ISIS Report 04/09/06
Organic Farms Make Healthy Plants Make Healthy People
Organic foods are richer in minerals and vitamins and relatively free from
harmful chemicals and additives. Dr. Eva Novotny
The importance of good food and good soil – a page from history
People in the
industrialised Western world rely increasingly on ready-prepared meals and
packaged foods. For increased shelf life, some of the ingredients will have
been refined, with the most nutritionally valuable components (such as the
germ and bran of grains) discarded, and extra chemicals added as preservative
or as flavouring or colour. At the same time, there is rising incidence of
heart disease, cancers, diabetes, allergies and other disorders. Could there
be a connection between diet and disease?
British doctor Sir Robert McCarrison had asked this question 80 years ago
while working in India, and his experience was described in a book by GT Wrench
first published in 1938, and reprinted twice since . McCarrison was struck by the marvellous
health of certain native peoples, especially those living in Hunza, and wondered
why that was the case. (A disheartening footnote must be added to the story
of the people of Hunza. Already in the 1930s, with increased exposure to Western
ways, their remarkable health had begun to decline. ) The natives enjoyed freedom from disease
and life-long vitality despite their exceptional longevity. Their healthy
mental state was reflected in their freedom from quarrelling and exceptional
Hunzakuts were an agrarian people, cultivating terraced fields. The numerous
small fields were
irrigated from a glacier. They enjoyed fresh, nutritious and unprocessed foods,
and everything that originated from the soil was returned to the soil.
book also describes how Sir Albert Howard, Director of the Institute of Plant Industry at Indore , India , followed the ancient Chinese practice of applying manure
to crops, which continued to improve as a result. In the seven years Sir
Albert was there, he could not recall a single case of insect or fungous attack.
The animals feeding on these crops also prospered. He said : “I was able
to study the reaction of well-fed animals to epidemic diseases,
such as rinderpest, foot-and-mouth disease, septicaemia, and so forth, which
frequently devastated the countryside. None of my animals was segregated;
none was inoculated; they frequently came in contact with diseased stock.
No case of infectious disease occurred. The reward of well-nourished protoplasm
was a very high degree of disease
resistance, which might even be described as immunity.”
Sir Albert’s method of plant
breeding was applied on a farm at Surfleet, England, beginning in 1935, and
described a few years later : “ The
results of this Surfleet experiment of but two years’ duration have surprised
those who have watched it. The vegetables not only have a richer flavour;
not only have they a robuster appearance and their leaves a deeper green;
not only do they keep better in storage ...; but in their vegetable health
they have attained a new standard. ... Howard ... spoke of the marked improvement
in yield and quality of the vegetables, the better tilth and the increased
earth-worm population ... . The most striking feature was the general healthiness
of the crops and the absence of insect and fungous pests. No chemical sprays
have to be called into use. The plants themselves need no such doctoring.”
well-enriched soil resulted in excellent plant health, which, in turn, produced
healthy animals that fed upon well-nourished plants; and human beings whose
diet consisted of these fresh and wholesome healthy plants and animal products
also enjoyed abundant health.
Direct benefits of organic food
Richer in minerals, vitamins and other nutrients
content in our food has become severely diminished. Fruits, vegetables and
other plants that we rely upon to supply minerals in our diet cannot take
adequate amounts of minerals from soil that is deficient in them. Conventional
farming (i.e., intensive farming
that uses chemicals) returns little or nothing to the soil and gradually depletes
the soil of minerals. As only a small number of nutrients are replenished
in chemical fertilisers (especially nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus), the
soil gradually loses trace elements essential for health such as boron, chromium
1940 and again in 1991, RA McCance and EM Widowson tested various fruits,
vegetables (including carrots, broccoli, spinach and potatoes)
and meats for mineral content . They found that the amounts of calcium,
magnesium, iron and copper in our vegetables had declined during those 51 years by as much as 75 percent
or even 96 percent, while meats had lost 41 percent of their calcium and 54
percent of their iron, fruits had lost 27 percent of their zinc, and apples
and oranges had lost 67 percent of their iron. The tests were repeated in
2002 with similar results. It is not only mineral content that has declined
over the past half century.
Levels of vitamins A and C have also dropped dramatically . Wheat has
lost much of its protein since 1900. Nitrogen fertilisation in conventional
farming was found to decrease vitamin C concentrations in many fruits and
vegetables . On the other hand, fertilisation of crops with cow dung (as
may occur on organic farms) can increase vitamin B12 to a level that may contribute
significantly to the diet of vegans . Secondary nutrients also tend to
be more abundant in organically grown fruits and vegetables .
UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has persistently declared
that organic food is no more nourishing than conventional food. But the Soil
Association pointed out in its own report  that, of the 99 studies on which
the FSA based its opinion, only 29 studies were valid and relevant; and even
those form a heterogeneous group and cannot be compared properly. Nevertheless,
some idea of the relative nutritional properties of organically and non-organically
produced food can be obtained, which indicated that, on average, organic food
is more nutritious than non-organic food.
The reason that the nutritional content of organic foods
is sometimes no higher than that of conventional foods is due partly to the
fact that the soil on some organic farms has not had time to recover: regulations
require only two years for conversion of land from intensive chemical farming
to organic farming. This time span is insufficient for restoring minerals
and other plant nutrients and the microbes necessary for healthy functioning
of soil. Additional factors affecting the results include the influence of
the particular cultivars assessed, and conditions of growth and storage.
Organically reared cows, which eat fresh grass, clover
pasture and grass clover silage, produced milk on average 50 percent higher
in Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), 75 percent higher in beta carotene (precursor
of Vitamin A) and two to three times higher in the antioxidants lutein and
zeaxanthine than non-organic milk . Organic milk not only has more antioxidants
but also higher levels of omega 3 essential fatty acids .
A review published
in 2001 reported that nitrate levels in organic food are on average 15 percent
lower , which is important, as scientists at Glasgow University found
a link between nitrates in vegetables and gullet cancer, which has trebled
over the past 20 years, claiming more than 3000 lives a year. The scientists
believed that an increase in the use of nitrate fertilisers since World War
II might be one of the main reasons for the rise in this cancer.
briefing paper from the Soil Association  linked health problems as diverse
as heart disease, osteoporosis, migraines and hyperactivity to food additives
whose use is banned in organic food. A total of 297 additives are permitted
in conventional food, while only 27 are allowed in organic food, some of which
have to be added for legal reasons. Among the additives banned in organic
food are hydrogenated fat, phosphoric acid, aspartame, monosodium
glutamate and sulphur dioxide.
British Society for Allergy, Environmental and Nutritional Medicine stated
: “We have long believed the micronutrient deficiencies common in our
patients have their roots in the mineral-depletion of soils
by intensive agriculture, and suspect that pesticide exposures are contributing
to the alarming rise in allergies and other illnesses.”
A New Zealand boarding school
that began serving almost exclusively organically grown produce to its students reported after three years in
1940  that there were “lower incidences of catarrhal conditions, a ‘very
marked decline’in colds and
influenza, more rapid convalescence, excellent health generally, fewer sports
injuries, a greater resilience to fractures and sprains, clear and healthy
skin, and improved dental health.”
recently, doctors and nutritionists administering “alternative” cancer therapies
have found that a completely organic diet is essential for a successful outcome
. According to the Nutritional Cancer Therapy Trust (NCTT), nutritional
cancer therapies that involve the avoidance of pollutants and toxins as much as
possible, the exclusive consumption of organically grown foods and increases
in nutrient intakes, have yielded good results . The director of NCTT
said that  “the overwhelming number of patients following alternative
cancer therapies are those who have been declared terminal, with minimal life
expectancies following initial allopathic treatment. The ability of these
patients to gain remission from all clinical evidence of cancer is therefore
very significant.” (Organic strawberries stop cancer cells, this series).
USDA reported some 30 years ago  that, “the highest death rate areas in
the US generally corresponded to those where agriculturists had recognised
that the soil was depleted .”
Degenerative diseases are prevalent in North America and Europe, in contrast
with the absence of these diseases in places that have maintained natural
Indirect benefits of organic food
Avoidance of pesticides and antibiotics
farmers may apply any of more than 350 pesticides , while organic farmers
are allowed only seven under UK Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS),
and only four under Soil Association standard .These may be applied only if the
farmer can justify their use in individual cases. Thus, organic foods very
rarely contain chemical residues. Conventional food, on the other hand, is often found contaminated
with harmful residual chemicals.
government tests carried out in 2003 found chemical residues in one third
of fruits and vegetables, with some containing as many as five different chemicals,
some present in amounts exceeding government-set limits . Chemicals applied
to the surface of a fruit or vegetable can be partially removed
by washing or peeling, but some chemicals enter and permeate the plant or
are designed not to wash off in water (rain). Safety tests do not consider
the ‘cocktail effect’ of the many agro-chemicals and food additives that are
simultaneously present in the human body.
pesticides are suspected of being endocrine disrupters, affecting sexual characteristics,
hormone production or metabolism, thyroid function or brain function .
Children are especially susceptible, and later in life, may suffer disorders
of behaviour and reproduction and be more prone to disease. These chemicals
affect not only human beings but also other animals.
milk has been found tainted with over 350 man-made contaminants including
the United States, dairy cows may be injected with a genetically modified
growth hormone (rBGH also known as rBST, recombinant bovine somatotropin)
to increase milk production. Canadian and European governments have refused
to permit the use of this hormone. Not only does it increase the incidence
of mastitis in cows, but it also increases the incidence of cancer in human
Pesticide Action Network reported  that the overall incidence of cancer
has risen by about 50 percent since 1971 (Office of National Statistics);
and pesticide residues in food
may be a contributing factor. International authorities have listed 160 extensively
used pesticides as possible human carcinogens.
Antibiotics are not used routinely in organic farms 
as they are in conventional farms; nor are they often needed. Better feed
and living conditions maintain animals in good health. When disease does
strike, alternative measures such as homeopathy are preferred. The routine
use of antibiotics in conventional livestock may be contributing to the growing
antibiotic resistance of pathogens in hospitals.
Organic standards forbid
certification as organic of any food that has been genetically modified. This
restriction, unfortunately, may soon be changed in the European Union to allow
contamination of 0.9 percent,
as in conventional food. Transfer of genetic material from one species to
another does not occur in nature, as a given species is unable to cross with
another. Forcible transfer of genes in a laboratory, i.e., genetic engineering or genetic modification,
entails many hazards to the genetic code of the recipient. The implantation
of a foreign gene into the genetic code of the recipient is random; yet it
is now known that the position of a gene is important in determining what
effects it will produce. The old belief, which remains the basis of GM technology,
was that there is a one-to-one correspondence between genes and traits. This
belief has been disproved  (see Living with the Fluid Genome);
yet the GM developers have failed to take heed. In spite of this incomplete
understanding of the enormously complex interactions and functioning of genes,
GM developers continue to assure the public that their products are safe. But there has been a string of reports
indicating that quite the opposite is the case. In India recently, thousands
of sheep died after grazing on post-harvest GM cotton fields  (Mass Deaths in Sheep Grazing on Bt
Cotton, SiS30) , and hundreds of farmers and cotton handlers suffered allergic
reactions  ( More illnesses linked to Bt crops, SiS30) In Australia, mice given a diet containing
peas that had been modified with a gene from a common bean developed debilitating immune reactions
to th e transgenic protein, and the decade-long project of developing
the transgenic peas had to be abandoned  (Transgenic Pea that Made Mice Ill,
To sum up, food
produced according to organic principles is superior to that produced by
conventional means, i.e., with chemical inputs. Organic foods
are likely to have higher nutritional content, such as vitamins
and minerals. They also rarely contain residues of harmful agricultural chemicals
or additives, and for the time being, they exclude GM foods that could damage
the immune systems and/or internal organs of experimental animals.
- Wrench GT. The Wheel of Health, C.W. Daniel Company Ltd., London;
1938, reprinted 1960 by Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research, Milwaukee,
Wisconsin, U.S.A.; reprinted 1990 by Bernard Jensen International, Escondido,
- Wrench GT (ref. 1), pp.126-7.
- Wrench GT (ref.1), pp. 125-7.
- McCance RA and Widowson EM, 1940 to 1991, commissioned first by the Medical
Research Council and later by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and
Food, and the Royal Society of Chemistry.
- What Doctors Don’t Tell You, Dec. 2002, vol. 13, No. 9, p. 4
- Mozafar A. Nitrogen fertilisers and the amount of vitamins in plants: a
review. J Plant Nutrition, 1993, 16(12), 2479-506.
- Mozafar A. Enrichment of some B-vitamins in plants with application of organic
fertilisers. Plant and Soil, 1994, 167, pp. 305-11.
- Brandt K and Mølgaard JP. Organic agriculture: does it enhance or reduce
the nutritional value of plant foods? J Sci of Food and Agric, 2001,
81, pp. 924-931.
- Heaton S. Organic Farming, Food Quality and Human Health, Soil Association,
- “New research proves organic milk is higher in vitamins and antioxidants
than non-organic milk”, Soil Association, Press Release 03/02/2005, citing
a number of scientific papers.
- Worthington V. Nutritional Quality of Organic Versus Conventional Fruits,
Vegetables and Grains. J Altern and Complem Medicine, 2001,
7, No. 2, pp.161-173.
- Nutritional benefits of organic food. Soil Association Briefing Paper, 8
September 2003, Soil.
- Heaton S. (ref. 9), back cover.
- Daldy Y. Food production without artificial fertilisers. Nature, 1940,
- Plaskett LG. Clinical application of a nutritional cancer therapy with prescribed
diet and nutrients. The Nutritional Cancer Therapy Trust, Surrey, UK, 2000.
- Ashton, C, Director of the Nutritional Cancer Therapy Trust, personal communication
in April 2001 to S Heaton (ref. 9).
- USDA Agricultural Research Services Report No. 2, 'Evaluation of Research
in US on Human Nutrition', 1971, cited in Heaton S. Organic Farming, Food
Quality and Human Health, p.11, Soil Association, Bristol, 2001.
- Inputs in Organic Farming. Soil Association Information Sheet. 06/10/2005
- Soil Association (ref. 18); and Soil Association. Plant Protection Products
allowed under Soil Association and UKROFS Standards for Organic Farming in
the UK, 26 April 2003.
- Pesticide Residues Committee, Annual Report of the Pesticide Residues Committee,
- Gwynne Lyons. Endocrine disrupting pesticides. Pesticide News, Dec.
1999, No. 46, pp. 16-19.
- WWF. Chemical Trespass -- A Toxic Legacy. 1999.
- George Monbiot, 2000, Captive State: the Corporate Takeover of Britain,
- Alison Craig, Pesticide Action Network, Letters, 19 August 2001.
- Ho MW. Living with the Fluid Genome, TWN and ISIS, Penang and London,
- Ho MW. Mass death in sheep grazing on Bt cotton. Science in Society
2006, 30, 12-13. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/isisnews.php
- Ho MW. More illnesses linked to Bt crops. Science in Society 2006,
30, 8-9, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/isisnews.php
- Ho MW. Transgenic pea that make mice ill. Science in Society 2006,
29, 28-29. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/isisnews.php