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"Is organic food healthier?" According to scientific knowledge, this opinion is not correct

Says Prof. Haim Rabinovitch from the Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture at the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, The Hebrew University, who recommends not to believe everything written on the Internet by unauthorized parties/interested parties

Is organic food also healthy? Probably his. Image: shutterstock (the image has been further processed)
Is organic food also healthy? Probably not. Image: shutterstock (the image has been further processed)

In a radio interview, held on October 25, 2015, the presenter began with the following sentence: "Is organic food healthier because it is grown without pesticides and without toxic substances and therefore the environment is also less damaged? The consumer knows what he is buying and we all enjoy a healthier and fairer world. That's more or less what most of us know or want us to know. And the question arises, is it true?"

I replied that in my opinion, the answers to all the questions asked are: no. I will try to explain.

Sources of information. We live in an age of information freeway. Anyone who wants can write/tweet/present/bring to the public's attention/publish some kind of idea, belief, opinion, story, picture, film, distortion through photoshop or deliberate editing that we all witness several times a day, an act that happened or didn't happen. Any human being can do this easily and we are all exposed to this rising tide. Many of us are witnesses to the fact that on the issues we are familiar with, most of this flood is not worthy of publication but in the absence of suitable filters (appropriate education, professionalism in the field, ability to check the facts). Against all these there are reliable sources of information, what is said there is checked very strictly because of the great responsibility. Everything I say below, relies on such sources. All the things I will bring below are based on tested and reliable sources (scientific newspapers in which every word is examined and considered with seven eyes by an authority; publications of professional associations; publications of the FAO and more, official publications (at least those of reformed countries).

Food producers and suppliers: In everything I say below, I will refer only to professional, honest and decent food producers and suppliers who do their work faithfully and do not deviate from the laws and regulations and recommendations established by the experts and policy makers (ministries of agriculture and health; official bodies of country organizations such as the European Community, the United States of America, and more).

Let's start with the settings

Natural is not a synonym for healthy. Ebola and malaria and AIDS and the cuckoo and the haunted, they are all natural. In fact, all (for the sake of caution, I say most) plant foods (and also animal foods) contain substances that are formed in their organs/body and may harm our health (up to death). So are substances that we do not eat but absorb in other ways that are completely natural but harmful (smokers, starting with cigarettes...); And there are some that we drink and may damage vital systems; And many types of plants produce allergens (gluten in wheat, lactose in milk, and so in many foods) and there are fungi that are found in our foods and secrete toxins into them (for example: the strong carcinogenic aflataxin, secreted by the Aspergillus fungus), and there are poisonous mushrooms, etc. So the natural is healthy equation has no arms and legs. Natural is not a synonym for healthy. Many products found in nature itself and created without human intervention can damage our health and even cause death. Of course we need to eat and our food contains many products that contribute to our health (all in moderation): these include natural and synthetic substances (for example: aspirin) and there are substances that are not beneficial and do not violate the limit of "consumption in moderation" (saccharin for example, see FDA, International Agency for Research on Cancer and National Toxicology Program).

In all these cases and in others, with regard to all food and drink it is a question of measured amounts [thus drinking a lot of mineral water (low sodium) may cause water poisoning].

Food is not healthy/sick. Simply put: food provides building materials, regulators/catalysts and energy to our body. Consumption of everything necessary (that is, of all the food components we need) contributes to our health, while a lack, or large excesses of those food components, or consumption of harmful components found in the food we eat (for example: saturated fat) may harm us (mostly, it is the same food) himself). Cooking salt in a measured amount is essential for the activity of life and in large amounts will damage vital systems; Sugar (brown/white or any other color) is needed as a source of energy and is a bad health hazard, as is fat (we cannot live without it and may suffer from it) and even an excess of vitamins can be harmful.

In the profession in which I am involved, it is accepted that if you searched for something and found and proved that it exists or does not exist, it is likely that it exists/does not exist, respectively (unless or until someone proves otherwise). On the other hand, if you searched and did not find and did not prove that something exists, that is not sufficient proof for the claim that it does not exist, but a fact that you could not find.

Food grown using the so-called organic method is "healthy" or contributes to health more than food grown using the conventional method: Most of the food we all eat is organic by definition, but we all also consume non-organic food and drink such as salts and water which are so essential to the life activity in our bodies.

Regarding agricultural produce: a large number of researchers around the world have searched for, measured and compared using tested and appropriate methods the unique contribution of food grown in the so-called organic method to the conventional one and found none (on the margins, small differences were found in the phosphorus and nitrogen levels, one being higher in foods grown in the conventional method and the other in the so-called organic method). As mentioned, the differences are marginal and this finding has no nutritional/health value. All the facts indicating the lack of differences between food grown by one method compared to the other have been published in the best scientific press (for example: Nature); In a special report written for the review of the British Parliament, in publications of professional associations of nutritionists (for example: American and Danish), in publications of FAO, and more.

There is no established evidence that I know of that indicates that food grown in the so-called organic method contributes to our health in anything more than the same food grown in the so-called conventional method. Not only am I not aware of such proofs, but Prof. Itamar Grotto, Director of Public Health Services at the Ministry of Health, was quoted in the same radio interview as saying the following: "There is no difference in mortality and morbidity in the consumption of organic food and it has not been proven that organic food is healthier."


Fertilizers and pesticides: In every conversation/study/discussion/debate on this topic, always watch and the question of fertilizers and pesticides comes up. This has two aspects: environment and health.
It should be said that all professional farmers (regardless of their faith and the cultivation method they chose) use pesticides and chemical fertilizers (publication of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, 2015. "Preparations for organic farming authorized for sale in Israel"). In fact, there is no commercial agriculture without the use of these substances.

Regarding the environment, it is clear that the use of the so-called organic method causes more environmental pollution than the conventional method, and this is due to the tools and some of the natural materials used in this agriculture (plow, cultor, residues of organic manure decomposition products), and because of the prohibition that this belief forbids the use of other materials; Due to the emissions of the gas plants grown using this method, and more.

Residues and their impact on the environment and health: fertilizers and manure - one example: cow urine (and human and many other creatures) contains a soluble salt called urea. This salt is used to remove Amon from our body. This substance breaks down in the soil and provides nitrogen to the plants. As early as 1828, an industrial process for the laboratory production of urine was developed by the German chemist Friedrich Weller (who thereby disproved the prevailing theory and version that the chemical elements that make up living organisms are essentially different from those that make up inanimate matter. Weller thereby laid the foundation for organic chemistry).

Since then, this salt is used for fertilization in measured and precise quantities. The urine produced in the industry (under its foreign name urea comes to the farmer as a solid salt that needs to be dissolved in water) is used a lot in conventional agriculture and is identical in composition and quality to the salt found in the urine stored in the barn (with the exception of the fact that the urine comes as a liquid) used in the so-called organic agriculture.
The amount of nitrogen required by the plant depends on the rate of its development, its physiological age and the environmental conditions regardless of the ideology and belief of the grower. Therefore, when two breeders provide an optimal (identical) amount of urea/urea for the same type of plant under the same growing conditions - the result is similar.

The plants need their existence also for other elements (phosphorus, potassium, and many trace elements). That's why breeders using the organic method are not satisfied with urine, but fertilize their fields with manure (the products of the solid secretions collected in barns/coops), while the breeder using the so-called conventional method provides the same elements themselves as water-soluble salts. The grower with the conventional method knows how to synchronize the amount of fertilizer spread in the field according to the requirement (development rate) of the plants as it actually exists (measured by regular tests of leaf samples). This breeder will work for full synchronization between the needs of the developing plant and the supply of fertilizers so that no shortages are created, and tries to the best of his professional ability not to give up surpluses (a waste of money). The grower, using the so-called organic method, provides the needs of the plants with barnyard/chicken manure that must be reduced to the ground before sowing/planting. There is no possibility of synchronizing the amount of manure (given in excess for fear of a shortage), its decomposition rate, and its products with the plant's requirements. That is why in many cases surpluses remain in the soil and since the manure continues to break down after the crop has finished its life, those surpluses will be removed with the rainwater and seep into the groundwater.

Pesticide residues in food:
1. You should know that all farmers, regardless of their faith, use pesticides.
2. Everything stated below is based on the assumption that these are only honest professional breeders.

Every farmer uses in his work all the tools at his disposal for optimal production of the crop and maximum reduction of expenses. The farmer will work to achieve his goals with all the effective tools that are allowed to be used.
The approval of the use of industrial pesticides is subject to regulation and supervision very similar to those of pharmaceuticals. These processes include an orderly study of the properties of the substance and its effects on the environment and on humans and animals, how it works, how long it lives, investigating what its decomposition products are (in the environment and within the treated organism), what are their effects on the consumer, what is the way and their decomposition products until they disappear. It is impossible to claim that there is a situation of zero errors [see the cases of thalidomide, Viox (VIOXX) and other drugs and even baby food - see the Remedia case], but their number is negligible at sixty compared to the therapeutic arsenal available to the doctor and in the case of pesticides - to the farmer.

All farmers (conventional and organic alike) will use all the effective agricultural tools that are allowed to be used even in the so-called organic method, for example: disease-resistant varieties that do not need pesticide treatments, for example: dense nets that physically block certain insects from entering the habitats, for example: paint traps, and so on Also solar disinfection, and more), there is no professional conventional farmer who will decide to give up nets and prefer pest control. So when there are effective tools they are used by everyone.

When such a physical tool is missing, the farmer will choose the most efficient tool at his disposal. The effective tool is usually produced chemically and is allowed to be used after it has gone through all the stages of testing, similar to drugs, whose lifespan is known (a few days) and will pick the agricultural produce only after the substance has broken down and disappeared.

The so-called organic farmer uses the most effective tool at his disposal, for example: a kiltor for weed control (which seriously harms the environment: soil erosion, damage to soil-dwelling organisms and pollution during the repeated use of the tractor) instead of a single application of herbicides. This farmer mainly uses pesticides, many of which are extracted from plants (but not only those, since poisonous methyl-aldehyde, copper salts and more are not "organic"). However, with the exception of the fact that they are extracted from plants and have the ability to control certain pests/diseases, most of them have not been tested. Such substances may be found in food after treatment designed to protect the produce from natural enemies. When you check in depth, you sometimes find that there is a real danger in them. I repeat that these are decent and upright people who only use tools that allowed their use, but these tools were chosen due to faith and many of them without a thorough examination like that of industrial products.

It should be said to the credit of the owners of this belief called organic farming that they put the issue of food cleanliness on the agenda and brought the issue of food cleanliness to public awareness and the demand to reduce the use of pesticides (it should be remembered that the materials used in organic farming are also chemical substances!!). Indeed, many efforts are invested in the development of physical tools (paints, nets, solar disinfection, deception using the light spectrum, etc.) and biological (licensed resistances) all of which are used by all farmers regardless of their beliefs. Ironically, there is resistance among the public with different beliefs and among the laity to plants that have instilled inherited resistance with molecular tools and therefore require the use of pesticides.

Last and not least, the effectiveness of those materials allowed for use in so-called organic agriculture is not sufficient to protect the produce from all the disease agents and pests that attack the plants in the agricultural field, and among the survivors that have not been eradicated are a series of such microorganisms that secrete toxins (mycotoxins and others) that should be avoided. I mentioned the aflatoxin, I will mention patulin and fumonisin, and I will not add. It was also found that in the absence of sufficient protection, the plants produce secondary metabolites to protect against their natural enemies - substances that, when found in high concentrations, can cause severe damage to their eaters.

In conclusion, a person will live by his faith and everyone will choose the types of food according to his faith (vegan, vegetarian, fish and no meat on Shabbat, kosher, organic, halal, macrobiotic, etc.), and that's fine. Missionaries through intimidation, reasons that have no proof - no!. The answer to the question I was asked in that radio interview "does the consumer know what he is buying" is negative. The consumer is told that the product is grown in a certain way, the name of which he knows, but he does not know what it is and is not aware of what it has/doesn't have in his foods and on them; And to the question "Is organic food healthier?" It is that as far as I know the sources I mentioned (scientific publications, official publications, publications by reliable and authoritative bodies) this explanation is not based and is not correct. This does not rule out the possibility that many days he will rise and come from that place and prove that this is the case. So far, I am not aware of such a proof.
Thanks to Dr. Daniel Florentin, Center for Research and Information, Ministry of Education - Tel Aviv District

The article was published in the center's newsletter - the article archive


More on the subject on the science website: 28

9 תגובות

  1. Anyone who grows vegetables at home also risks that the produce is infected with plant diseases that are harmful to humans?

  2. Maybe not healthier but much more moral.
    How can you eat chicken when you know it suffered before reaching the plate?
    How can you eat tuna when you know that the tuna is an extinct fish, and in the same breath like an article about extinct rhinos?
    (And this is without referring to the content of the article that is worth criticizing)

  3. Eli
    It seems that you do not know what genetically modified seeds are and what organic crops are.
    Organic crops are grown without the use of most common pesticides. On the other hand, there is a considerable list of pesticides whose use is allowed for use on crops that are considered "organic". From meeting a number of farmers who have converted part of their fields to organic crops, in many cases, the use of organic pesticides is done in an amount that allows for economic growth. (The meaning is that you spray with the "allowed" pesticides and increase the concentration until a pesticide effect is achieved..).
    The bottom line is that in many cases, the concentration of pesticides in organic crops is higher than conventional crops.
    I have no doubt that spraying substances harm humans and animals and some of them have a tendency to accumulate in the tissues and cause damage long after exposure, but organic crops are not a silver bullet for treating these problems (my personal opinion is that the best way is through genetic engineering and non-economic hydroponic crops).
    It is not clear to me what is not "organic" in transgenic plants. In many cases, transgenic plants require less spraying or no spraying at all.

    And a final point: the Monsanto company is not an evil corporation because it has plots to poison humanity with genetically engineered crops (or as a brilliant protester said at the time: vegetables that contain DNA).
    The Monsanto company is an evil corporation because for several decades they have been bringing farmers in the US and abroad to poverty and losses by thuggish methods such as selling sterile seeds that require re-buying every season, multiple idle lawsuits against farmers on the pretext that they used Monsanto's varieties without approval (the same seeds that wandering in the wind from fields to fields) and issuing patents on gardens.

  4. All in all, any reasonable person sees that the article is very trending and organics of all kinds no longer have the power to debate the issue, what's more, the author himself points out that the actions of the organic organizations are credited with cleaning the food and reducing pesticides. So what exactly are the facts?

  5. A full disclosure that I think is of integrity and fairness to appear in this article.

    From the description of the reasons for the K Prize that Prof. Haim Rabinovitch won: "The export of tomato, onion and chives seeds developed by Prof. Rabinovitch and the research team generates annual revenues of approximately fifty million dollars for leading seed companies in Israel and the world, which pay substantial royalties to the Hebrew University. "
    In addition, Prof. Haim Rabinowitz works with the Hebrew University's implementation company. An application company works, among other things, with the controversial Monsanto Corporation.

    Apparently, Prof. Haim Rabinowitz has an economic or political interest in the success of marketing genetically engineered seeds, which are obviously not organic.
    And here, the alert reader should ask the questions: What are "reliable sources of information"? And who are the stakeholders relevant to this article?—Yissum-Introduces-Potato-Batteries

  6. It's interesting that there aren't many responses. It probably doesn't fit the nexist worldview of organics of any kind.
    It's almost like claiming there is no global warming.
    In short, don't confuse us with the facts.

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