FSA vindicated in organic nutritional probe

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Organic food, Nutrition, Fsa

FSA vindicated in organic nutritional probe
The methodology used in the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA’s) controversial review of the nutritional merits of organic vs conventionally-produced food has been given the stamp of approval by an independent scientific panel.

The FSA review,​ which concluded that there was “little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally-produced food" ​and "no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food”​ was immediately challenged by the Soil Association and the Organic Trade Board when it was published last July,

However, an independent assessment by a sub-group of the General Advisory Committee on Science (GACS) has concluded that the review “followed good practice at all stages” ​and that the research had undergone “extensive and rigorous peer review”.

But it did advise the FSA to develop a “clear policy on releasing underpinning data not already in the public domain​” and to inform interested parties in advance “when it is known that results may be published at very short notice”.

Soil Association: FSA should have waited

However, the Soil Association told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the FSA had "rushed out​" its review last year and "should have waited" ​for the results of the large EU-funded QualityLowInputFood (QLIF)​ research programme (completed in April 2009), which suggested that organic crops were higher in beneficial antioxidants, fatty acids, vitamins, glycosinolates and lower in harmful mycotoxins, glycoalkaloids, cadmium and nickel.

A spokeswoman also added that the Soil Association's faith in the independence of scientific committees advising the FSA had been dented following the recent resignation of two members of an independent steering group on genetically modified foods in protest over the agency's apparently pro-GM stance. However she was unable to outline specific concerns about GACS members.

She added: "We stand by our view that the FSA review was limited in it scope and analysis and only looked at research papers with abstracts written in English.

"It also excluded the results of more than half the papers it found, and it ignored more up-to-date research from the EU, completed in April of 2009, despite knowing this research was due to be published."

The FSA's own review also revealed there were higher levels of beneficial nutrients including beta-carotene, copper, potassium, zinc and phenolic compounds in organic compared with non-organic foods, she claimed, although the FSA argued that the variations were statistically insignificant.

Vindicated

FSA chief scientist Dr Andrew Wadge welcomed GACS’ conclusions and said last year's FSA-commissioned review was “an exemplary piece of work that adds greatly to the evidence base”.

He added: “The systematic review objectively assessed the evidence in a complex area where the quality of the published data is very variable.”

The FSA review,​ which was carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, led by Alan Dangour, reviewed papers published over the past 50 years that related to the nutrient content and health differences between organic and conventional food.

The GACS, ​which was established in December 2007, provides independent advice on the FSA's governance and use of science. Its work includes horizon scanning, science governance, developing good practice and informing science priorities.

The probe into the FSA review was conducted by a GACS 'sub-group' comprising Dr Ian Brown (a specialist in occupational medicine and toxicology and a graduate in agricultural biochemistry and nutrition), Professor Janet Bainbridge (a professor of biotechnology and food science) and Pamela Goldberg (lay member and ceo of charity Breast Cancer Campaign).

Their conclusions on the FSA organics review are available here.

Related topics: Fresh produce

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2 comments

Scientific Incompetence

Posted by Kristian Mueller,

... Second, stating as universal truth that there are no additional health benefits from eating organic food when 1) all you have looked at is effects of nutrition on health without regard for differences in pesticides and 2) you base your claim of difference in health in part on the effect that one substance has (one of which was red wine) on one aspect of our health while ignoring the immense complexity of human biochemical interactions when looking at an entire diet of organic vs. conventional food, is a very unscientific conclusion and a misrepresentation of the facts at best. Still Truly Disappointed.

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Scientific Incompetence

Posted by Kristian Mueller,

How Dr Andrew Wadge got to be a chief scientist is a mystery to me and frankly quite sad. It does not matter one bit how magnificently scientific the study claims to be or how objectively the evidence was assessed if the conclusions drawn are a fallacy. Most studies (73%) looked at for the second part of this FSA probe hypothesized that differences detected in health effects would be due to higher levels of specific nutrients in organic foods. For starters, the first part of this FSA probe showed that there are no statistically significant differences in nutrients between organic and conventional food - so one is to expect no health benefit differences due to nutrients. Second, stating as universal truth that there are no additional health benefits from eating organic food when 1) all you have looked at is effects of nutrition on health without regard for differences in pesticides and 2) you base your claim of difference in health in part on the effect that one substance has (one of which was red wine) on one aspect of our health while ignoring the immense complexity of human biochemical interactions when looking at an entire diet of organic vs. conventional food. Truly Disappointed.

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