Organic Food: no better for you after all?
Most people who buy organic food do so owing to concerns about the use of pesticides in commercially produced produce, and possible absorption into the food chain. They may also wear sandals. Now a new report from the Journal of Cancer Studies produced by Cancer Research UK has found that eating organic food generally does absolutely nothing to lower the risk of developing cancer, and may even increase your risk.
The research looked at 600,000 women over a nine year period, of which around 50,000 developed one of the 16 most common forms of cancer. When comparing those who never ate organic food with those who “usually” or “always” did, the study found no difference in overall cancer risk, other than a small reduction in risk for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which even the scientists themselves dismissed as possibly not a “genuine association”.
In fact, the study did find that those who ate organically actually had a slightly increased risk of breast cancer, although again the link was not strong enough to show causation, and could just be by chance.
Professor Tim Key, a Cancer Research UK-funded scientist at Oxford University, said: "In this large study of middle-aged women in the UK we found no evidence that a woman's overall cancer risk was decreased if she generally ate organic food.”
Dr Claire Knight, Cancer Research UK’s health information manager, said: "This study adds to the evidence that eating organically grown food doesn't lower your overall cancer risk.” However, she pointed out that "over 9 per cent of cancer cases in the UK may be linked to dietary factors, of which almost 5 per cent are linked to not eating enough fruit and vegetables. So eating a well-balanced diet which is high in fruit and vegetables - whether conventionally grown or not - can help reduce your cancer risk."
The study’s findings were pooh poohed by Peter Melchett, director of policy at the Soil Association, which campaigns “for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use”.
Mr Melchett questioned the researchers’ methodology, as the study failed to monitor the women’s weight and physical activity regularly during the study. “It’s widely accepted that studying the relationship between diet and cancer is very challenging, given that processes that lead to development of cancer can operate over a lifetime and are hard to separate,” he chuntered.
The organic food sector has already seen a dip during the economic downturn, as people turn to cheaper, pesticide filled veg as their wallets get emptier. Finding out the cheap stuff is also better for you (or at least, no worse for you) is unlikely to improve market expectations.