Take off the blinkers and see the broader view of Organic food

31 July 2009

Yesterdays newspapers were full of it:

“Organic food is no healthier and provides no significant nutritional benefit compared with conventionally produced food”, it contains “no more nutritional value than factory-farmed meat or fruit and vegetables grown using chemical fertilisers” reported the Guardian & the Times.

How different to the headlines in 2007 reporting that the biggest study into organic food found it to be more nutritious than ordinary produce and may help to lengthen people’s lives.

Shortcomings of the new study

Before I move on to my main argument, about taking a broad view of the benefits of Organic, I think it’s worthwhile pointing out some of the shortcomings of the new study. The Executive summary of the study outlines it’s narrow scope: “This review does not address contaminant content (such as herbicide, pesticide and fungicide residues) of organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs or the environmental impacts of organic and conventional agricultural practices.”

It’s not only limited in scope but also, although based on 50,000 studies, limited in it’s evidence base. Looking at the articles excluded from the study one could easily conclude that “only Western studies focused strictly on nutrient comparison were reviewed. That would seem to overlook many studies which might show organic food to be a much healthier option” – and how many of those were undertaken by the food industry themselves? It seems to me as though the evidence chosen, to fit the narrow scope of the study, and the headlines which emitted from the study’s findings presented a very blinkered view of “health” and benefits of organic food.

PPP have also noted that this desktop study, as is the usual way of doing things, was outsourced by the Food Standards Agency to a group within the University of London’s London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who work regularly and closely together. This group includes Dr Ricardo Uauy who has been a paid advisor to Unilever, Wyeth, Danone, DSM, Kellogg, Knowles and Bolton, Roche Vitamins Europe Ltd., and the International Copper Association.

Finally, looking at the shortcomings of the study, the hype and headlines forget that there are plenty of other studies that say very different things. The Guardian pointed out that Carlo Leifert, a professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University and the co-ordinator of a major EU-funded study which recently found nutrient levels were higher in organic foods, said the conclusions of the study were selective. He said: “I’m worried about the conclusions. The ballpark figures they have come up with are similar to ours. I don’t understand why the FSA are not going away and saying, ‘Right, there’s something you can do on a farm to improve food.’ But they are so blocked by not wanting to say positive things about organic farming.”

The broader view

I’m not a scientist, I haven’t undertaken any of these studies, but I am a consumer and I know what I prefer. So let’s take a look at the broader view of organic:

First, let’s look at what other people say: Leo Hickman in the Guardian points out people choose organic for many reasons: environmental stewardship (supporting the natural environment growing our food rather than obliterating it with chemical compounds to push it beyond its limits), the avoidance of pesticide residues, better animal welfare, taste. It’s a system of growing food which conserves soils, encourages biodiversity, eliminates greenhouse gas-intensive nitrogen inputs, conserves genetic diversity, and brings more income to the grower. There have been many studies about the biodiversity benefits of organic farms. And there are health benefits beyond the narrow view of the FSA study such as higher levels of omega-3 and beneficial fatty acids in milk, meat and eggs.

So the narrow, blinkered view of “health” benefits, or not, of the FSA study is misleading. There are far more things that affect human health and well-being, whether it’s in the food or not.

It could be the pesticide residues I don’t want to eat, or the higher levels of omega three and animal welfare in the eggs in my vegetarian diet.

It could also be the fact that I’d like to support natural ecosystems (plant and wildlife that have to co-exist with our farming of the land), see skylarks, butterflies and all those aspects of nature which organic farming helps retain and which add to my general feeling of wellbeing. It could also be that I don’t want to see the environmental destruction of soil compounds (caused by non-organic chemicals), for example, which lead to increased run-off of rainwater into rivers (rather than soaking into the soil) which has proven to exacerbate the speed and intensity of flooding.

I’m not an organic-dogmatic: if there’s a choice that’s not excessively higher in price, I’ll tend to buy it. Why? Because all those things above cross my mind, and, because – physically and metaphorically – organic food leaves a much better taste in my mouth.


Michael Jackson: Death, Talent, News and Public Grief

27 June 2009

0414_michael_jackson_bn

So, the sad news of Michael Jackson’s death has been leading the news for a couple of days now. It was even the 8.10 story on yesterday’s Today programme on Radio 4. Whether it’s comparison’s to Diana on news that Dr Who was with Jasckson when he died, it’s been wall to wall coverage, 24 hours a day. Which is the crux of the problem with 24-hour news (Sky, BBC News 24 and the like). Because they’re constant, they need to find news. So the uncertainty and unknowing leads to useless news stories where nothing has happened.

For Many MJ’s death is one of those collective experiences – “the only thing real that’s ever happened to them” as Justin Bond put it about young people and 9/11. The collective experiences is about the desire for the big event touching many people, something the collective can relate to as a collective, something we can all feel, talk about, something (anything?) to emotionalise about: a desire arguably enhanced the absence of religion in peoples lives and a dispersed global community (rather spatially-confined ‘real’ communities and collectives).

Stereotypist’s cartoon of the day yesterday, maybe unexpectedly, was fabulously apt:

famous

There are two things I have read that really stick in my mind over the last day. The first, arguing that no, MJ is not the new Diana (although I did ponder yesterday whether that would make Farah Fawcett Mother Teresa, dying in the shadow of a more media-circussed star):

One of the interesting twists to the multiplicity of media now available 24 hours a day, coupled with the diminished importance of religion in most people’s lives, the idea of A Big Event, one that you know everyone is thinking about, everyone is talking about, something that will bring a sense of community, is more desirable than ever. The death of Diana remains the most obvious example: some of the emotion behind the world’s mourning was undoubtedly genuine, but it’s impossible not to suspect that the excitement at just being part of a collective moment exacerbated it beyond any reasonable limits. The growth of the 24-hour news culture and the explosion of the gossip magazine industry, both of which require either constant change or, more commonly, heightened emotion, has only rendered this even more apparent, as the national media hysteria over Jade Goody’s death made all too clear.

Michael Jackson was a hugely talented individual – even more, dare one say it, than Diana. He also led an unquestionably sad and damaged life. But his death shows up, even more clearly than Goody’s did, that the desire for collective emotion leads only to false emotion.

Now, I have never been the biggest MJ fan, but I cannot deny that he was one of the best and most influential musicians of my generation – his global stardom like no other musician I could think of. The second, therefore, because i couldn’t finish off without saying anything about the man himself, is from a surreal visit to the Houses of Parliament and conversation between Jackson and Lord Janner:

Lord Janner: “Jackson turned to me. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘I want your help. We need a new national day. There’s days for everything, from caravans to helping the blind and the deaf. But there’s no day when parents are told to hug their children and to say to them: “I love you”. My parents never did that to me’. That was very touching. It explained just about everything that afflicted him.”

“He hadn’t had an easy life but he was a quite remarkable man”


Glass houses and stones

16 March 2009

There’s been a bit of furory in the blogosphere recently. A story involving a journalist, children, tragedy, and drunkenness.

Children, who survived the Dunblane shooting tradgedy, are now eighteen. Erm, that’s pretty much the story. The journalist writes:

A number of the youngsters, now 18, have posted shocking blogs and photographs of themselves on the Internet, 13 years after being sheltered from public view in the aftermath. In the days and months that followed the survivors, then aged just five and six, were the subject of overwhelming worldwide sympathy. But now the Sunday Express can reveal how, on their web-based social networking sites, some of them have boasted about alcoholic binges and fights.

I am not sure why this is a story – how are these kids, discovering drink and sex different to any other teenagers in the UK – how it this the shame of Dunblane survivors, thirteen years on? Are they supposed, because they survived tragedy, supposed to be exemplary? Regardless of what one thinks of this behavior, how are these things linked?

The editor of the newspaper has blamed bloggers for their inundation by complaints and refused to make any form of apology for their intrusion.

But maybe the journalist who wrote the exclusive story should remember that “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” – after scouring social networking sites for Dunblane survivors being teenagers she herself has been found: “Paula Murray Drinks” is the shock tactic headline used by one of those bloggers her paper despises. In her own words she’s been legless, fallen off the wagon, drinking large glasses of wine and posted pictures – over a social networking site (like those she scoured) drinking and drunk.

It’s one of those amusing blogosphere stories, but shows the hypocrisy of someone who quite clearly will stoop to the lowest of lows for a “story”…


meow! (splash) (II)

12 August 2008

Good advice from a Guardian Comment is Free blogger* for Tom Daley and Blake Aldridge following their little spat yesterday:

…hang on a minute. You’re eighth in the world at a sport! Admittedly, a slightly weird sport, but eighth! That’s brilliant! I’m not eighth in the world at anything. I’m probably not even the eighth best Carrie Quinlan in the world, because I know for a fact there’s one who’s a star on the University of Buffalo swim team. Eighth in the world, dude! Do you know how many people there are in the world? Loads, probably. Definintely more than nine. Well done, the pair of you.

She has a very good point. and made me thoroughly depressed… it could of course be worse, while googling my own post from yesterday i came across a similarly titled one about Kevin’s boring life and his night of being kept awake by amorous cats… it’s amazing what you can find online!
_____

( * = despite the Guardian sending me hunting the wrong tinyurl … what on earth is Gaia online?) PS – this is update on the pair I posted reference to yesterday as well…


where on earth?

11 August 2008

Thanks to Ade for pointing out Recess Monkey’s posting on Sky News’s journalistic qualities and not actually knowing which Georgia they’re on about… It’s probably a good thing Bush doesn’t rely on Sky for his breaking news alerts otherwise he’d already be lighting the blue touchpaper and aiming his nukes at Moscow if he thought the Russians had invaded *that* Georgia… We can add this to the same list as the ‘Tiananmen Square Massacre Remembered’ by Yahoo… No wonder I hold the media in disdain


meow! (splash)

11 August 2008

I rather enjoyed this morning’s synchronised diving – it even made me late for work… and the news that the British pair came last was quite a disappointment – more so for the two divers – the older of the two ‘blamed’ his partner:

It’s a synchro team, there’s two of us, and that’s the hard thing about it,” Aldridge said. “Both of you have to be on your game at the same time and that just didn’t happen today. Thomas is 14 years old. He’s done phenomenally and for me to be a part of a partnership with him is a great thing. I knew, going into this Olympic Games, that we were capable of a medal, but I also knew that it depended on how Tom performed. I wasn’t on the top of my game, but I out-dived Thomas today and that’s not something that normally happens. That to me is because he had a lot more pressure on him than I did.

…of course blame is a rather strong choice of word for a rather eloquent explanation of how things turned out…

I feel sorry for Blake Aldridge – and it looks to me as though he wasn’t so much blaming his partner as the hype mounded on him by an over-expectant media. My disdain for the media and it’s way of ‘reporting’ things is one thing that really irritates me – though perhaps more understandable when you’re talking about the Olympics! But – while he’s the youngest of the two – it’s quite unfair that reporting – and therefore pressure – has focused so much on him, not the partnership.

Anyway, aside from the two of them I also realised that it’s a fun sport to watch, not just for the dives, but the divers too 😉
(more details on those two here and here)


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