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For the record

Criticisms on FSA organic food study, Daily Mail, 31st July 2009

In an article entitled "A cancerous conspiracy to poison your faith in organic food" 1, Joanna Blythman criticises the most recent study from the Food Standards Agency, which compared the nutritional content of organic and non-organic food. She claims that some studies were overlooked and that the pesticides in non-organic food "promote cancer". Here, two scientists respond to these claims.

Professor Alan Boobis OBE, Division of Investigative Science, Imperial College London:

"The article states that: "There is now a wealth of evidence to show that pesticides not only poison the soil and harm wildlife, but also promote cancer and a host of other diseases because of their toxicity. This is, after all, only common sense. Anything that can kill insects is bound to have an impact when consumed by humans."

The weight of evidence does not show that eating food in the UK that has been treated with pesticides is linked to any increased risk of cancer. Otherwise, both UK and EU legislation would require immediate action. Where pesticides were found to cause cancer in experimental animals, albeit at doses substantially greater than those to which consumers will ever be exposed, the mechanism was usually shown not to be relevant to humans, and where there was any doubt they were subsequently removed from use. Secondly, there is no biological connection between how a pesticide kills insects and the likelihood that it will cause cancer."

Professor Joseph D Rosen, Emeritus Professor of Food Toxicology at Rutgers University, responds to the claim that "an in-depth study by Newcastle University, far deeper than the one conducted by the FSA, has shown that organic produce contains 40 per cent more antioxidants than non-organic foods [...] has been overlooked":

"The Newcastle University study in the article seems to refer to an EU funded study (part of the Quality Low Input Food (QLIF) Project) directed by Dr Carlo Leifert, Professor of Ecological Agriculture at Newcastle University and head of the Tesco Centre for Organic Agriculture. According to Dr Leifert, organic fruits and vegetables were grown alongside conventional produce on a 725-acre experimental farm near Newcastle and their nutritional qualities were compared. He told the media that organic produce contained "up to 40 per cent" more antioxidants than non-organic varieties. These results were not published in peer reviewed journals. The recent FSA study did not "overlook" the QLIF project, but as a systematic review, with stringent criteria as to which studies to include, they did not include non-peer reviewed material or studies without health outcomes (as was the case with the study by Leifert's group on milk)."

1 Joanna Blythman: A cancerous conspiracy to poison your faith in organic food, Daily Mail

Author: Sense About Science

Document type: For The Record

Published: 4 August 2009

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