‘The Times’ it is a changing

On Saturday, The Times of London published a news article under the headline “Organic food is a waste of money”. The hard-copy print edition of Saturday’s Times also, I’m told, featured two pages of price and quality comparisons showing that, in a blind tasting, consumers generally preferred the taste of conventionally produced foods to that of organic foods.

“The most striking finding of our survey was that the organic ranges scored worst, or joint worst, at three out of the four supermarkets tested — being rated less tasty and satisfying than even the budget ranges at Waitrose, Tesco and Asda at about twice the price. At Sainsbury’s, organic goods came a poor third to Taste the Difference and standard.”

None of this is news to regulars at this site, who’ve read us discuss various comprehensive scientific studies — like this one, this one, and this one — concluding that organic food offers neither greater nutrition nor greater safety than conventionally produced food does.  Although much of the recent press attention to organic foods has centered around the repeated findings that organic foods don’t have any nutritional benefits, it is just as significant that, as I’ve written here before, it is simply not true that buying organic food gets you less exposure to pesticides.  While organic farmers do not use “synthetic” pesticides, they do use a variety of chemicals to control insects and plant diseases — including such potentially dangerous substances as copper sulfate, rotenone, pyrethrum, ryania, and sabadilla. These “organic” pesticides are derived from minerals or plants, are lightly processed, and thus are considered to be “natural” for the purposes of organic agriculture. Yet, ounce for ounce, most are at least as toxic or carcinogenic as many of the newest synthetic chemical pesticides.

Still, it is great to see articles such as this one in major mainstream papers like The Times — no matter how sketchy its taste test methodology may have been.  To be sure, The Times and other influential European newspapers and magazines have published opinion articles discussing the same point.  But, as a British colleague of mine wrote to me:

“The article suffered from all the faults of superficial comparison, in this case of taste as determined ‘blind’ (they said) by just a few people. It does not stand up to any sort of serious scrutiny.

What is more to the point is not the information per se but the fact that The Times saw fit to publish three pages under that headline – and for once the headline does really reflect the tenor of the article’s content.  The mood appears to be changing quite significantly in the UK.”

Pace Bob Dylan, The Times, it sure is a changin’.