by Shara Rutberg
Claims that organic crops are nutritionally superior to conventional crops are based on "dubious data," according to a report published this week by the American Council on Science and Health, a New York-based consumer education consortium funded by companies such as Monsanto, Chevron and Dow. The publication is the latest episode in the ongoing struggle to woo consumers with nutrition claims.
In the report, "Claims of Organic Food's Nutritional Superiority: A Critical Review," the council's scientific adviser, Joseph D. Rosen, Ph.D., emeritus professor of food toxicology at Rutgers University, blasts a report released in March by the Organic Center. The Organic Center's report, "New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-based Organic Foods," examined peer-reviewed, scientific studies published since 1980, comparing nutrient levels in organic and conventional foods. It argued that organic produce is 25 percent more nutritious than conventional produce.
"Organic proponents have used misleading and inappropriately-evaluated data," Rosen said, in a release that accompanied his own report. His own calculations show that conventional products are actually 2 percent more nutritious than organic varieties. Rosen claims the Organic Center's data had been selectively chosen and presented to prove its desired point.
Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., the Organic Center's chief scientist and a co-author of the study, stands by his findings: "Our report presents an accurate synthesis of a large body of published science based on a clearly stated, transparent set of criteria. Our results are clear-cut, significant and data-driven." In addition, since Organic Center scientists stopped adding new studies into their database to create their report, nearly a dozen new studies have been released supporting organic nutritional superiority, Benbrook said. "We think the evidence is now sufficiently robust and consistent to reach some general conclusions about nutrient density in conventional and organic food, but accept that others like Rosen will remain skeptical for many years to come, regardless of what the science shows," he said.