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There is a piece in the Times of London looking “to establish whether it is really worth paying extra for the supermarkets’ standard, premium and organic ranges.” According to the story, the Times engaged in a blind taste test of a wide variety of foods “that were hard to tell apart by appearance alone, such as chicken breasts, apples, broccoli, tea, white wine and yoghurt.”

And here’s what the Times concludes: “For a start, the difference in taste between the supermarkets’ cheapest ranges was huge. Overall, Waitrose’s Essentials range was judged to be by far the tastiest of all the ranges at all of the supermarkets. The Sainsbury’s Basics range, however, was judged to be by far the worst of all. But the most revealing result is how badly organic food performed.

“The organic brands at Tesco, Waitrose and Asda scored worse than each supermarket’s basic, standard and premium ranges. Only at Sainsbury’s did organic food not come bottom, and that was only because its Basics range is so bad. Hard though it may be to believe, Asda’s standard range scored higher than Waitrose’s organic range. Remember, this was a completely blind test — we had no idea what we were tasting, we simply gave each food a mark out of ten based on how much we liked it. Of course, taste is purely subjective and our experiment did not have the scale or scientific rigour to be conclusive. Nonetheless, the results are fascinating and suggest that it is not worth paying extra for organic food.”

The story makes several other points:

• “The idea that organic food is worth more because it is healthier is totally bogus. Only last month the Food Standards Agency, the unbiased government agency set up to protect the public’s health, published a report concluding that organic food has no greater nutritional value than conventional produce.”

• “The idea that organic food is better for the environment is also questionable. Organic milk, for example, generates more carbon dioxide emissions than standard milk and uses significantly more land.”

• “Then there is the pesticide question. High doses can indeed cause cancer and birth defects. However, there is no evidence that the miniscule amounts found in conventional food are harmful. In fact, some studies have shown that the incidence of cancer among farmers, who are routinely exposed to relatively high levels of pesticide, is lower than in the wider population.”

The Times concludes: “Support for organic farming seems based on the belief that ‘nature knows best’. Sadly, this is little more than nostalgia for a golden age of small-scale and simple farming that never really existed. Before intensive agriculture, pesticides and artificial fertilisers, food supplies were constantly endangered by drought and disease. Agriculture was associated with grinding poverty, intensive labour and low yield.

“Of course, this is not to say that all organic food should be avoided. The animal welfare standards of organic farmers are generally considered better than average. And as our test demonstrates, some organic foods, such as burgers, do seem to taste better. But consumers should be aware that with organic food in general, they are not paying a premium for real quality, just the perception of such.”
KC's View:
One can only imagine how people who are deeply committed to organic, natural and local foods will react to this story…and will come up with credible scientific evidence to debunk most of what the Times is saying. Those of us who are not scientists will find ourselves betwixt and between…unable to say which science is right, we will try to use common sense to decide which position seems most logical.

For my part, it is hard for me to believe that there are no inherent advantages in most organic foods. It just doesn’t seem logical. Then again, I also believe in evolution and global warming…not to mention the hanging curve ball, high fiber, a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter and in opening your presents on Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve.