoff developed in the first place (but that's too big a subject to tackle here). Still, it potentially holds the key for a solution, but the sides are so entrenched and the history so long and involved, that I cannot see a resolution occurring anytime soon.

        I've more than just a theoretical interest in the subject, I first used pesticides long enough ago to have seen and used arsenate of lead [PbHAsO4] when it was still an approved insecticide (and in recent years I've used its cousin, arsenic trioxide [As2O3], to kill termites). I used lead arsenate mainly to combat codling moth in apple trees, which I first started to do at about 12 years of age. And I know from the spraying practices adopted back then, I would have been exposed to and absorbed some of the chemical. (Absorbing arsenic into one's system is highly undesirable at any time, but to do so as a child is even worse.)

        Before organic advocates and Greenies feint in horror, let me acquaint you with a few facts. Both codling moth and fruit fly can totally destroy crops. Left untreated, an orchard in an area of bad infestation can have essentially every piece of fruit destroyed—nothing is left, I know, I've seen it happen. In such a situation, just one single application of lead arsenate knocks codling moth for six—afterwards the exact opposite is true, one would find difficulty in finding any infestation at all. There's no doubt about it, lead arsenate is devastatingly effective against codling moth, same with Malathion for fruit fly.

        Today, no one is advocating putting the double-whammy of both lead and arsenic into the environment no matter how effective an insecticide lead arsenate is. That said, one should put things into perspective. In many places, one cubic metre of backyard garden soil contains enough naturally-occurring arsenic to kill a person! Not that anyone will be harmed by it, but it should be remembered that arsenic is pretty common in the environment.

        I am not arguing for one second that there are not dangerous manmade chemicals in the environment and that much of this pollution is not manmade--it certainly is. Also, I'm not arguing for any relaxation of regulations with respect to pesticides etc., in fact I'd argue just the opposite.

        As I point out in the latter post, the single biggest problem in this debate is the morbid fear of chemicals and chemical pollution that has griped the population over the past few decades, it's so all-embracing that the matter cannot effectively be part of the public discourse.

        My primary concern is about the ignorance and fear that surrounds this debate. Fear of chemicals is so irrational, entrenched and all pervasive within the community that it now seems impossible to move this debate on. As I've said elsewhere "clearly, school chemistry has monumentally failed to educate the public about chemicals". This wasn't once the case, the fundamental questions are why we've developed such fears in recent years and what we can do to allay them.

        1. Psyx

          Re: @Psyx -- Luxury item

          "As I point out in the latter post, the single biggest problem in this debate is the morbid fear of chemicals and chemical pollution that has griped the population over the past few decades, it's so all-embracing that the matter cannot effectively be part of the public discourse."

          Broadly agree with all other points, and mostly this one.

          Personally, I don't have a morbid fear of chemicals. However, we don't have a great track record for pollution, with every generation spewing a selection of things into our water table and air that causes the next generation to exclaim "What the F&$K were you THINKING?". Those are the cock-ups that I'd like us to avoid, rather than a "pump it out and it'll probably be fine" attitude. That might be fine 99% of the time and ok if its your back garden, but when those are bad odds when the sample area is the place where we all live.

          tl;dr: I believe a little more caution and forethought should be used when we're screwing with entire habitats, based on our track record of fucking things up epically in the past and the fact that the people making these calls are motivated by short term profit.

          1. RobHib

            @Psyx -- Re: @Psyx -- Luxury item

            Despite me raising questions about the levels of pollution elsewhere, there is NO doubt that large chemical companies polluted willy-nilly decades ago (before sensitive detectors such a mass spectrometers etc. could detect them). With modern detectors, we can now look back in retrospect and analyse the pollution with some accuracy.

            Despite the accuracy of current detection methods, these companies continually lie and or doge the issue, blame someone else, or say the pollution isn't as bad as people make out. After years of this crap, the population doesn't know what to believe--it's FUD (fear, Uncertainty & Doubt), unfortunately it partially works, especially with a population who is not sufficiently literate in chemistry.

            Whilst what much of what these chemical companies utter is lies and propaganda, some does have a modicum of truth about it. When companies say the pollution isn't as bad as people make out, they're sometimes correct. This occurs when reagents have just caustic or acidic burning effects on people (as opposed to systemic poisoning). In these cases, simple (but efficient) remedial measures can make the site safe as any remaining residue will be essentially harmless through dilution.

            Unfortunately, anti-chemical groups and the Greenies often won't concede this, thus they too generate FUD in the community. What's more, these days they're armed with both new-age, do-gooder chemists equipped with mass spectrometers to prove the point (and with the population not being clear about the differences chemical concentrations having just caustic and burning effects and those that are known carcinogens/systemic poisons etc., then FUD goes feral). This does not help!

            Distinguishing between harmful waste and the more insidious waste whose exact effects on humans is known to be dangerous (or unknown or potentially dangerous) is actually is a simple notion; it's the processing of the subsequent data which is often corrupted and leads to problems. Unfortunately, both the combating protagonists and government agencies refuse to classify pollutants this simple way which leaves communities in confusion.

            It seems the assumption is that FUD is useful to all sides (for whatever each is trying to prove). Moreover, instead of governments being frank and open with citizens and adjudicating properly, they offer the same advice to the total population, which invariably is advice aimed at the LCD--the person who has not one iota of chemical knowledge, thus even partially knowledgeable citizens are left in the dark.

            Again, this does not help alleviate community fears either.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Luxury item

        If you really want to reduce pesticides and nitrates, then polytunnels work best.

    4. User McUser

      Re: Luxury item

      a better grown product which I occasionally buy because of the better taste.

      I would argue that the improved taste likely has more to do with "organic" foods being grown from tastier varieties than it does with the farming methods used.

      Fruit and vegetable varieties grown on "commercial" farms are usually chosen based on their durability during shipping and how good it looks "on the shelf." Flavor generally does not really enter into the equation other than perhaps as an afterthought.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: red herring..

      in that regard this article is a red herring.

      As red herrings could be organic I am now recursively confused..

  2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    so NOT putting lots of chemicals in your body is NOT ok then?

    What load of old cock as a certain presenter on Top Gear is fond of saying.

    My homegrown organic veggies and fruit taste a lot better than what you can buy in the supermarkets. It is also fresher (in season). It can be picked and eaten in minutes not days. Sure sometimes there are a few insects picked along with the veggie but that really does not matter in the long run.

    To me, what matters is not eating food laced with god knows what man made chemicals (often derived from oil) into my body. The fallout from using DDT in the 1950's/60's is still a problem in many parts of the world. Have we learned nothing from our past mistakes?

    1. RonWheeler

      Re: so NOT putting lots of chemicals in your body is NOT ok then?

      Agree they may taste better and be fresher. But not all chemicals are bad for you.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: so NOT putting lots of chemicals in your body is NOT ok then?

        Everything is a chemical. Chlorophyll, iron and vitamins, proteins, everything. And there are plenty of "natural" products that are seriously harmful; e.g. green light exposed potatoes and Deadly NIghtshade ( Belladonna, same family as potatoes and tomatoes if my memory serves me).

        1. Werner Heisenberg
          Joke

          Re: so NOT putting lots of chemicals in your body is NOT ok then?

          "Everything is a chemical"

          Indeed so.

          Even so-called 'organic' produce contains significant amounts of dihydrogen monoxide.

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: so NOT putting lots of chemicals in your body is NOT ok then?

            Even so-called 'organic' produce contains significant amounts of dihydrogen monoxide.

            My favourite for mixing with whisky.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: so NOT putting lots of chemicals in your body is NOT ok then?

          "Everything is a chemical".

          Don't be deliberately obtuse. In common usage, when people talk about chemicals they mean artificial substances - and, in the context of food, they specifically mean substances that are not part of natural foods.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: so NOT putting lots of chemicals in your body is NOT ok then?

        "not all chemicals are bad for you."

        I must admit to being partial to veg boiled in a mix of sodium chloride and dihydrogen monoxide. Or chips smothered in diluted acetic acid and sodium chloride. A bit of mono-sodium glutamate cooked into some foods seems ok too. My wife claims that C6H8O7 with some flavouring makes a refreshing drink as well as a decent all purpose household cleaning fluid.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: so NOT putting lots of chemicals in your body is NOT ok then?

          I must admit to being partial to veg boiled in a mix of sodium chloride and dihydrogen monoxide. Or chips smothered in diluted acetic acid and sodium chloride. A bit of mono-sodium glutamate cooked into some foods seems ok too.

          Almost OK - except for MSG. That stuff is not really benign. On the plus side, I seem to have become sensitive to it - as I now taste it the moment I eat it, I can now prevent the problems I have with it "afterwards". That sensitivity is unhelpful as I like Asian food, but it's not hard to find a cook/restaurant that is willing to go easy on its use - a good cook can create taste without resorting to "help"..

    2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: so NOT putting lots of chemicals in your body is NOT ok then?

      @Steve Davies 3 My homegrown organic veggies and fruit taste a lot better than what you can buy in the supermarkets.

      I'm sure that's true, but it's probably not because they're organic.

      Gardeners tend to select varieties for flavour, while farmers go for high yield. Also home grown produce is liable to suffer occasional stress from lack of water, which apparently enhances flavour. Farmers make sure their produce is pumped full of as much water as possible.

      1. RobHib

        @Kubla Cant -- Re: so NOT putting lots of chemicals in your body is NOT ok then?

        Gardeners tend to select varieties for flavour

        Very true, there are literally dozens of varieties of many types of produce that are not available in the shops. One of my pet peeves is the lack bean varieties available. To solve the problem, I ended up growing all sorts of beans including some wonderful climbing varieties.

        Even so, I've had to sprinkle derris dust (rotenone) on the baby bean shoots or I'd have had nothing!

    3. g e

      Presumably though

      It helps put a little less money in the pockets of organisations like Monsanto ?

    4. Tom Wood

      Re: so NOT putting lots of chemicals in your body is NOT ok then?

      My homegrown organic veggies and fruit taste a lot better than what you can buy in the supermarkets. It is also fresher (in season). It can be picked and eaten in minutes not days. Sure sometimes there are a few insects picked along with the veggie but that really does not matter in the long run.

      The same is true of my homegrown veggies, just remove the word "organic" from that paragraph.

      Organic real ale tastes better than crap supermarket lager, but that's because it's real ale, not because it's organic.

    5. Nightkiller

      Re: so NOT putting lots of chemicals in your body is NOT ok then?

      "The fallout from using DDT in the 1950's/60's is still a problem in many parts of the world"

      Yes it is, but not the way you propose. It continues to be an effective way of controlling malaria laden mosquitoes "in many parts of the world". Its discontinuance is directly related to the rise of malaria in these regions.

    6. Terrence Bayrock
      Facepalm

      Re: so NOT putting lots of chemicals in your body is NOT ok then?

      More nonsense. Research into DDT's safety and effectiveness has a long, extensive history. It is so safe, people can eat it; in fact people did that for a two year study [ Hayes, W. J. (1969), PESTICIDES AND HUMAN TOXICITY. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 160: 40–54. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1969.tb15822.x ].

      It is truly unfortunate that the populace at large has been misinformed about the effects of the various chemicals, both good & bad, that surround us in modern society. I for one don't harken to the bad old days of inexact food science or to eliminate vaccines that dealt with mass killer diseases (polio, rubella, etc.) which plagued us.

      As for edible foods, there has been found to be a larger taste variance between home grown food of a given crop than of any particular method of agronomy & cultivation.

  3. Thom Brown

    1 in 10 reasons probably invalid, so all invalid?

    The health aspect is just one of many reasons why one might buy organics, so suggesting that they're a waste of time because there's doubt over one of those aspects is presenting a logical fallacy.

    And saying that it "won't save you from cancer" is a straw man. No-one has ever claimed that.

    1. ian 22

      Re: 1 in 10 reasons probably invalid, so all invalid?

      Are you suggesting the Daily Mail is not the fount of all wisdom?

      I'm shocked, shocked.

    2. Franklin

      Re: 1 in 10 reasons probably invalid, so all invalid?

      "And saying that it "won't save you from cancer" is a straw man. No-one has ever claimed that."

      Actually, lots and lots (and lots and LOTS and lots) of organic food proponents do indeed say that organic food will protect you from cancer. Do a Google search for organic food cancer and see for yourself. Pay attention to the claims you'll find on undergroundhealth.com, diseaseproof.com (which gets extremely specific--not only does it say that organic foods will protect you from cancer, it even specifies what varieties of cancer it claims are "caused" by "non-organic" foods), or any site at all that mentions "Max Gerson," the poster child of the organic food "non-organic=cancer" crowd. Hell, you'll even find personal stories on huffingtonpost.com of people claiming organic food smoothies "cured" their cancer.

      So don't call it a straw-man argument. It's not. Rather a lot of folks make exactly that claim.

      1. Psyx

        Re: 1 in 10 reasons probably invalid, so all invalid?

        "So don't call it a straw-man argument. It's not. Rather a lot of folks make exactly that claim."

        A lot of people thing the planet is flat and that invisible fairies live in the garden, though. Even most of the proponents of organic produce generally think that's horseshit.

    3. John Sanders
      Holmes

      Re: 1 in 10 reasons probably invalid, so all invalid?

      """The health aspect is just one of many reasons why one might buy organics"""

      I dare you to buy and consume inorganic food.

  4. Kubla Cant Silver badge

    Lord Melchett or the 4th Baron Melchett

    I liked him in Blackadder, but he seems to have got less amusing lately.

  5. Nuno

    risk of cancer

    "agricultural workers were healthier than the general population"

    Absolutly no relation to the fact that they do exercise everyday, right?

    Instead of sitting all day at the computer and watch tv all night, as the general population do...

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: risk of cancer

      Still bizarre. These guys often handle rather dangerous chemicals in a very nonchalant matter.

      1. koppiekoffie

        Re: risk of cancer

        Here in Holland I read quite a bit about workers being well protected when handling the pesticides, while the people living in close proximity to the crops have lots of health problems caused by the chemicals blowing over...

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: risk of cancer

      Well, if you live such a healthy lifestyle that you fail to die of anything else (like, heart disease) then you will eventually die of cancer. This is organic veg we're talking about, not the freakin' Elixir of Life.

      A more meaningful metric would be the risk of dying *early* of cancer. In fact, this would appear to be a general weakness of all "X gives you Y" type studies that end up in the popular press, but it is entirely possible that grown-up medical researchers routinely allow for this in some clever and standardised way that goes straight over the newspapers' heads and so never gets reported. Does anyone here know?

    3. phil dude
      Boffin

      Re: risk of cancer

      Quite! Google the "amish study npr". Pedometers showed some of them walked 25 miles day. The daily diet was up to 10,000 kCals/day, and the community had no obesity.

      In terms of human extremes, Michael Phelps and Arnold Schwarzenegger are two athletes that have both published diets of 12,000 kCals/day.

      P.

  6. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

    Crumbs

    Strawman arguments - who funded the 'study;?

    1. Psyx

      Re: Crumbs

      "Strawman arguments - who funded the 'study;?"

      It's a complete straw man in the *interpretation* of the study [ie this article], but that does not render the study itself suspect or in any way worthless. remember that studies are funded BEFORE the results are in. For all you know the study may have been carried out by Mr. OrganicMcOrganicfarmsareace in the expectation of different results.

      1. Captain DaFt

        Re: Crumbs

        "remember that studies are funded BEFORE the results are in. For all you know the study may have been carried out by Mr. OrganicMcOrganicfarmsareace in the expectation of different results."

        >Ahem<

        "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 it’s the sort of noisy result one can ignore)."

        What do you want to bet that if the increase in cancer wasn't on the organic side that it would have been announced from the rooftops instead of ignored?

        1. Psyx

          Re: Crumbs

          "What do you want to bet that if the increase in cancer wasn't on the organic side that it would have been announced from the rooftops instead of ignored?"

          That doesn't stop the fact that the research would still have been carried out, the paper written and sat in an archive, though.

  7. lnLog

    Confused

    Erm, the premiss of organics that it is better for the wildlife and environment in general. Not that is is somehow 'better' for you (there is a reason why we have food standards, lots of testing for humans, not so much for anything else).

    Looks like hijack by media and magic berry purveyors, people just need re-educating.

    1. Steve Crook

      Re: Confused

      Part of the organic thing is that it tastes better and, because there aren't any pesticides, it's supposed to be better for the eater and the environment. As far as the first is concerned, I couldn't say that organic was any better than anything else.

      As for the other two, there appears to be no cancer risk from non-organic, as for what other benefits organic might offer in other health terms, perhaps these will be tested too.

      Finally, organic farmers *are* allowed to use chemicals, it's just that the range of them is restricted, and they can't use modern pesticides. There's an argument to be made that, because the chemicals they use are less effective than modern pesticides, they have to be used more often.

      Possibly the best argument for organics might be the wildlife angle, everything else looks doubtful to me.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Confused

      That's why the results of the study shouldn't be surprising. eg. Fair trade coffee is "a good thing" because it helps poor farmers, not because it keeps you awake better. Organic shouldn't be better as food.

      What is surprising is that people who eat organic/home grown veg would be expected to be more health conscious, eat better diets, not smoke/drink, etc.

      So either they did a really good job of correcting for this - ie found yoga+healthy eating+exercise nuts who nevertheless only ate supermarket veg.

      Or the whole study was too small/short to show any effect.

      Or those who claimed that they always ate organic were lying.

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: Confused

        "Or those who claimed that they always ate organic were lying." Well, there are other options: a) they don't actually know what "organic" means, and/or b) the food they are buying as "organic" is mislabelled (deliberately or accidentally).

        (I have no dog in this fight - I don't have patience to shop routinely at small grocers, so I get most of my food from supermarkets. Organic and non-organic supermarket fruit and veg taste exactly the same to me, and so there is no reason to buy the more expensive stuff. If I happen to be somewhere where there is a farmers' market, I'll buy varieties that I don't know, just in the same way as I'll always try a beer I don't know. Some of those are nicer than supermarket produce, some aren't. I do have a problem with people worried about "chemicals" just because they are new.)

  8. Sandpit

    Agenda here?

    That's a very biased article (so unlike the reg), it even tells us what we care about and what we don't. I eat a lot of organic food and it's not because I think it tasts better, it's not because I think it will reduce cancer and it's not because I think it's more nutritious.

    This planet is going to hell in a hand cart. If you think that the best way to solve humanities problems are to hand the whole lot over to big corporate petro-chemical industries with profit motivated mono-cultures then go for it. Some of us care where we're heading and don't want to go there.

    Just like if you announce you are a vegetarian, meat eaters immediately launch into attacking you, "well you eat fish don't you?", "and eggs, and milk, they are from animals". They feel threatened and have to justify their meat eating. Why? I don;t mind them eating meat, it's their choice, so why attack me for mine, very odd. And it's the same with orgainic, I choose it where available, so why do people who don't choose it feel they have to attack it all the time?

    1. Raumkraut

      Re: Agenda here?

      > Just like if you announce you are a vegetarian, meat eaters immediately launch into attacking you, "well you eat fish don't you?", "and eggs, and milk, they are from animals". They feel threatened and have to justify their meat eating.

      I suspect in most cases they're not attacking you, or trying to justify their meat eating; they're likely just trying to work out what *kind* of vegetarian you are. The term "vegetarian" is used by a huge variety of people to mean a huge variety of things, from "I don't like the taste of some meat products" to "practically vegan".

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Agenda here?

        Often we meat eaters are just trying to resolve the cognitive dissonance.

        We've been told by someone that they are vegetarians. But they must have a reason for that and it needs to be coherent. If , say, they use milk products that means that someone needs to eat the veal on their behalf. And if it's just that they don't like the taste of meat (fair enough) why is that to be given more respect than a guest who doesn't like the taste of carrots?

        1. Psyx

          Re: Agenda here?

          "We've been told by someone that they are vegetarians. But they must have a reason for that and it needs to be coherent. "

          Why? And why is it your business to question. Why does vegetarianism make people feel they need to ask those questions.

          If I were to say "I always drive my car into work", nobody would ask me to justify it, or to provide a coherent reason for doing so: It's my personal choice and respected. So why can't people's put whatever food they want into their body without being quizzed on it?

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Agenda here?

            Psyx

            Because, my assumption sorry, is that this comes alongside the need to provde a different meal for them at a dinner party. Which we have no problem with as we happily allow for all our guests' preferences as long as we know exactly what they do or don't eat. Providing as it doesn't come with a package of self-righteous demands. By all means say you don't eat meat because you don't like it. or that you are a Vegan. But be aware that if you do drink milk a little baby calf has been born to die, so don't think you are on the moral high ground if you don't eat it yourself.

            1. Joe Harrison

              Re: Agenda here?

              I'm not rabid about it but I always buy the organic version, if there is one. A bag of carrots last me for ages anyway so why not spend the extra 50p on the off-chance there is some benefit? If I had to buy three bags of carrots per day I would see it differently of course.

              Let's say there is no proven organic benefit whatsoever - I still think it's worth it just to eat something on which somebody has spent specific time and care to get right, instead of some old crap that fell off a container ship in a plastic bag.

              It certainly is strange about the militant meat-eaters though. Occasionally the money-savers on hotdealsuk.com will post a cheap deal on Quorn burgers or similar and the anti- brigade are guaranteed to come storming in accusing people of hypocrisy, going against nature, etc.

            2. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge
              Thumb Down

              Re: Agenda here?

              Invite a vegetarian to dinner and they expect you to cater to their dietary choice....

              Get invited to dinner by a vegetarian and what are the chances they will take your meat eating into account and cook accordingly? Yup square root of fuck all.

              (disclaimer I am an omnivore with carnivourous tendencies and a Coeliac - went to a vegetarian wedding and the food was all pretty much high wheat/gluten - their response? Well theres salad you can eat. - Things you put up with for family.)

              1. Psyx

                Re: Agenda here?

                "Get invited to dinner by a vegetarian and what are the chances they will take your meat eating into account and cook accordingly? Yup square root of fuck all."

                Well, you always have the option of not going.

                Many veggies don't want to handle meat because they find it disgusting. I don't believe they should have to feel physically nauseous just to cater to my *preference* of eating meat. Which is the difference: There is nothing to stop me going a meal without meat except for a simple preference, whereas the opposite corner is a moral choice.

                Of course they also have the option of not turning up at my BBQs... :)

              2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

                Re: Agenda here?

                "Yup square root of fuck all."

                Maybe they just don't like you. It's not like I'm counting, but when I'm visiting vegetarian friends I quite often get offered something meaty.

            3. Psyx

              Re: Agenda here?

              Terry;

              "But be aware that if you do drink milk a little baby calf has been born to die, so don't think you are on the moral high ground if you don't eat it yourself."

              That's not a legitimate thing to do though. We all have moral lines and we all go as far as we are willing: We make only the sacrifices we want to and then draw a line, and it's not for others to say "You're a dick because your line isn't quite in the right place" - regardless of if they're vegan or carnivore. I think the whole "You suck as someone who cares about animals because you drink milk" thing - and similar accusations - are wholly inappropriate. It's like saying "You only make a small difference, so you're a hypocrite and shouldn't bother at all".

              On the other side of the fence, I get similar comments from veggies sometimes: "You eat meat, scum" [or slightly more polite words to that effect]. When the reality is that I eat meat once every day or two and generally avoid beef because I recognise that it is a wasteful luxury that I don't need to fill my face with at every meal. But people are unwilling to give credit for a partial victory and try to make it a black and white distinction*. Another example is condemning someone as a smoker when they're down to a pack a week.

              I personally believe we should give more credit for partial 'victories', instead of saying "You haven't done enough". After all: A lot of us do give a toss about the planet, but not enough to go and live in a box without modern consumer comforts, so ultimately we're all kinda doing half a job as regards whatever moral causes we support.*

              * Don't even get me started on vegans who own nine meat-eating cats who eat more meat on a daily basis than I do and have a go at me eating a bit of chicken.

              **Unless you happen to be one of the genuinely altruistic people who lives in a box in Cambodia and digs up landmines for a living. Next to those people we are all a bit hypocritical, I feel.

          2. Captain DaFt

            Re: Agenda here?

            "If I were to say "I always drive my car into work", nobody would ask me to justify it,"

            You've not been paying much attention for the past 50 years, have you?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Agenda here?

              > "If I were to say "I always drive my car into work", nobody would ask me to justify it,"

              > You've not been paying much attention for the past 50 years, have you?

              He's a cabbie. :)

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Agenda here?

            "If I were to say "I always drive my car into work", nobody would ask me to justify it, " If you were easily able to walk or cycle instead, I would. Why? Because if you're driving when you don't need to you're being a selfish arse and needlessly polluting a planet that we *both* have to share.

          4. Spanners Silver badge

            Re: Agenda here?

            _If I were to say "I always drive my car into work", nobody would ask me to justify it, _

            If you lived 2 minutes walk from work, it would be quite common for people to ask. If you live 30 minutes drive away and had a prosthetic leg, less common.

            People ask about things that they want to find out about. Someone saying they are a vegetarian while eating fish & chips that need to be clarified.

            I have a friend who feels she is a vegetarian but when we talked about it, most of the time she doesn't like eating creatures that make a noise.

            Not liking the taste of meat no more makes you a vegetarian than not liking the taste of spinach stops me being an omnivore.

            People like to know why other people do stuff. Not to beat them down but to know how to react. If you have some deeply held philosophical reason for identifying as one, that will cause me to react differently to if it is just becauseyou had a bad experience in the KFC that changed your preferences.

      2. JEDIDIAH
        Linux

        Re: Agenda here?

        Omnivores "attacking" vegans? Really? We couldn't care less actually.

        It only comes up when vegans and the somewhat less extreme types are obnoxious in their declarations. Why would someone who is not a food zealot care one way or the other really? It makes zero sense.

        On the other hand, it makes a lot of sense that a Zealot would tend to be obnoxious.

    2. Psyx

      Re: Agenda here?

      "Just like if you announce you are a vegetarian, meat eaters immediately launch into attacking you."

      Don't blame 'meat eaters' as a group for that. Blame arseholes. You don't have to be a meat eater to condemn other's for frugal and healthy eating habits, but you do have to be an arsehole.

      1. James 51 Silver badge

        Re: Agenda here?

        Being a veggie can make it hard to have a balanced diet. Certain vitamins, minerals and protein are just more readily available in meat.

    3. kwyj

      Re: Agenda here?

      "This planet is going to hell in a hand cart. If you think that the best way to solve humanities problems are to hand the whole lot over to big corporate petro-chemical industries with profit motivated mono-cultures then go for it."

      No, I don't think the answer is to hand everything over to big business, but neither do I think the answer is to adopt a less efficient means of food production that results in more forests being destroyed and turned into farmland.

      There are pros and cons to both approaches.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Agenda here?

      "Just like if you announce you are a vegetarian, meat eaters immediately launch into attacking you, "well you eat fish don't you?", "and eggs, and milk, they are from animals". They feel threatened and have to justify their meat eating."

      As a confirmed carnivore (I get cranky if I don't get my daily dose of flesh), I don't feel at all threatened by people being vegetarians - everyone is entitled to eat how they choose, as long as they don't try to shove it down my throat (pardon the pun!).

      If people decide to preach at me about their vegetarianism, however, I'd be fully justified in winding them up in return. It's amusing, usually after a couple of drinks, to look at them in mock horror and say something along the lines of 'But eating vegetables is so cruel! How would you like to be yanked from your nice warm bed in the ground, have your skin peeled off and be chucked into a pan of boiling water? Have you never heard the anguished shrieks of a carrot being boiled alive?'

      The only vegetarians that truly irritate me are those who seem to think that if everyone was vegetarian then life would be so much better for the animals... ignoring the fact that if people stopped eating meat it would result in widespread culling of herds of animals that have been bred purely as a source of food.

      1. Jeff Jeffty-Jeff

        Re: Agenda here?

        Trouble is when you then find you're talking to a strict raw ahimsa fruitarian (with an odd unspoken exemption for weed) and they agree with you (fine) then start *seriously* propounding breatharianism (not fine).

      2. Martin Budden Bronze badge
        Joke

        Re: Agenda here?

        It's amusing, usually after a couple of drinks, to look at them in mock horror and say something along the lines of 'But eating vegetables is so cruel! How would you like to be yanked from your nice warm bed in the ground, have your skin peeled off and be chucked into a pan of boiling water? Have you never heard the anguished shrieks of a carrot being boiled alive?'

        I do the same joke, but from the opposite side: I'm a vegetarian and when people ask if it's because I'm an animal lover I reply "No, it's because I want to kill all those fucking irritating vegetables". They usually look shocked for half a second then burst out laughing :-)

      3. Psyx

        Re: Agenda here?

        "ignoring the fact that if people stopped eating meat it would result in widespread culling of herds of animals that have been bred purely as a source of food."

        To be fair, it wouldn't happen over night, so animals would be culled for food until there was no more demand, so that's a bit of a spurious argument.

        I would also argue that mass-farmed indoor pigs, cattle and poultry would be better off not being born than having their current lifestyle. Hi: welcome to life. Welcome to crowding, food in pellets, no sunshine and certain death in the next few months! Yeah: I'll pass. And I'm not even a veggie animal lover!

    5. JLV Silver badge

      >This planet is going to hell in a hand cart. If you think that the best way to solve

      I am really tired of being talked down by organic-luvvies for not buying into their views. Not particularly healthy? "Oh, that's OK, I don't buy it for that. I buy it for taste." What, taste comes from picking practice and minimizing time to market? "Then I buy it to save the planet or to fight capitalism".

      Hey, buy what you want, but stop claiming moral superiority.

      Ask yourself this question: if organic yields are less per acre (and there seems to 25% less yield overall, esp on cereals) then we need more space to grow the organic stuff. That at a time where, quite possibly, global warming will start to impact yields and, horror, might need mitigation by genetic tweaking. How would increased land use help the planet again? How would poor people benefit from premium food costs?

      In North America, the market cap of Whole Foods* (organic supermarket chain) is 6-10x that of standard chains per store. Anybody think their $6 4oz can of cat food tuna is especially planet-saving? Certainly not doing much for tuna, a fish I avoid because many of its species are over-fished. Whole Foods avocado "deal": 2 for $5! Standard avocados are about $1 elsewhere. My local food co-op has them organic ones at 25% premium, typically around $1.25. Guess where Whole Foods' 10x market cap bonus is coming from?

      Someone quipped at some point that organic had finally managed to separate rich and poor folks' food again thus allowing self-chosen premiums (and industry profits) back. My local food coop? No longer very cheap, having moved to 70% organics.

      I do buy more organic meat, in the naive expectation that, just maybe, the animals will get treated better (they sometimes taste better too). And it seems more planet-saving to just eat less meat, organic or not. I buy some organics, cause I figure it might dump less phosphates into the ground water. But I'd buy a Monsanto-sourced GMO tomato just as quickly if it was proven to minimize runoffs.

      I do care about the planet but good intentions do not solve problems by themselves. Appropriate solutions do. If organic wants to claim to solve problems, not merely address consumer's wants, then it needs to demonstrate its effectiveness, just like everything else. Good article.

      * https://www.google.ca/finance?cid=656159

  9. TRT Silver badge

    Well, I came on here to leave a comment...

    That it's going to be pretty bad for everyone if the bees die out etc etc.

    but it looks like a lot of others got here first. And it's not just about not using chemicals, there's also good land management, soil enrichment, recycling of organic waste materials... a whole lot of stuff that got thrown out with the agri-chemical boom in the post-war years. Yes, there's hogwash and misinformation, but let's not throw the baby out with the bath water here.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Guineapigs can't be wrong

    A friend of mine notices that her guinea pigs refuse standard supermarket vegetables but eat locally produced and organic vegetables (locally is not necessarily organic) heartily.

    Her supposition is that the long storage of supermarket fruit and veg is reducing the actual nutritional content.

    That might be useful line of enquiry to see if the evidence supports the hypothesis. It would also explain one of the perceived benefits of organic. It actually has a taste

    1. dajames Silver badge

      Re: Guineapigs can't be wrong

      A friend of mine notices that her guinea pigs refuse standard supermarket vegetables but eat locally produced and organic vegetables (locally is not necessarily organic) heartily.

      Her supposition is that the long storage of supermarket fruit and veg is reducing the actual nutritional content.

      It seems to me more likely that the guinea pigs simply prefer their food to be fresh, than that they have any innate understanding of nutritional values. Supermarket food tends to have been sitting around (sometimes sealed in a bag of nitrogen to discourage it from going bad) for some time, regardless of its original organic credentials.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Guineapigs can't be wrong

        "It seems to me more likely that the guinea pigs simply prefer their food to be fresh, than that they have any innate understanding of nutritional values..."

        And why do you think those highly-evolved little mammals prefer their food to be fresh? Because, on the whole, that means it has better nutritional content (and is less likely to make them sick).

  11. IDoNotThinkSo
    Alert

    The first dose of pesticide in the morning

    Most vegetables are trying to kill pests in one way or another, so they all contain various poisons. OK, we've bred some down to lower levels, but they are still there.

    So when you eat your super-organic broccoli, you are consuming a cocktail of nasties, organic or not.

    Anyway, sometimes those pesticides are good.

    **Reaches for cup of tea**

    The environmental benefits aren't entirely clear either. It may well be better for the local environment to produce organically, but if the productivity is lower, it means we have to have more land in agriculture. Which is better - less land farmed, or more land farmed at a lower intensity? Not that simple.

    1. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: The first dose of pesticide in the morning

      The high intensity farming practices can be devastating for wildlife. If organic farming can be combined with good land management and wildlife friendly practices, it might be more acceptable to use land which would be put aside for wildlife for some level of farming.

      1. janimal

        Re: The first dose of pesticide in the morning

        There is a new form of high tech farming starting to emerge that looks better on

        *water use

        *output

        *pesticides

        These are hydroponic vertical farms.

        They use low power coloured LED lighting,

        High water efficiency - also recycled

        Are in a closed environment so pests are far less of a problem & if any pesticide use is required it is targeted and much easier to prevent contamination of the environment.

        They have a much, much higher output per sq m

        Worth looking up.

        https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=hydroponic+vertical+farms&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=sb&gfe_rd=cr&ei=lcA-U6-cK7Oy0AWPuYDYAw

        1. graeme leggett

          Re: The first dose of pesticide in the morning

          "They use low power coloured LED lighting,"

          something wrong with daylight, or is this the product of research into illicit agriculture.

          1. janimal

            Re: The first dose of pesticide in the morning

            Well since they are built in warehouses, daylight is a bit of a problem. You could make the entire thing of glass but then temperature control becomes an expensive requirement.

            Many plants don't make use of the full light spectrum but particular wavelengths. LED's can be computer controlled to provide the most efficient complete light cycle for the plants in question.

            In the early days of these vertical farms, light was a real problem. In a vast warehouse it was found that even with glass walls or ceilings not enough light was provided to the whole crop & artificial light was still required. Before implementing this with LEDs, that lighting was very expensive greatly reducing the economic & environmental advantages provided by the method.

            Clear enough for you?

            1. graeme leggett

              Re: The first dose of pesticide in the morning

              much clearer.

              I suppose one could put PV cells on the roof to power the LEDs part of the time. Natures harvest and all that. And could then say on the advertising that the produce is grown using "natural light" (with the caveat in very small print)

    2. ItsNotMe

      Re: The first dose of pesticide in the morning

      "The environmental benefits aren't entirely clear either."

      Oh how right you are. People who use "organic" pesticides may still be harming the environment.

      There is great uncertainty on this whole issue, and no 100% correct answer.

      http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~lhom/organictext.html

      ORGANIC PESTICIDES VERSUS SYNTHETIC PESTICIDES

      "Clearly, the less we impact our environment, the better off we all are. Organic farming practices have greatly advanced the use of non-chemical means to control pests, as mentioned earlier.

      Unfortunately, these non-chemical methods do not always provide enough protection, and it's necessary to use chemical pesticides. How do organic pesticides compare with conventional pesticides?

      A recent study compared the effectiveness of a rotenone-pyrethrin mixture versus a synthetic pesticide, imidan. Rotenone and pyrethrin are two common organic pesticides; imidan is considered a "soft" synthetic pesticide (i.e., designed to have a brief lifetime after application, and other traits that minimize unwanted effects). It was found that up to 7 applications of the rotenone- pyrethrin mixture were required to obtain the level of protection provided by 2 applications of imidan.

      It seems unlikely that 7 applications of rotenone and pyrethrin are really better for the environment than 2 applications of imidan, especially when rotenone is extremely toxic to fish and other aquatic life.

      It should be noted, however, that we don't know for certain which system is more harmful. This is because we do not look at organic pesticides the same way that we look at conventional pesticides. We don't know how long these organic pesticides persist in the environment, or the full extent of their effects.

      When you look at lists of pesticides allowed in organic agriculture, you find warnings such as, "Use with caution. The toxicological effects of [organic pesticide X] are largely unknown," or "Its persistence in the soil is unknown." Again, researchers haven't bothered to study the effects of organic pesticides because it is assumed that "natural" chemicals are automatically safe."

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who says it's better for you?

    What's all this c**p about a particular type of food protecting you against cancer?

    The perception talked of in this article is largely the fault of poor science articles. Very few people involved in the organic food sector would make the claims asserted in this article - with the notable exception of the loons.

    And in any group there are a small percentage of loons.

    ... for the avoidance of doubt ...

    Just remember these are not representative of the entire group.

    The main drivers behind production of organic crops falls into two categories:

    1. Luxury food = luxury prices.

    2. Some people think that a different farming method is better for the environment (for the most part this means their local environment).

    But it's mostly about point 1 - being able to charge a premium.

  13. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Presumably...

    The *increase* in certain cancer risks - I haven't read the paper, just the Reg's summary - implies that those increased rates are actually the baseline figures[1], and that something in the agri-chemical cocktail applied to normal food is reducing the cancer risk. That would suggest that research into which is doing what; there seems to a benefit which should be explored.

    [1] Unless of course, the chemicals/drugs the Food Association *do* allow are in some way unbeneficial? A few minutes' searching failed to provide a list.

  14. dervheid

    In other news...

    Bacon still tastier than Tofu

    Organic or otherwise...

    1. Psyx

      Re: In other news...

      Have you tried tofu fried in bacon fat, though?

      Damn fine stuff!

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: In other news...

        I can go one better than that - bacon fried in bacon fat!

      2. JEDIDIAH
        Linux

        Re: In other news...

        > Have you tried tofu fried in bacon fat, though?

        It doesn't matter what it tastes like. I'm not Japanese. So I don't have a Japanese tolerance to glutamates. So if I go whole hog with the Asian cookery, I will end up with an itchy reaction.

        My aversion to the stuff (tofu) is probably instinctive. Just like they wouldn't eat dairy cheese.

  15. SumDood

    I love the smell

    ... of Register science articles in the morning.

  16. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Coat

    If food is not "organic", it logically must be "inorganic"

    which, chemically speaking is odd

    I'll get me coat

    1. Swarthy Silver badge

      Re: If food is not "organic", it logically must be "inorganic"

      Everything I eat, with two exceptions, is organic.

      The only things I eat that are not molecules containing carbon are water (h2O), and salt (NaCl).

      Although, some of my salt is smoked, so it may even count as organic (and the flavour it adds is truly excellent).

      1. Psyx

        Re: If food is not "organic", it logically must be "inorganic"

        "Everything I eat, with two exceptions, is organic."

        You know words can mean more than one thing, right?

        In other words: Do you really want to side with the kind of idiot who says "Relativity and evolution are only theories"?

    2. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: If food is not "organic", it logically must be "inorganic"

      That has always bugged me too. When I was a kid I tried eating some non-organic stuff. It didn't agree with me.

      1. caffeine addict Silver badge

        Re: If food is not "organic", it logically must be "inorganic"

        And, of course, crude oil is organic...

        1. Phil_Evans

          Re: If food is not "organic", it logically must be "inorganic"

          I think you're going back to the 'luxury goods=luxury prices' argument made earlier.

          But just to pour oil on the flames, as it were, 'food' is not organic, its the method by which it is grown. If you tried to certify your Granddad's plot from 1952 you would have a really harm time getting certification with even the natural permaculture in use. He would have used whatever poison or killing mechanism possible to murder slugs and the like (table salt, for example). (They still tasted good though!)

          I love the idea of organic and quite definitely it will result in removing the known health risks associated with pesticides. But that is not the premise of the report. It also does not talk of GMO food (y'know, purple tomatoes, bug-proof corn and all that), nor artificial additives or amount of processed foods as a percentage consumed. In fact for me, the report itself seems of no value to anyone, but the problem may be that the data is similarly useless too.

          1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

            Re: If food is not "organic", it logically must be "inorganic"

            "He would have used whatever poison or killing mechanism possible to murder slugs and the like (table salt, for example). (They still tasted good though!)"

            Well obviously you wouldn't eat one without *any* seasoning...

  17. returnmyjedi

    Lord Melchett, Lord Melchett...

    ...intelligent and deep,

    Lord Melchett, Lord Melchett,

    A shame about the sheep.

  18. Filippo

    Causes cancer, prevents cancer...

    We really hate the idea of a risk that we can't control at all, do we?

    Except for some well-known factors, ultimately whether you get cancer or not is almost completely down to blind luck. Avoid the really idiotic stuff like smoking or hanging around uranium. Hope you don't have broken genes. But after that, if you work really hard at it, all you can do is very, very marginal improvements. Ultimately, you're mortal, deal with it.

    1. Mark #255

      Re: Causes cancer, prevents cancer...

      Ultimately, you're mortal, deal with it.

      +1 Depressing.

    2. sandman

      Re: Causes cancer, prevents cancer...

      Speak for yourself earthling!

    3. IDoNotThinkSo

      Re: Causes cancer, prevents cancer...

      I will live forever, or die in the attempt

    4. fruitoftheloon
      Thumb Up

      Re: Causes cancer, prevents cancer...

      When I worked I London I used to cycle 20 miles a day from east london to victoria [and back], everyone thought I was mad, then I pointed out that canals and rivers have great paths next to them you know.

      Also I used to cycle across Hyde park corner every day after changing jobs, my colleagues were convinced I was completely bonkers, err no, I just used the crossing [on foot] like everyone else.

      BTW I know a thing or two about what is risky and what isn't.

      As a cyclist in central london, the biggest challenge for me is very attractive members of the opposite sex not wearing terribly much on summer days, MUCH MORE DISTRACTING!!!

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Causes cancer, prevents cancer...

        I hope you had a towpath cycling license...

        1. fruitoftheloon

          Re: Causes cancer, prevents cancer...

          TRT: good point, I read up about it at the time and couldn't be bothered as IIRC it was a just matter of printing of a bit of paper, which seemed rather a waste of time, ink and 'leccy.

          J.

  19. PowerBenny
    Thumb Down

    Missed the point much?

    For me the whole point of organic food is that it has a lower impact on the environment through the reduced use of chemicals while growing it. I understand that whether my veggies get their nitrogen from manure or chemical fertiliser matters not one bit. But if a farmer has to accept a reduced yield because he's not using pesticides then I expect to have to pay more for the food that is produced.

    1. The Bit Wrangler

      Re: Missed the point much?

      Laudable, but just to be clear... "Organic" farmers don't stop using pesticides, they use really old-fashioned ones that don't do the job particularly well. Which means they mostly end-up using more of them to get some kind of yield. How that affects your "low impact" view, is your own business.

      1. Psyx

        Re: Missed the point much?

        "Which means they mostly end-up using more of them to get some kind of yield. How that affects your "low impact" view, is your own business."

        <citation needed>

        1. kwyj

          Re: Missed the point much?

          "<citation needed>"

          Is Google broken in your part of the world? Try searching for nicotine sulfate, an organic pesticide that's been in use for over 100 years and see what a nice, friendly substance that is.

          1. Psyx

            Re: Missed the point much?

            Nicotine sure tastes good to me.

            Humour aside, it's simply a blind assertion to claim that all organic farmers are hosing things down with 'old' pesticides. There are lots of organic farmers and lots of methods. Making un-cited blanket comments doesn't make it true.

            "Is Google broken in your part of the world?"

            Silly me: I thought it was for the person making 'factual' 'scientific' statements to back them up with some form of citation and reference.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Missed the point much?

      "But if a farmer has to accept a reduced yield because he's not using pesticides then I expect to have to pay more for the food that is produced."

      Do you also realise that the reduced yield you are happy to pay a premium for also means the same amount of food requires more land, leading to destruction of forests which creates a bigger environmental problem than the one you were trying to avoid in the first place........

      Seems sort of selfish to me, destroying the environment so you can feel better about yourself then saying it's ok because you had the money to pay more for it.

  20. PyLETS

    organics likely to be purchased by richer consumers

    Richer people are probably less likely to smoke or have other risk factors associated with poor environment, and less likely to have suffered poor health in the past which causes poverty. Also richer people who are likely to live older, so have a greater risk exposure to cancers associated with being around for longer. I'd guess these factors will probably dominate over the factors looked at in the study, in the sense whatever differences are more likely to be correlations than causations.

  21. zedee

    Rather like the recent dishwasher tablet adverts

    "LESS CHEMICALS!!!!!"

    So if there's less chemicals, and seeing as all substances* are elementary chemicals or chemical compounds of one name or another, then they must be selling smaller dishwasher tablets. Marketing wnakers.

    Even the more grammatically correct "fewer chemicals" just means "we've removed some ingredients so there's higher amounts of others".

    * Let's stick to regular matter eh?

    1. dajames Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Rather like the recent dishwasher tablet adverts

      "LESS CHEMICALS!!!!!"

      So if there's less chemicals, and seeing as all substances* are elementary chemicals or chemical compounds of one name or another, then they must be selling smaller dishwasher tablets.

      I must admit that I do hate the phrase "less chemicals", though it is not wrong; and I agree that the use of the word "less" (rather than fewer) does imply that the same number of substances are present, but in smaller quantities overall.

      Even the more grammatically correct "fewer chemicals" just means "we've removed some ingredients so there's higher amounts of others".

      "fewer chemicals" is not "more grammatically correct" ... it just means something different. In this case it would mean that fewer chemical substances were used (as you suggest) and would say nothing at all about the quantities of any of them.

      You seem to understand the meanings, so I can't think why you consider that one usage is less correct and the other more so.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    misses the point

    a) I can't imagine vegetables being sufficiently contaminated or a sufficiently big part of ones exposure to toxins and carcinogens to make much difference on its own so thats obvious as a conclusion, yet worthless.

    b) Women lie to themselves about what they eat, even to themselves, let alone a survey that must have been done over months or years.

    c) regardless of potential or percieved taste or lack of chemical contaminants organic farming is far better and more sustainable environmentally. Fertiliser pollution destroys ecosystems just as much as pest control chemicals so reduction in chemicals is better overall even if the quality of the output is not especially improved.

    1. JEDIDIAH
      Linux

      Re: misses the point

      > a) I can't imagine vegetables being sufficiently contaminated

      Find someone with a better than average sense of smell and start juicing vegetables. The contaminants can be readily detectable to them. We found this out when we tried the latest iteration of the juicing fad. The bionic nose could tell.

      That was just "normal" stuff though. We don't go out of our way to buy organic unless it is the bulk packaging from the local warehouse store. Then that's just a matter of buying what the warehouse sells because it's cheap either way.

  23. codejunky Silver badge

    I wonder if there is a study

    Is there a study analysing the effects of the name 'organic' and perceived taste? I am happy to accept that taste wise I am not massively fussy but I expect there is a large psychological aspect.

    1. kwyj

      Re: I wonder if there is a study

      Not exactly a scientific study, but there's a good example of that here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Zqe4ZV9LDs (NSFW)

      PS: you can see the entire episode at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5amLAMRQk5I (again, language NSFW)

  24. James 51 Silver badge

    This is like NASA annoucing that there's water on the moon or Mars. This story pops up every few years. The only way 'organic' fruit and veg are better for your health is that fewer chemicals are sprayed on the fields. It's not the thing itself that is better for you, it's how it is produced. The natural enviroment provides lots of benefits like helping to improve air quality so it shouldn't be overlooked.

    1. Diogenes Silver badge

      not fewer chemicals just different

      see reference above to 2 applications of man made vs 7 applications of "natural"

  25. Chuunen Baka

    Environment first

    I buy organic for the environment and wildlife. Mind you, HMG once warned about excessive pesticide levels in root veg so I won't buy them if there's no organic available.

  26. Carpetsmoker

    "It stands to reason, doesn’t it? After all conventional crops depend on chemicals and organic food doesn't."

    Yeah, that pesky photosynthesis, and all the nasty chemicals involved, is the worst of it.

    1. Psyx
      Pint

      It's those inorganic photons I worry about. They're like MADE of radiation!

      1. TRT Silver badge

        You are Philomena Cunk and I claim my £5!

  27. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Pint

    Eating well

    So many arguments here (when is a "chemical" not a chemical etc.?) but for me it's about the taste. Fresh out of the garden, or as near as possible, is best but IMHO it's hard to distinguish "organic" from "conventional" once the fruit/veg ships any distance.

    We did a double-blind tasting of different veg at a family dinner to see if we could tell the difference, but only succeeded in getting a coin-tossing result.

    (Beer again 'cause it's Friday and there isn't a rude vegetable icon).

    1. RobHib
      Facepalm

      @ Zog_but_not_the_first -- Re: Eating well

      So many arguments here (when is a "chemical" not a chemical etc.?)....

      Right! Everything--everything--everything around one consists of chemicals! There's no exceptions (unless you're strange and pedantic and want to argue that elements are not chemicals, or other states of matter such as plasmas).

      The fact is that the human body is ALL chemicals.

      What chemicals they are and in what concentrations is a separate issue.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Missing the point

    "Of course it’s the pesticide residues that ultimately drive the idea that organics are better for us."

    Maybe for a certain group of consumers, but the ultimate idea behind Organic farming is that you can produce great food without harming the environment with large quantities of pesticides. The Organic movement is also demonstrating that you can deal with problems which confront farmers without having to resort to GMO.

    Secondly, Organic farming tries to do away with the incredibly wasteful concept that vegetables have to look good.

    Unfortunately Organic food remains at luxury prices because producers are still primarily fairly small scale and can't survive on the tiny margins that profit hungry supermarkets demand, and retailers have realised that above above group of consumers are prepared to pay a premium for what they believe is more healthy.

    1. kwyj

      Re: Missing the point

      "Unfortunately Organic food remains at luxury prices because producers are still primarily fairly small scale "

      You might want to look into that. Earthbound Farms is by far the largest producer of organic products in the US and has annual revenue of $500M. That's not even close to small scale but they still charge higher prices than non-organic corporations. Scale has nothing to do with it.

      The reason you pay more for organic food comes down to two simple factors.

      1. It's a less efficient means of farming

      2. People are suckers and manufacturers know this.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    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.

    That bastion of high quality and truthful reporting said THAT? I'll never eat anything organic ever again.

  30. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    "Contains no chemicals"

    First of all, by way of a disclaimer, I should point out that I am all in favour of a good, balanced healthy diet, and that my diet includes some organic vegetables.

    Now that that is out of the way, there is nothing that annoys me more than marketing weasel words - things that are fundamentally dishonest in the name of profit. A good example of this is when a claim is amde that something does not contain chemicals. As a holder of not one, but two chemistry degress, I can categorically state that there never has been, nor ever will be any product produced that contains no chemicals whatsoever. of course, what the folk making claims about 'chemicals' in food probably mean are harmful chemicals, but this itself is a subjective term.

    For instance, if you were to be suffering from a fever, taking a 1g dose of paracetamol would bring your fever down, and possibly even save your life as a result. If you were to take as little as 10g of paracetamol, it may cause acute liver damage and could well even kill you, so it could be said that paracetamol is a good chemical in low doses, but bad in high doses. Is it therefore harmful, or not? Paracetamol is a good example here, as the dangerous dose is close to the therapeutic dose, but in general, most medicines are good in small doses, but harmful in high doses.

    Phytochemicals (chemical compounds produced by plants) can also be a good example of things that have different effects at different doses, for example vitamin A is an essential precursor to the photoreceptors in the eye, a dietary deficiency can cause blindness. An overdose, however, is acutely toxic and can cause death. Many plants produce a range of compounds, usually as an evolutionary response to a threat, which reduces predation from insects, susceptibility to fungal diseases, etc. Because the production of such chemicals comes at a cost (they take energy to produce which could be put into growth and reproduction), plants normally only produce these in small amounts, unless there is a direct threat. The mechanisms through which they do this are many and varied and could fuel a number of PhD theses for many years.

    The point I am leading to, is that plants grown in unstressed conditions, where they are fed psticides and chemical fertilisers tend to produce fewer phytochemicals that those grown organically, as they tend to be less stressed. organically produced fruit and vegetables tend to have higher levels of phytochemicals. Some phytochemicals are 'good' in the sense that we perceive them as 'flavour' (organic fruit and veg usually do taste better), or they have medicinal uses (many modern medicines originate from compounds isolated from plants in the first place), but some are 'bad' - they could cause damage to DNA, leading to increased cancer risk, or they could be nerve toxins, like solanine, found in raw potatoes, and likely to be there in higher levels if they are grown organically.

    All in all, there is no black-and-white, 'organic is good', 'monoculture is bad' from a nutrition viewpoint, and usually the differences are small. There is no question that mass application of bulk chemical NPK fertilisers is bad for the environment - nitrogen and phosporus run-off into waterways, for example, causes algal bloom, leading to eutrophication (where the oxygen levels in the water fall), which kills wildlife. There is also some evidence to show that co-planting of several crops, whilst more labour intensive than monoculture can produce higher overall crop yields.

    I would suggest to anyone who wants to take the topic seriously that the best course of action is to educate yourself. Don't take the words of others for granted, be wary of the agendas of others, and try to follow the scientific method, rather than believing anything published in the Daily Mail. Of course, this takes more effort than blindly accepting whatever opinion is most fashionable, but you can be comforted by the fact that you are better informed, and therefore more likely to be right.

  31. b 3

    it's not just about cancer.

    cancer isn't the only thing to be concerned about, it's about general health and not ingesting chemicals. someone can be pretty under nourished and still not have cancer.

    it's about NOT eating chemicals!

    1. janimal

      Re: it's not just about cancer.

      You need to read the post above yours.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: it's not just about cancer.

        There is a certain element of serendipitous timing here...

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: it's not just about cancer.

      it's about NOT eating chemicals!

      This is why my diet consists solely of hard vacuum and superheated plasma.

      1. Irony Deficient

        it’s about NOT eating chemicals!

        Loyal Commenter, hard vacuum can be made much more palatable with sufficient parboiling.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yummy Pesticides

    Maybe-- as hinted by the author's reference to the AGRICAN study-- pesticides REDUCE the incidence of cancer. After all, if you actually get cancer they will want to poison you with chemo (pesticides on steroids!), so for those that believe pesticides are poisonous the rationalization is that a little poison over a long period of time keeps the cancer away. Almost frou-frou homeopathic if you ask me. Maybe someone should do a study to see if preservatives (linked in some studies to reduced cancer risk, more likely by reducing carcinogen chemical formation of evil contaminant life forms) combined with pesticides potentiate each other. Aha! We have a hypothetical mode of operation, now to submit a proposal for some free cash grants from the various world governments! I'll build my empire of underpaid chem grad students with me living rich at the top, and being rich has a very definite correlation with longevity-- cancer or no!!

    On a slightly different bent, spending extra cash on organic veggies means less cash for medical coverage, particularly in the medically challenged countries like the United States. Having less finances, means finding disease later...

  33. nijam

    > According to Peter Melchett ... the study is flawed because

    ... he disgreed with the result, actually

  34. Skizz

    I Buy Organic sometimes...

    ...because it tastes better (in my opinion). No other reason.

  35. Greg D

    Organic vs non.

    Organic food is the same as normal food, except overpriced and probably less healthy.

    I ALWAYS avoid this shit in the supermarket. People come at me with opinions all the time saying how this chemical will kill you slowly or this GMO is unnatural and thus directly causes cancer. Guess what? These are OPINIONS. Not facts.

    Fact is, GMO foods have many benefits over non-GMO and pesticides help to increase the resilience of crops to undesired insects, which have BOTH been proven over and over again to have zero negative-impact on human health.

    Any of you organic food-fuckers come at me with anything otherwise, I want some peer-reviewed scientific proof, or I smack you upside the head with my GMO-enhanced marrow.

    1. JEDIDIAH
      Linux

      Re: Organic vs non.

      > Fact is, GMO foods have many benefits over non-GMO

      No, not really.

      The only advantage that Megacorp GMO crops have is an enhanced resistance to farm chemicals. They have rather obvious names like "Roundup Ready". Industrial GMO seeds are bred to tolerate more herbicide. They aren't bred to be "better" in any other way.

      Don't conflate the goals of some megacorp that would grind you into crackers with some monk or university professor.

  36. Scott Broukell
    Meh

    SOIL

    Soil is truly marvelous stuff, it is beautiful, natures perfect medium for growth. But it is very fragile, just one part of a larger ecosystem and almost impossible to replace once it's gone. Hasn't it been proved many times over the years by Henry Doubleday / Soil Association etc that using organic agriculture (without man-made chemical fertilizers) yields will actually increase against modern agrochemical methods. We dearly need to hang on to soils and the things that keep them in good, productive, shape - hedgerows, bio diversity, natural forms of fertilization. Although arable food production appears more profitable because yields can be higher in concentration and it's easier for machines to harvest in a high density mono-culture, many are of the mind that in the long run (thinking of the children here), we will exhaust the soils performance if we continue with such modern mechanized methods. Soil - once it's gone, it's gone - there ain't no going back. Keeping it alive and well is a current battle for many farmers, together with irrigation and chemical fertilizer costs. We've never had it so good (in the developed world), in terms of the complete and utter luxury of being able to walk into a supermarket, fill a trolly with all manner of produce and then throw it all in the boot of the car - all without a care in the world about how sustainable this habit is. Things do need to change, fast and quite radically!

  37. Aslan

    Good to see the study done, but I don't think this is the last word on it. Remember in the early 1990's, the brick cellphones caused brain cancer. If you looked at where the cancers occurred it was obvious, studies were done, but by the time the large ones were technology had moved on and modern cellphones of the early 2000's were found to be safe. Organic food tastes better, I choose it when I can. I'd like to see more testing to enforce laws on pesticide residue, and consequences for the law breakers for organic and normal food. Disappointing to see the British soil association pick and choose like that, everyone does it, but people know they should be above it. I rather think health benefits of organic foods will be found in future studies.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Aslan

      "Good to see the study done..."

      No, not really. Especially since, as already mentioned, it would not have been published if it had the wrong results.

  38. phil dude
    Coat

    elephant in the room....

    one of the biggest problems in society is how much (of any food) we are eating, organic or not....

    P.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: elephant in the room....

      For the first time in European history (at least), no-one needs to starve. People are, in general, adequately fed - there is no starvation. Under-nutrition is significantly worse for an individual than over-nutrition, and yet we have campaigns telling us to eat less, putting ridiculously low levels on "healthy weight", and making people guilty about eating well. We should be grateful, and find a way to spread this wonder to the rest of the world - instead we have miserablists like you bemoaning the fact.

      1. phil dude
        Boffin

        Re: elephant in the room....

        I take it from the ad hominem comment that you are working off some personal issues.

        If you are under the impression starvation does not occur in modern society, then I am afraid you are greatly mistaken (google "foodbank"). Starvation(famine) is often not caused by a lack of food, but from socio-economic and sometimes political turmoil which restricts access to these resources. A word you may have been looking for was malnutrition. It is possible to have sufficient calorific consumption and perish from malnutrition. I shall leave it to the reader to furnish themselves with a popular example which is taught in middle school history (at least it was to me). Malnutrition in elderly people is a very real problem, sometimes with a medical cause, sometimes socio-economic.

        A good place to get some hard information regarding the crisis in obesity is the excellent ongoing NIH pre-diabetes study (http://ndep.nih.gov/diabetes-facts/). Although based on the USA population, it has been widely reported northern Europe (e.g the UK) is following these trends.

        Since you raised the issue, please furnish us your opinion on "ridiculously low levels" and "healthy weight"? I will suggest to you that there is an avalanche of conflicting information out there, caused in large part from the need for companies to sell to consumers with little culpability. I would also suggest there is a conflict between modern working practices and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Finally, I would suggest there is a conflict that the school system has cut back on teaching physical activity in response to ever industrial teaching schedules of government(s).

        The BMI calculation which I think you were referencing (?) was created as a general measure, and there are exceptions which are well documented. If you are not an exception, it probably applies to you and you should take it into account. This of course is only one data point as cardio-respiratory fitness is not captured, although it is strongly correlated.

        Some of the clinical outcomes of unmanaged diabetes include blindness and necrosis (followed by amputation). It is thus to be discouraged.

        Finally, (the perhaps not subtle enough for everyone) point of my comment was that anyone who is worried about the organic label is unlikely to be worried about getting enough to eat.

        P.

  39. Pete ThSplendiferous

    Pricey, not particularly healthy, won't save you from cancer but taste sooooooooo good, you actually like vegetables.

    Funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council?

    Hmm! What are the theorists going to think about that?

  40. Herby Silver badge

    Water??

    Is a "chemical" as well. Is it "organic"? Given what constitutes a chemical, it may not be. You CAN die from over consumption (it happened locally when a contest was done a bunch of years ago). As far as I know, it may even cause cancer, as most people who succumb to cancer have consumed it at one time.

    Of course there is the "taste" issue. Given my diet, it doesn't amount to much.

    Now where is that nice Cheeseburger I want?

  41. RobHib
    Stop

    Organic foods healthier? -- First, Let's Cut the Bullshit Over Chemicals.

    "And we all know that chemicals, in this case mainly pesticides, are bad for you."

    Are they? What an almighty sweeping statement (but so typical and commonplace today). So let's spent a moment analysing its implications.

    If all those years studying chemistry taught me anything, it is that you cannot generalise in this way about chemicals. So what does it mean to say 'pesticides are bad for you'?

    For starters, in the philosophical sense, 'bad' is an unqualified simple notion in that it has no extent or measure. Thus grouping all pesticides under 'bad' is both foolish and confusing. It (a) further condemns all pesticides into a single 'bad' basket in the minds of the lay public, and, (b) grouping all pesticides into one classification is potentially dangerous. For instance, if all pesticides are classified as equally 'bad' then we're saying (or at least implying) that:

    Pyrethrum – (very mildly hazardous, mainly just irritating to humans),

    Malathion – (moderately hazardous to humans), and,

    Dichlorvos – (highly hazardous to all animal life)

    are essentially one and the same and should dealt with together (thus obviously stupid). And it only reinforces the public's misconception that all chemicals are 'sort of equally' dangerous—some muddleheaded idea that's entered the public consciousness only in recent¹ years.

    We must always determine* what chemical pesticides are being used (hence know their properties); know when they were applied to crops and in what concentrations, and know the safety criteria such as the minimum duration from the last application/spraying to the harvesting and eating to ensure pesticide residues are within safe/acceptable limits. Other issues also arise, such as when multiple pesticides are used together, as there are potential dangers which might arise from synergistic effects. Moreover, if synergistic effects did occur and were found to be harmless to healthy humans, then is may not be the case for vulnerable humans who are already suffering from other conditions.

    * This rule applies for any event involving chemistry/chemicals. One often watches TV reports of almost comical responses to chemical events/spillages etc. as it's very clear those responding have little knowledge of chemistry. To be fair, I know they're having to apply HAZMAT/Hazchem rules, but even so it's often clear from what is said that their practical chemistry knowledge is wanting. Perhaps if the public was more knowledgeable in such matters then the HAZMAT/Hazchem rules might be more flexible.

    Beware the prophets of doom.

    Concentration² is just about everything in chemistry but alarmists regularly make more of a chemical's actual presence than they do about its concentration. Just because you can detect a dangerous chemical doesn't mean that it will harm you if concentrations are low enough. Other issues are also important such as is the chemical processed easily by the liver etc., or is it cumulative, a la Hg, and heavy metals etc?

    Unfortunately, the ready availability of very sensitive mass spectrometers etc. in recent years has often meant that the matter of concentration seems to have been lost in the 'look what we found' hype. Detecting a molecule serves no useful purpose unless the effects (and relevance) of its concentration are also known (or its value put into perspective, which is often not the case).

    For example, detecting a few molecules of dioxin downwind of one's campfire hardly constitutes a pollution crisis, despite dioxin's toxicity. Just because campfires produce tiny traces of dioxin doesn’t mean we should ban them. It's clear that there's often much hype and abuse associated with these chemical/pollution statistics and that this has further led to the common notion in the public's mind that most chemicals are 'bad' (and very frightening).

    Applying science and objective logic.

    At the extremes of argument, nothing seems simple, as issues become clouded through emotion. Unfortunately, this is how the 'Organic Brigade' and Greenies regularly run anti-chemical debates, which often degenerate into emotional slanging matches without much substance.

    Looking at the scientific and technical data makes considerably more sense. Still, one must be wary of 'facts' claimed in the name of science. Especially if the scientific evidence comes from the likes of multinational chemical companies such as Monsanto. Thus, when analysing evidentiary data/information, it is (a) important to know both its provenance and the authority under which it was produced, and (b) use other sources to corroborate such information.

    Applying these principles to a practical case.

    The problem in the public discourse today is that so much reporting is given to inaccuracy and exaggeration to the extent that the public doesn't know what to believe. Moreover, nothing is worse than the fear that's been developed in the public's mind over chemicals (clearly, school chemistry has monumentally failed to educate the public about chemicals).

    Here's an example of such a statement and how I would go about verifying it (without getting bogged down in too many technicalities):

    "If the organophosphate pesticide Malathion is applied sufficiently early in the crop cycle to ensure the recommended minimum time must pass before the food is consumed, then it has been shown to be essentially benign to humans. That is, if Malathion is applied to food crops then a recommended minimum washout period must be observed before the food is deemed safe and fit to eat."

    The case against this statement (as taken from the public discourse):

    * Those opposed to the use of Malathion cite that it causes everything imaginable including--of course--cancer (an always obligatory inclusion).

    * Evidence of these effects is usually anecdotal and there is no shortage of them (and they are often not stated in detail, nor peer reviewed). (However, often they are exaggerations and inferences projected from actual instances of excessive overexposure to Malathion (those mixing and spraying it).)

    * Most of those stating the case against Malathion are not qualified to so do but blatantly so do.

    * The organisations behind those making claims against Malathion usually have political agendas that would dovetail neatly with a ban being placed on the product. (The philosophy being that most chemicals are as dangerous and thus ought to be banned.)

    The case for the statement:

    * A search shows that this statement reflects the current view of most regulatory authorities today over many (but not all) jurisdictions.

    * This view of safety hasn't changed significantly in over 50 years (Malathion having come to market in the mid 1950s). There has been no appreciable changes to safety since then.

    * CAS (Chemical Abstract Service) data essentially confirms what regulators say.

    * For decades, there have been claims that Malathion causes cancer. Despite more than 50 years having passed together with much research, there is still no actual evidence let alone conclusive proof that it does cause cancer.

    * Whenever Malathion has been applied to crops according to rules, no cases of people being harmed has been reported.

    * Whilst Malathion is both an organophosphate and dangerous, it has only shown to be so under conditions and in concentrations that would not be found in normal use.

    * Personal (anecdotal) experience. Malathion has been around a very long time. As a kid in the 1960s, I had the job of spraying fruit trees with Malathion to protect against codling moth and fruit fly and we suffered no obvious ill back effects then.

    Thus, on a reasonable analysis and assessment of the evidence before me, I would have to conclude that Malathion when applied according to rule is essentially safe to use.

    Whether Malathion when used under the recommended conditions, is completely and totally harmless is another matter. But given the evidence and circumstances, the issue is hardly relevant.

    ______

    ¹ In many ways, our grandparents had a better practical working understanding of chemistry than do people of today. For instance, my grandmother knew that cloudy ammonia was alkaline, thus highly useful for taking the scum off the bath, cleaning very dirty paintwork etc. whereas those properties were ill suited to cleaning the toilet and that for this sodium hypochlorite was superior. She made soap from scratch—lye (NaOH) was everywhere in large tins around the laundry. Reagents, cleaning agents and various other chemicals used for various purposes were commonplace, these included HCL, Oxalic Acid, Sodium Carbonate, Mag Sulphate/Epsom Salts and others including thallium and phosphorous which were used as rodenticides. Neither my grandparents or parents were the slightest bit scared of chemicals but they respected them. For instance, the thallium, phosphorous and oxalic acid were locked in a special cupboard and marked 'poison'.

    My-my, how the world has dumbed-down.

    ² To the pernickety, don't question my over-simplification, you know what I mean.

    1. caradoc

      Re: Organic foods healthier? -- First, Let's Cut the Bullshit Over Chemicals.

      Excellent post. Even dioxin isn't as toxic as claimed, at its worst it causes chloracne. Whilst it may cause cancer in specially bred cancer susceptible rats, at high doses, it has never been proven in humans, even after the Soweso disaster.

      It always amuses me to hear the claims about chemicals in food and then to watch the massive global bonfire celebrations at New Year and other events:

      Chemical and Environmental Research, 1996, Vol. 5 international Conference, Impact of Fireworks on our Environment:

      "The burning of fireworks introduces huge amounts of toxic gases into the atmosphere, along with large quantities of particulate matter.

      Metals like Magnesium, Aluminium and Iron are used in the manufacture of many fireworks, while nitrates and carbonates of some toxic metals like Barium, Strontium, Calcium and Copper are added to produce beautifully coloured fireworks.

      Carbon, Nitrogen and Sulphur contained in those fireworks are ultimately converted into Carbon monoxide, Carbon dioxide, Nitrous oxides and Sulphur oxides, together with huge amounts of water vapour, and released into the atmosphere. The particulate matter, consisting of unburnt carbon particles and oxides of metal, is of different particle sizes.

      The heavier ones are precipitated as dust and those with small sizes remain suspended in the atmosphere as an aerosol. The latter enter into the respiratory tract along with the gaseous pollutants causing emphysema and other pulmonary diseases.

      The fine particles of so-called harmless metal oxides form a thin coating on the mucosa and impair their normal functioning. The heavier particles containing toxic heavy metals are mixed up with the soil and enter the food chain causing severe damage to both flora and fauna."

      Let's ban fireworks, right?

      1. RobHib

        @caradoc -- Re: Organic foods healthier? -- First, Let's Cut the Bullshit Over Chemicals.

        "Even dioxin isn't as toxic as claimed, at its worst it causes chloracne. Whilst it may cause cancer in specially bred cancer susceptible rats, at high doses, it has never been proven in humans, even after the Soweso disaster"

        I don't want to enter the debate over dioxin toxicity as I'm not a toxicologist, except to say dioxins vary substantially from one another as to their toxicity. What I do know is that I would go to considerable lengths to avoid them in concentrations that cause harm to humans.

        If one looks for say dioxin then one will find it in miniscule quantities everywhere. Many burning processes produce traces of it. Essentially, we've lived with such traces ever since the invention of fire without any consequences.

        The point I was making in my post and which I find absolutely key, is that modern detecting and analysis equipment such as the mass spectrograph, now allows us to detect chemical concentrations with orders of magnitude more sensitivity than we could do by traditional chemical analysis. Thus simply seeing a 'nasty' compound's presence in a sample is sufficient to tempt the observer to announce the finding, even if its concentration has no practical significance whatsoever.

        Moreover, many of the new breed of chemists don't seem overly alarmed by this, whereas older more experienced ones consider such readings as being in the measurement noise and thus irrelevant (obviously, what I am saying is subject to the circumstances).

        As I see it, the community of chemists has a professional responsibility to help allay some of fear of chemicals that's now rife across the population. Again, chemists should address the serious issue of why so many of the population can study 5 or 6 year's chemistry at high school and seemingly have no idea about or feel for the relevance of chemicals in the environment (it's as if anything they've done at school bares no relation to practical reality). Moreover, many of these students actually turn out to be just as ignorant and scared of chemicals as those who've no chemistry training at all.

        It seems to me that this is a serious problem. Somehow, modern training has left these people without any practical understanding of the subject after more than half a decade's study. I have my own theories on why this has come about, the essence of which I summarise in the end note¹.

        "The burning of fireworks introduces huge amounts of toxic gases into the atmosphere, along with large quantities of particulate matter."

        Don't announce this too loudly or the Greenies will take the hint and have fireworks banned. ;-)

        Mind you, I've thought the same about it and discussed it with fellow New Year revellers. The conclusion we came to was worldwide and in the grand scheme of things, the total release was essentially miniscule.

        Even if that's not the case, then it ought to be the techie's official line. Otherwise, some killjoy will find a way to put the kibosh on it.

        __________________

        ¹ My own theory is that occupational health and safety has much to do with it. Kids can't get their hands 'dirty' with chemicals as they once did. They don't own chemistry sets as a matter of course as they once did; they're not encouraged to make black powder and blow things up (as I was). In fact, at school we had several lab periods in which we optimised the ratios for black powder, got the particle granularity correct and eventually tested our efforts (done outside of course).

        Continuing, these kids have never stuck their hands in a large bowl of mercury and tried to touch the bottom of the bowl--in fact, I know of some kids (even young adults) who've never seen Hg in real life--even in thermometers. Amazing but true! Our school lab was exceptionally well equipped, it included metallic sodium, potassium, dangerous chemicals such as benzine, precursors for dangerous chemicals--potassium ferro/ferricynide etc.; and we made HCN then used it as reagent (in a normal lab experiment); we boiled aqua regia in a retort and dissolved tiny bits of gold in it, and we made H2S in a Kipp's Generator. (And unofficially one lunchtime, my lab partner and I made nitroglycerine using eyedropper quantities so we wouldn't kill ourselves. It worked, and the resulting bang blew the bottom off the test tube containing the experiment at the meniscus level with a perfect cut--the test tube's top was left completely intact. Those who know this experiment, will know the 'good oil' is only a small percentage of the test tube's contents--a thin layer that separates out.)

        Today, all such activities are banned from school labs. It seems to me that this is a tragedy; for unless kids have frisson and excitement in experimental science then they'll never get a feel for the subject. I'm not alone thinking this way, in fact most I've discussed the matter with agree that what's happened to high school science has been a tragic mistake.

      2. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Organic foods healthier? -- First, Let's Cut the Bullshit Over Chemicals.

        it's a bit like the way that many allotment societies ban using old carpet for supressing weeds, "because it's toxic/poisons the soil". yet none of them have any evidence. Even if there is some (which I doubt) I've not been able to find it and they certainly haven't even tried.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So...

    "Organic" is not a label that some enterprising marketer came up with? And there was me thinking that all food was organic in the first place.

    First time I saw one of those "Organic fruit" labels at Tesco I was utterly disappointed when I realised that the alternative was not, in fact, inorganic fruit. :(

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A very misleading 'study'

    Pesticides are absorbed _inside_ different plants to varying degrees, more so by thin walled plants and fruit, especially by berries and other thin walled fruit, so I only buy "Organic" fruit, or do without. Many green vegetables tend to absorb less Pesticide, so I normally compromise and buy 'conventional' versions, but still prefer "Organic", because they tend to have better nutrient content and taste.

    Pesticides can cause other damage than just cancer, because they can impact gut bacteria, disrupt body enzymes, disrupt Hormone production, and cause inflammation, this harm maybe tolerated for many years, then get bad fast. Inflammation is not harmless e.g. it causes heart disease, and damages joints etc.!

    The specific pesticides, adjunct agents, and water hardness also matter, e.g. one of the bad scenarios is Glyphosate, commonly in a mix with a proven toxic adjunct agent, used on land with hard water; Glycophate has recently been discovered to react with hard water to form a stable toxic compound which does not biograde and causes organ damage! So please don't use Glyphosate anywhere, especially not in hard water areas, otherwise you will poison the soil, and water run-off!

    The last sentence of the article is really quite stupid, because we are wasting energy on stupid, incomplete, synthetic chemical shortcuts which cause net soil and wildlife depletion *, and we risk significant harm if we eat a lot of the most poisoned fruit and vegetables.

    * e.g. Bees and other insect pollinators, pest predator insects, and soil and insect feeding 'weeds'.

  44. zemerick

    "Organic - I don't think that word means what you think it does."

    <sigh> Reading posts here is giving me a headache. Almost no one here seems to know what "Organic" actually means.

    It means 1 thing: Not artificially genetically modified. ( Though this does apply to both the food and the products used in growing it such as pesticides. )

    Organics ARE mostly mass produced by big corporations.

    Organics ARE mostly covered in pesticides.

    Organics ARE mostly grown with fertilizers.

    Organics taste the same as equivalent non-organic. ( As mentioned, this comes down to the actual methods used to grow, how ripe they are, how long they have been sitting, the exact species chosen, etc. )

    Further: The pesticides used can often be FAR FAR worse on organics. Remember, DDT is organic.

    Now, if you were paying attention, you noticed I did say "mostly" quite a lot. So, while the vast majority are for example mass produced by big corporations, it doesn't necessarily mean that what you buy is. Just like you can get "non-organic" foods that are not produced by those corporations. ( What's really funny is the majority of the time, it's the same big companies doing both organic and non-organic. )

    The real differences between organic and non-organic come from the genetic modification. This means a few things:

    Organics are by their very nature far more unstable, being specifically bred to choose the ones that do mutate. This means you will be less certain of exactly how it all will come out. One corn stalk might do extremely well, another could be stunted, a third could actually be harmful ( if you're really really unlucky. It's random chance. ) This also means that technically organics have far more carcinogens ( as these are what help to provide an increased mutation rate...really though, the vast majority of the time you can ignore carcinogens. Most things are carcinogenic, just in incredibly tiny rates. ) GMO however, are very strictly controlled. You just spent millions of dollars creating that new perfect corn...you don't want it to go and change on you. ( and in fact, you aren't allowed for it to change. GMOs are required to be certified, and are strictly controlled and regulated. )

    Organics use more land, require more fertilizer, and require more pesticides. The genetically modified versions are specifically designed to require less of all of the above. ( Also, technically, organics are genetically modified as well...just far slower and less precise. )

    If you care about pesticides, fertilizers, run-off or big-corp: You can't simply buy organic ( or non-organic ), you have to be very pro-active. You need to find out specifically what farm the given food is coming from, and exactly how they handle it. Is that local farm actually owned by a multi-billion dollar corporation? What do they use for insect control, and how much do they use? How do they handle their run-off? Have they had any inspections, and how did they perform? etc. etc.

    1. RobHib
      Headmaster

      @zemerick -- Re: "Organic - I don't think that word means what you think it does."

      Let there be no argument about the definition:

      ______________________________

      Dictionary.com definition of:

      Organic, adjective

      1. noting or pertaining to a class of chemical compounds that formerly comprised only those existing in or derived from plants or animals, but that now includes all other compounds of carbon.

      2. characteristic of, pertaining to, or derived from living organisms: organic remains found in rocks.

      3. of or pertaining to an organ or the organs of an animal, plant, or fungus.

      4. of, pertaining to, or affecting living tissue: organic pathology.

      5. Psychology . caused by neurochemical, neuroendocrinologic, structural, or other physical impairment or change: organic disorder.

      ____________________________________

      Oxforddictionaries.com definition in English of:

      Organic, adjective

      1. Relating to or derived from living matter: organic soils

      1.1 Chemistry Relating to or denoting compounds containing carbon (other than simple binary compounds and salts) and chiefly or ultimately of biological origin. Compare with inorganic.

      2. (Of food or farming methods) produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals: organic farming organic meat.

      3. Physiology Relating to a bodily organ or organs.

      3.1 Medicine (Of a disease) affecting the structure of an organ.

      4. Denoting or characterized by a harmonious relationship between the elements of a whole: the organic unity of the integral work of art.

      4.1 Characterized by gradual or natural development: the organic growth of community projects.

      _____________________________

      I would suggest that the word Organics (in contemporary usage) has a subtle but significantly different meaning to Organic but I'll let you look that up.

  45. zemerick

    ...While I'm at it:

    "Organic" when referring to chemistry does not mean "A molecule containing Carbon." It's actually arbitrary, and yes..all "Organic Compounds" do contain Carbon. However, steel is never considered organic, even though it contains a sizable amount of Carbon. There are many other compounds that are often close, but still considered inorganic. Others, it just depends on who you ask. It's all just down to tradition, and helps with basic organization, but is terrible for anything specific.

  46. southpacificpom
    Boffin

    SHIT

    It always raises a smile when I see this being debated and imaging that tiny seed starting it productive life in a mix of soil and pig/cow/sheet shit.

  47. lambda_beta

    Healthy?

    The science is this article is dubious to say the least. But the logic is far worse. First off, this was a study about getting cancer and not about general health. So the study finds (?) no correlation between organic foods and cancer but now we jump to the conculsion that organic foods provide no health benefits.

  48. caradoc

    Organics

    The only way to get the general public to eat a more expensive product, is to demonise intensively produced foodstuffs and this is what the Soil Association is all about.

    "eating MORE fruit and veg is a healthier bet than forking out the extra for "organics""

    It ain't necessarily so, check this article: http://www.zoeharcombe.com/2012/03/five-a-day-the-truth/

    "Why five-a-day? Why not? It’s a memorable number. It was never the outcome of evidence based, thoroughly researched, scientific investigation. It was a marketing campaign – and the most successful nutrition marketing campaign that the world has seen.

    ...the statement in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans: “fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins” is not evidence based. A more accurate statement would be “low/zero-fat fruits are a good source of vitamin C and not much else; fruits with a fat content (avocado and olives) are poorer on vitamin C and better on other vitamins, but still no where near ‘excellent’; vegetables are often a better source of vitamin C than fruit and can also provide some useful fat soluble vitamins when eaten with fat.”

    For a short and accurate statement, the guidelines should have said “animal products are unbeatable nutritionally”.

  49. RikC

    Eat healthier? Avoid sugar then. Ironically organic stores offer products without that

    If you want to really eat healthier cut all refined sugar product from your diet: It's a substance that was never part of the diet up to some centuries ago, and up to the last ~50 years only in limited quantitied since the we're dealing with depressions, diabetes, etc. etc.. This actually ironically is something at which organic food stores are very good. Personally I go there -only- to buy the stuff that contains sugar in the supermarket, like mayonaise, peanut butter, conserved peas, broth, etc. If I can get it at the supermarket without sugar, glucose or whatever they add into products these days (even bread!) I buy it at the supermarket to avoid paying the 'organic' premium - I hope someday supermarkets will offer more choice in this...

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: Eat healthier? Avoid sugar then. Ironically organic stores offer products without that

      "If I can get it at the supermarket without ... glucose or..."

      You'll be doing well to avoid that in your diet!

  50. pwillems

    "However, it’s unlikely that this finding is going to do much to dissuade the faithful that the benefits of organics have been over-sold"

    And in that one statement, the author nailed it. Carry on folks, do whatever rocks your boat.

  51. Apriori

    Green death!

    Whereas animals tend to do things like grow armour, run away or hide in holes, vegetation has developed a variety of noxious substances to reduce its likelihood of being eaten.

    Personally, I reckon that a diet consisting entirely of nice proteins and fats as grown in animals is probably much safer than one consisting of all kinds of toxins and unpleasant chemicals specifically designed to stop creatures like me from eating them.

  52. Sherrie Ludwig

    Confounding variables not addressed

    1. The people in the study do not seem to be a random sample: they self-selected whether they ate no, some, or mostly organic. This glosses over WHY they chose the way they eat. My husband was diagnosed with cancer, and that is why we are eating much more organically now.

    2. Controlled for age distribution? I did not see that. Older people have an increased risk of cancer.

    3. No control for WHERE people live. In the USA, the city dwellers are loads more likely to jump on the organic bandwagon, while out in my rural area many people really don't see the point. Urban vs. rural have greatly differing cancer rates due to environmental factors.

    Just a few of the quibbles I see with this study. BTW, we don't eat ALL organic, just try to stay organic on the stuff that usually uses more pesticides, like celery and apples.

  53. BJS
    FAIL

    missing the point

    The major contributor to all-cause mortality has little to do with organics. It's all about whether you consume animal products or not. This "study" apparently makes no distinction about that. I suspect that it's just another diversionary attack by the status quo food industry.

    Personally, I prefer organic veg and fruit when they're in the "dirty dozen" (look it up) and don't worry so much about the rest. But to really make a difference in my health, the health of others, the environment, and animal welfare, I'm vegan. Argue if you'd like, but the scientific evidence is pretty much overwhelming.

    1. NomNomNom

      Re: missing the point

      "This "study" apparently makes no distinction about that."

      That was my first thought too. If they don't even control for the most chemically offensive of all foods - meat and dairy - then what's the point?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: missing the point

      "The major contributor to all-cause mortality has little to do with organics. It's all about whether you consume animal products or not".

      Very true. If you don't, you'll have difficulty living a long healthy life.

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