Thursday, 9 November 2006

Are Organics Fruit & Vegetables Better For You?

Glen, my personal gym trainer from Bennettswood Fitness Centre, was telling me about a show he’d seen on TV recently where tests were done to see if food grown organically was ‘better’ than conventional grown produce. A further comparison was done to see what the impact of freezing fruit and vegetables was. The main outcome of the tests was that overall there was no material difference between the 2 – which was a surprise given all of the talk about the need to move away from chemicals. He sought my thoughts on the subject and I confess to not being of much assistance.

After the training session with Glen I contact Carolyn Ditchfield, a friend who owns the soil health business called “From the Soil Up” based at Inverell. Carolyn has done quite a bit of reading on the subject of soil and food health. We’d had previous discussion where she’d enlightened me on the need for “minerally dense” foods and I wondered whether this was an important measure. She sent me an excellent email outlining her ‘top of mind’ thoughts on the subject of organic V conventionally grown foods. After reading it I sought (and was granted) her permission to create a post on my blogsite outlining her main points. These follow.

Carolyn’s Comments on Organic V Conventionally Grown Foods
“It really goes back to the definition of ‘organic’ – was it ‘organic by neglect’ (i.e. don’t do anything and it can be labeled organic)? Also, there are some organic growers out there, purely in it for the premiums, or simply have poor soil knowledge.

The unfortunate thing with many of these studies is they are often conducted with a background bias in play – was it the conventional industry trying to prove a point (the same happens with it is the organic industry trying to prove a point)? You really need to check out who conducted the test and more importantly how they selected their test foods, was it measured dry matter basis or wet weight (i.e. fresh) etc.

Yes, minerally dense is the term often used, but it doesn’t take into account the form or ratio of minerals and/or enzymes, amino acids etc which is often more important – going back to basics, flavour is the biggest determinant and the good old ‘Brix meter’ gives a reasonable gauge on that for those of us that are not overly sensitive to slight variations.

Freezing will not change the mineral content significantly, but does have quite an impact on enzymes etc – which as stated above can be even more important for health giving properties.

As for chemical residues – if the chemicals were solely used externally – yes, you can rinse of some of it, but most are applied with oils and other artificial surfactants, so water alone barely does anything, you need to use some form of detergent to really move it. But the biggest problem is that most the chemicals now used in the horticultural industry are systemic, i.e. they move internally via the sap and become part of the fruit of vegetable – and there is no way to rinse those off. It is stated that given enough time after the spray the fruit will breakdown the chemicals – but that is a bit of blind trust really, you never really know, but the most alarming part is that while they claim to have regulations preventing contaminated fruit being sold through registered fruit markets. Apparently since the regulations were introduced in Brisbane’s Rocklea markets at least a decade or more ago there has not been one prosecution. Yet I know of one story of a university lecturer feeding his canaries lettuce from the markets and killing them all. He took the lettuce to the university laboratory and identified the chemical – not a happy chappy! But it also says something about the enforcement policy and our safety. I also know of many farmers that have sprayed just prior to sending veggies in.

I would still choose organic over conventional in most cases.”

Contacting Carolyn
Landholders interested in learning more about soils and soil health can contact Carolyn on email:

Post Script
I’ve subsequently learned that the TV program Glen watched was called “What’s Good For You”. It screens 7.30 pm Mondays on Channel 9 and is hosted by Sigrid Thornton. The program has a web site at The web site provides detail on the episode where the topic “Are Organics Fruit & Vegetables Better For You?” was discussed. See for these details.

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