Bookmark and Share February 24, 2011 - Dave Mulder

Yet another study on organic food

The latest story on organic food to be making the rounds covers a study conducted by Which?, a British consumer advocate group. Aside from causing havoc in grammar-checking software, Which? is essentially England’s version of Consumer Reports. You pay them a bit of money and get access to product reports that they go out and research themselves. Naturally, since broad meta-analysis of past studies apparently isn’t convincing, Which? decided to run their own research project on organic food.

Which? looked at the nutrition and taste of three crops: Potatoes, broccoli, and tomatoes. For taste, Which? brought in a panel of expert tasters who did a blind test, indicating which they preferred. For nutrition, Which? sent samples away for laboratory analysis.

Here’s a report on what they found:

Small-scale trials of three popular crops – potatoes, calabrese (broccoli) and tomatoes – revealed non-organically grown vegetables were tastier and more nutritious than organically grown crops, according to experts for the watchdog.

Laboratory tests found the non-organic calabrese had a significantly higher level of antioxidants than the organically grown samples, while non-organic potatoes contained more vitamin C than the organic crop.

And a panel of expert tasters found the non-organically grown tomatoes had a stronger tomato flavour and were slightly sweeter than the organic samples.

While I admire Which?’s interest in contributing to the literature, the tiny study they elected to run and publicize leaves a lot to chance. Without having access to their methodology, we have to assume that they made decisions arbitrarily. Here are some of the questions on my mind:

  • Why these three produce varieties and not others?
  • Did they grow the produce themselves or import it from somewhere else?
  • Was the produce grown in the same field with half farmed organically and the other half conventionally?
  • Would the organic produce have met ‘certified organic’ standards?
  • Did the produce have any notable differences, visually?
  • Why not take environmental concerns into consideration?

Answers to those questions would go a long way toward establishing some validity for Which?’s findings. In its current state, this isn’t even something that would be considered for a meta-analysis—yet, that doesn’t stop media entities from reporting on it.


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