New research has recently come to light that shows that organically prepared meat is better for us than so-called “normal” meat. It was an email from the Soil Association in the UK that first brought this research to my attention. After looking into this in some depth, it’s very clear that we really do deserve organic food (or, as our grandparents called it, “Food”).
New Research into Organic Food
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from the Soil Association that said;
“New research published in the British Journal of Nutrition has found significant nutritional differences between organic and non-organic farming.”
This immediately caught my attention, but I don’t like to believe things without looking into them myself. I wanted to see the research paper in question. At first I couldn’t find the paper, either linked on the Soil Association website or on the British Journal of Nutrition website and I was starting to get worried, but the Soil Association was very helpful when I enquired about it and they pointed me straight to the paper (see the “Related Links” section at the bottom of this page).
The research paper was titled “Composition differences between organic and conventional meat: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis”. The main two authors come from Newcastle University but there’s a large array of co-authors from across Europe.
What is a meta-analysis? – Often we see one research paper say one thing, another one contradict it and another be inconclusive, and it’s very hard to know what to think. A meta-analysis is a study of a large number of such research works with the intention of finding out if there’s anything significant behind these apparently non-aligned research results. I became intensely aware of the need and the power of meta-analyses when I read the book Supernormal.
Here are my notes from reading the research paper;
- “The demand for organic meat products has increased steadily over the last 20 years”
- “…but there are no published meta-analyses in which the composition of organic and non-organic meat is compared “
- One of the main things they studied was the concentrations of Poly-unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs) which are considered good for humans
- They considered 707 research works between 1992 and March 2014
- After filtering and reviewing the research works “sixty-seven publications (sixty-three peer-reviewed) were selected for data extraction (sixteen on beef, sixteen on lamb and goat meat, fourteen on pork, seventeen on chicken meat, three on rabbit meat and one on non-specified meats)”
- They concluded that organic meat has similar saturated fatty acids (SFAs), lower mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs – bad for humans) and higher concentrations of poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs – good for humans)
- “When data for all meat types were analysed together, WM identified significantly lower concentrations of the SFA myristic acid (14 : 0) and palmitic acid (16 : 0) in organic compared with conventional meat.”
- They carefully analysed the reliability of the statistics. The meta-analysis shows that there really is a “significant” effect but they are careful to say that the statistics are of “moderate overall reliability”.
- “Results of the meta-analyses reported in this study indicate for the first time that there are significant and nutritionally meaningful composition differences between organic and non-organic meat. “
Who funded this research? – This is always an important question. I like to see what potential bias could be built into research work. At first I noticed that Lord Peter Melchett (Policy Director, Soil Associtation) was acknowledged, which was worrying, but then I noticed that he was only involved in reviewing the research paper on behalf of the British Journal of Nutrition. Then I noticed that it was funded by the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme, which is very neutral – their objectives are “Strengthening the scientific and technological bases of industry and encourage its international competitiveness while promoting research activities in support of other EU policies.” Finally, I noticed that they received financial and technical support from the Sheepdrove Trust which is linked to the Sheepdrove Organic Farm in Berkshire, UK. This is a potential source of bias but, at least the authors are open about this and state “Financial support by the Trust was without conditions, and the Trust had no influence on the design and management of the research project and the preparation of publications from the project.”
As best as I can tell, this research was not overly biased but, of course, it’s clear that the original hope for the research was that is would demonstrate benefits of organic meat.
The Outcome? – We Deserve Organic Food
Let’s put the research to one side. What does all this mean? Here’s my thinking.
Organic food is better for us. That’s not a big surprise. Most people might have accepted that before this research work.
Why is organic food better for us? Almost certainly because of a number of factors. The animals are fed better food, free of artificial pesticides and fertilisers and drugs. They are kept in better conditions and allowed to be more like normal animals. It’s not surprising this leads to better quality meat.
In fact, organic farming just leads to normal meat. The way it should be. It’s practices like factory farming and using drugs to make the animals grow quicker that reduces the quality of the meat. That’s pretty clear.
So, if we feed the animals better and look after them better, they are healthier and produce better meat for us to eat. Sounds sensible and backs up the “you are what you eat” mantra.
Now extend this idea to humans. We are what we eat as well. If we feed ourselves better and look after ourselves better, we’ll be healthier as well.
Yet we have become like factory animals too. We feed ourselves processed foods, with artificial pesticides, fertilisers and we use drugs like crazy. We commute on crowded trains and jammed roads every day. We work indoors all day long under fluorescent lighting.
There’s not much difference between the “lives” we consider normal and the factory farming of animals.
We know the quality of the food we eat is so important to our health. But we eat crap “because we like it”, “because it’s cheap”, “because we don’t have time”, “because we’re stressed”, “because we’re tired”, “because we’re unhappy”. Really, we’re addicted to it (well done food companies) and have formed bad habits. The end result is we’re not healthy, we get sick all the time and think it’s normal. Then we look for pills to correct that and just add to the problem and watch the incidence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. just rise and rise.
We all know the truth that is so clearly right before our eyes. Put wholesome good, natural foods into our bodies and our bodies would operate as well as possible. The truth is we deserve organic food.
We deserve better. We deserve organic food. Step one is to get the best food we can into our bodies. This is a right for everyone, not just those who can afford it. Then get more time outdoors, in less crowded areas and more exercise (like free-range animals). Connect more with people and enjoy life.
We deserve organic food. Actually, we deserve everything. Let’s start now with organic food, but don’t stop there.
Related Links – We Deserve Organic Food
- Link to the paper on the British Journal of Nutrition website
- PDF Version with my highlights – Organic – British Journal of Nutrition paper – Feb 2016 – S0007114515005073a
- Soil Association citing the research – Organic is Different
- Soil Association News Story – Ground-breaking new study finds clear nutritional differences between organic and non-organic milk and meat
Absolutely agree that everyone deserves wholesome food and the earth needs that we grow things organically but disagree strongly that we need to kill other sentient beings to sustain ourselves. We had a flock of rescue sheep and a small herd of goats and it was very easy to see that each individual felt love, joy, pain, grief and had a sense of family. When it is so easy now to be educated it’s hard for me to understand how someone can enjoy even a forkful of suffering …
Beautifully said, thanks Liese. I’m vegan, so I’m with you on your comments. I decided to be vegan when I realised that there’s no way I could kill an animal to eat it, so why should I let others do that for me. Of course, most people still eat meat and it’s not for us to regulate what others do, but organically farmed meat is at least somewhat better for the animals and the consumers.