FSA News Item, 7 August 2009
Tim Smith, the Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency, has written an open letter to interested parties about the independent organic review. The letter emphasises the validity of the independent study published last week that shows that there are no important differences in the nutrition content of organic food when compared with conventionally produced food.
Copy of text from the FSA Chief Executive's letter
The Food Standards Agency would like to set the record straight, following publication of the study last week that compared the nutrient content of organic food with conventionally produced food. This review was commissioned by us to ensure that our position on organic food is up to date and reflects the weight and balance of current scientific evidence. This research had also been called for by the organic sector to review emerging research in this area.
Pesticides were specifically excluded from the scope of this work. This is because our position on the safety of pesticides is already clear: pesticides are rigorously assessed and their residues are closely monitored. Because of this the use of pesticides in either organic or conventional food production does not pose an unacceptable risk to human health and helps to ensure a plentiful supply of food all year round.
This independent study was carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and is the most scientifically rigorous and independent review of research ever carried out in this area. It looked at 50 years worth of research using standard techniques employed in systematic scientific literature reviews. All peer-reviewed data published within a time period set out before the review began were included.
The report was extensively peer reviewed before publication by leading scientists in this field and, furthermore, was published by a leading nutrition journal. The Agency has complete confidence in the validity of the work carried out by the LSHTM. It is an absolute principle that all our published advice is derived in this transparent way.
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 reports the results for all 162 relevant papers. The conclusions of the report were based on the results found in the 55 satisfactory studies that met predefined criteria. It 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.
Tim J Smith
Chief Executive, Food Standards Agency
For related news item, see: 29 July 2009 ORGANIC FOOD - Organic review published by FSA