Nutrition: New Study & New Scientific Report Organic Foods Blow Conventionally-Grown Foods Out of the Water. A new study shows much higher antioxidant levels in organic foods. But that’s not the only benefit.
We know that going organic is the best way to keep pesticides out of your body and to protect the environment. It’s also the most efficient way of loading up on nutrients, without loading up on calories or poisonous metals, according to new research published in the British Journal of Nutrition. Reviewing 343 studies, scientists concluded that organic foods blow conventionally-grown foods out of the water when it comes to certain nutrition standards. (This larger study counteracts controversial research from Stanford suggesting that organic food isn’t any healthier than nonorganic.)
“The study is telling a powerful story of how organic plant-based foods are nutritionally superior and deliver bona fide health benefits,” says study author Charles Benbrook, PhD, a sustainability expert from Washington State University.
Researchers discovered several reasons why organic trumps non-organic, adding that people need to eat more of these fruits and vegetables because they contain health promoting, disease preventing phytonutrients.
Here are some major findings from the new study:
• Organic fruits and vegetables contained 20 to 40 percent more disease-fighting antioxidants compared to chemically-grown counterparts. “You get one, maybe two extra servings of antioxidants from those organic foods compared to if you bought conventional brands,” says Benbrook. Translation: Eating only organic food would be the equivalent of eating an extra serving of fruit or veggies a day, without having to eat more food.
• Organic food is significantly (in some cases 48 percent!) lower in the poisonous metal cadmium compared to chemically-grown crops. Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal and can be found in certain fertilizers. Ingesting too much cadmium has a bunch of health implications, including kidney stones.
• Besides the myriad of health problems stemming from pesticides (from allergies to cancer), this study proposes that pesticides also make our food less nutritious. The researchers reported that plants exposed to pesticides produce fewer natural pest defenses, including phenols and polyphenos. These naturally-occurring compounds serve as antioxidants in people and have been shown to boost your brain, reduce anxiety, and protect your gut and liver. Plus, organic plants have more flavonoids, including 69 percent more flavanones, 26 percent more flavones, and 50 percent more flavonols.
Joint scientific report by the environmental agencies of Austria and Switzerland and the German nature conservation agency, BfN.
The adoption of crops genetically modified (GM) for herbicide resistance leads to a dramatic increase in herbicide usage and herbicide resistance, and is a major threat to global biodiversity, according to a joint scientific report by the environmental agencies of Austria and Switzerland and the German nature conservation agency, BfN.
To top it off, such crops provide no yield benefit to farmers.
GM crops drive herbicide use
Although GM herbicide-resistant (HR) crops were widely adopted in some parts of the world following their introduction in the 1990s, they have mostly been banned in Europe. The report examines the likely effects of a change to the European policy — a particularly relevant investigation given current proposals to move regulation of GM crops out of the hands of the European Union and back into the hands of individual nations.
From an agricultural perspective, the researchers note that studies show that the use of HR crops does not lead to larger harvests or increased food supply. “In general, there has been little, if any contribution of HR crops to increase the yield,” they wrote.
Rather, HR crops are appealing to farmers because they reduce their costs, particularly given the currently low prices of herbicides. In addition, using HR crops makes weed management much simpler, enabling farmers to spray large doses of just one or two chemicals over an entire field, rather than adopting more customized methods such as strategic application of different herbicides, crop rotation, cover cropping or interplanting.
This simplicity comes at a cost, however. Although GM crop proponents often claim that HR crops facilitate lower herbicide use, the opposite is clearly the case. The report found that the introduction of HR crops into the U.S. did, in fact, lead to a drop in herbicide usage between 1996 and 2000. Since 2000, however, herbicide usage has climbed dramatically in every successive year.
The authors attribute this trend to the evolution of more and more herbicide-resistant weeds. This evolution was initially driven by farmers’ over-reliance on just one or two types of herbicide (the kinds that their crops were resistant to). The evolution of these crops led to an increase in the amounts of herbicides used, which has only increased the selective pressure for the evolution of more and tougher HR weeds – leading in turn to ever greater herbicide use.
“It has been known for some time that intensive high input farming is one of the main drivers of ongoing biodiversity losses in agricultural landscapes,” the report notes, and that “agricultural intensification and pesticide use are among the main drivers of biodiversity loss.”
Studies have shown that the herbicides most commonly used on GM fields are toxic to everything from plants and mammals (including humans) to the microflora in soil, the report found. The researchers also noted that all destructive agricultural practices are intensified in GM fields: not just chemical use, but also monoculture cropping.
This loss of plant diversity in agricultural areas can devastate the food web by reducing food supplies for animals that feed on native plants, as well as all their predators.
“Farmland birds may be particularly affected,” the authors wrote. “The significant reduction in monarch butterfly populations in the US has been linked to the widespread cultivation of HR crops in the Midwest, which drastically reduced the population of milkweed, the feeding plant of monarch larvae.”
The report calls for an end to the practice of comparing GM crops only with conventionally grown, chemical-intensive non-GM crops. Instead, the authors suggest comparing both of these agricultural strategies with low-input agro-ecological systems. When compared with these systems, it quickly becomes obvious that GM crops are not advantageous, the authors wrote.
“Herbicide resistant crops are not part of the solution, but part of the problem,” the report concludes.
AND In Another Study
“On average, organic farms support 34% more plant, insect and animal species than conventional farms” say Oxford University scientists. Researchers looked at data going back 30 years and found that this effect has remained stable over time and shows no signs of decreasing.Our study has shown that organic farming, as an alternative to conventional farming, can yield significant long-term benefits for biodiversity,’ said Sean Tuck of Oxford University’s Department of Plant Sciences, lead author of the study. ‘Organic methods could go some way towards halting the continued loss of diversity in industrialized nations.’For pollinators such as bees, the number of different species was 50% higher on organic farms. Species richness tells us how many different species there areThe study, published this week in the Journal of Applied Ecology, looked at data from 94 previous studies covering 184 farm sites dating back to 1989. The researchers re-analysed the data using satellite imagery to estimate the land use in the landscape surrounding each farm site to see if this had an impact on species richness. The study was carried out by scientists at Oxford University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and was partly funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
- Sean L. Tuck, Camilla Winqvist, Flávia Mota, Johan Ahnström, Lindsay A. Turnbull, Janne Bengtsson. Land-use intensity and the effects of organic farming on biodiversity: a hierarchical meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Ecology, 2013; DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12219
University of Oxford. “Organic farms support more species, researchers find.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140203191808.htm>.