Organic Nutrients: The Debates Continue

The Food Standards agency has issued a statement in response to the outpouring of outrage over its study demonstrating that the nutritional value of organic foods is, on average, equivalent to that of conventional foods.  In defense of the study results, the CEO of the agency says…

  • Irresponsible interpretation of the review by some has resulted in misleading claims being made concerning higher levels of some nutrients found in organic food.  The review…focused on nutrients where statistically significant differences were seen. Arbitrary quotes or selective use of the data from the other papers which were of less robust scientific quality should be treated with caution. The important message from this report is not that people should avoid organic food but that they should eat a healthy balanced diet and, in terms of nutrition, it doesn’t matter if this is made up of organic or conventionally produced food.

I have long argued that functional foods (in which nutrients are added over and above those that are already present in the foods) are not about improving health; they are about improving marketing.  Evaluating foods on the basis of their content of one or another nutrient is what Michael Pollan calls “nutritionism.”  Nutritionism is about marketing, not health.

I am a great supporter of organic foods because their production reduces the use of unnecessary chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones, and favors more sustainable production practices.  Yes, some organic foods will be higher in some nutrients than some conventional foods.  But so what?  Customers who can afford to buy organic foods are unlikely to be nutrient deficient.  What’s at stake in the furor over this issue is market share.  What should be at stake is the need to produce food – all food – more sustainably.

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Dr. Marion Nestle

Marion Nestle is Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and Professor of Sociology at New York University. Her degrees include a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition, both from the University of California, Berkeley.

She is the author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism and What to Eat.

Her most recent book is Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine, published by University of California Press in 2008.

You can read her Food Politics blog here:


Please let us know what you think about this article. All comments will be moderated before being posted publicly.


  1. Scott says

    One thing I’d like to point out is that there are two different issues here, each valid, yet not totally related. First is the issue of the nutritional/health value of organic food as it specifically relates to those bodies eating it. Second is the ecological nature of the organic method of farming. While these are related in the large picture, they are not so closely related in the close up view and I find that too often they are discussed as being the same issue. As a person who is concerned about both issues, I still view them as separate and I need specific data about nutritional/health values when I am attempting to plan my diet. I need information about ecological issues when I’m thinking about the more public issues.

    I really wish that those who speak and try and educate others on the matters of food would not confuse the issues of personal nutiriton with matters of land use policy and ecological matters. These things are important, but then don’t apply to my meal planning for my family’s dinner tonight, if that makes sense.

    – Scott

  2. Bobby C says

    I’m looking for imformation on reversing the effects of artery damage due to Periphial Aterial Disease. I am experiencing lower leg pain when walking in my calf musle. I’m a 58 year old male that under went by-pass surgury in Oct ’07. I was told I had type 2 diabetes shortly after surgury. Since then I have the diabetes under controll thanks to HSI information on cureing diabetes, burt the leg pain still exists. I do not want to use Plavix or any other perscription drug. Is there any way to reverse the damage to the arteries in my legs?

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