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Study: aren't organic foods healthier after all?

Study: aren't organic foods healthier after all?

According to a study, organic products do not differ in nutrient content compared to conventional foods

Are organic foods just as healthy as conventional products? This was the result of a US study and summarized that organic products are not more nutritious than the ingredients and therefore hardly healthier. "Vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins and minerals are almost identical," the scientists write in their research report. However, conventional food and organic goods differ in one point: The risk of consuming harmful pesticides is significantly lower for organic food. Animal husbandry is also more species-appropriate for organic producers than for conventional agricultural companies.

Does a study raise new doubts about the real benefits of organic food? The conventional food industry could now come to this view and use current study results from Stanford University in California as an argumentation aid in the future. Because organic products are becoming increasingly important, especially in Germany, because more and more consumers prefer to use natural foods. However, if you look closely at the results, you will find that an actual health certificate fails because extensive data collection cannot include essential factors and ignores other aspects such as environmental and climate protection.

More and more people are betting on organic consumption
A few weeks ago, the Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety (LGL) reported on an in-house study. According to this, foods are "those declared organic, actually organic". Because more and more supermarkets and discounters sell organic goods at ridiculously low prices, there was great uncertainty as to whether it actually contains what the manufacturers promise. However, the authority gave the all-clear: consumers can rely on organic labeling, according to the result of the investigation of around 1,700 foods from organic production. Violations were almost never apparent.

A citizens' survey by the Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung (German Society for Consumer Research) showed that German consumers place a great deal of trust in organic products. Almost every German household (around 94 percent) buys organic goods. On average, the respondents spent around 84 euros a year. In addition, most of the survey participants in a study by the polling institute "Ernst & Young" assumed that animal rights are also strengthened when buying organic goods because organic farms are adopting a species-appropriate approach. In addition, most people believed that they were "doing something good for their own health." However, these assumptions have so far hardly been checked and organic is not an automatic predicate for happy animals.

Concrete statement hardly possible
A research group at Stanford University in the US state of California has now come to the conclusion that organic products are hardly healthier than conventionally produced foods. For the meta-analysis, the researchers headed by study leader Dena Bravata viewed thousands of previous studies and selected 223 research projects from these. The available studies compared either the nutrient content or the contamination with germs, fungi or pesticides of organic products with normal products. These included six randomized clinical trials that compared groups of people who were either conventional or predominantly organic. But the researchers cannot make a global statement. Because none of the available research was a long-term study that dealt with the health developments of the various diets over a meaningful period. The observation periods were too short for this and ranged from two days to two years.

When looking at the amount of data, the scientists were therefore unable to provide any significant evidence that "organic food contains more nutrients or is more beneficial to health". However, as the researchers confirm in the science magazine "Annals of Internal Medicine", the fact that "organic food reduces the risk of consuming chemical pesticides". And this is exactly the point that manufacturers and researchers have been arguing about for years. Finally, guidelines would ensure that the pesticide intake to the end user remains as low as possible and therefore there is no health risk. Environmentalists and consumer advocates oppose this, because studies in the past have shown time and time again that manufacturers use mixtures of pesticides to bypass guidelines and thus can promote cancer in the long term.

Nutrient content hardly differs
"The vitamin content hardly differs," the researchers sum up. Proteins, fats and minerals were distributed almost identically. "Pathogens in the form of bacteria or fungi were never unequally more common in either group," said study author Bravata. Nor could any particularly healthy fruits or vegetables from organic farming be found. "We were amazed that we didn't find anything," said one of the authors, Crystal Smith-Spangler, from Stanford University.

But how meaningful is the comparative study of the data really? Even if advantages were found in one of the two groups, this would still be no proof. In order to be able to scientifically confirm the assumption, large and different groups of people who feed either in one way or another would have to be accompanied for decades. To prevent these results from being consumed, both groups of people would have to maintain almost the same lifestyle. Because other factors such as habitats, exercise, smoking, genetics or stress are known to play an important role in health. Accordingly, it seems almost impossible to provide scientific evidence.

Twisted facts
Nevertheless, many mainstream magazines and agencies write that organic products are no healthier than conventional foods. This blanket statement is incorrect and is not supported by the authors of the study. The argument about pesticides remains powerful. Many pesticides have been shown to damage health and increase the risk of cancer.

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (RKI) argues that regulations regulate how many pesticide residues may be contained in food so as not to harm the health of the consumer. And if the salary were exceeded, it would not automatically mean that there was an increased risk to health, said Nele Boehme from the RKI.

Plant protection products and antibiotics
Exactly those limit values ​​are constantly being circumvented by conventional agriculture, in which several different pesticides are used. For this reason, Greenpeace has been criticizing the mixtures for years as "chemical cocktails", which pose an increased risk to humans in the long term. In addition, antibiotics are used in large numbers in cattle breeding, which leads to antibiotic resistance. Most researchers are still covering this statement, but only because a development is currently perceived, but clinical studies on this context are (still) missing.

Environmental and climate protection are important arguments
That is why the Stanford researchers emphasize that their conclusion “should under no circumstances serve to dissuade people from organic food”. After all, “there are many other arguments in favor of buying organic food, such as better animal husbandry, sustainable growth and environmental protection,” says Bravata.

Gerald Wehde, spokesman for the Bioland cultivation association, is also relaxed about the study results. According to him, "health is not our main field of battle". The main goal of ecological agriculture is rather to preserve the environment. "Water protection, climate protection, protection of species, soil quality - we achieve a great ecological performance there," said Wehde. (sb)

Read on:
People who buy organic food live healthier
Stiftung Warentest: organic not necessarily better
Greenpeace: fruits and vegetables with pesticides
Antibiotics in baby age increases risk of being overweight

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