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The Benefits of Organic Food

by Tanyia Maxted-Frost(more info)

listed in organic food, originally published in issue 47 - December 1999

The front page news story in June that human breastmilk has been found to contain over 350 manmade chemicals which are being passed onto breastfed babies in increased toxic concentrations[1] may have shocked many people. It may unfortunately have caused some mothers to stop breastfeeding their infants, and others to avoid it altogether, despite official pleas that breast is still best. (It's a shame there was no similar report available at the same time into pollutants in formula milks, dairy cows and their milk.) But while the WWF-UK report behind the headlines may have been new, the tragedy it told wasn't.

Many warnings of this toxic chemical legacy being passed from generation to generation have been voiced over the past 50 years by scientists, organic and environmental pioneers and activists who foresaw the dangers or witnessed first hand the evidence of it in both animals and humans around the world.

Worryingly many of these experts and scientists, such as Liverpool University foetal toxicologist Dr Vyvyan Howard, say and have the evidence to show that the intrauterine effects of these chemicals (even in small amounts and especially in combination) is even more toxic and harmful to the developing embryo and foetus. The damage is already being done before our babies are born.

Published warnings made available to the public have included Rachel Carson's seminal book Silent Spring in 1962, Dr Theo Colborn's Our Stolen Future in 1996 and Professor John Wargo's Our Children's Toxic Legacy in 1998. Their collective pleas for official sanity have largely fallen on deaf ears and so the legacy – which stretches to the furthest reaches of the earth affecting Eskimos, polar bears (some of which have been found to be hermaphrodites), seals, dolphins and whales alike[2] – has continued unabated.

So what does all of this have to do with the food we eat? Surely the sources of most of these pollutants contaminating our breastmilk and body fat are beyond our control – the fallout from years of industrial waste pollution from factories and production of PVC plastics and other consumer goods, and from traffic pollution, etc.? Think again. The food we eat – something we can control – is a major contributor. Most of our food is produced on an industrial scale, using artificial fertilisers – up to two-thirds of which leach into and contaminate groundwater, lakes and streams[3] – and pesticide, herbicide and fungicide chemicals which carry poison/hazardous warnings on their containers and require protective clothing and a licence when used. In 1997 alone, over 25 million kilograms of these chemicals were sold in the UK and most were sprayed onto Britain's fields.[4]

Most of these are not biodegradable and persist to contaminate the environment, kill wildlife (many birds, including three quarters of the skylark population, have vanished from the countryside due to intensive farming practices[5]), contaminate our drinking water (millions of pounds is spent each year trying to remove pesticides by water companies[6]) and leave detectable residues in or on our foods and drinks.

Our daily diet is now reported to contain residues of some 30 different artificial chemicals[7] and a supermarket apple may have been treated up to 40 times with any of 100 chemicals.[8] The government warns us to peel fruits such as apples and pears and peel, top and tail carrots due to ongoing detection of these residues, and the wide variance in residue levels. It's now thought that one in 1000 apples could give you a headache or stomach upset.[9] UK farmers are even occasionally found to use chemicals banned for use in this country on produce grown for human consumption, and imported foods can also contain residues of chemicals from the UK banned list.[10] Many of these pesticides are known carcinogens and are also linked to other degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Some are also hormone disrupters, mimickers or blockers – able to trigger hormone-related diseases.[11]

The feed of livestock and poultry bound for our dinner tables as meat can contain pesticides, routine antibiotics (contributing to the current looming crisis of resistant super bugs in both animals and humans, and the increasing loss of effectiveness of lifesaving antibiotics), colourants (to help battery hens produce yellow yolks), growth hormones, and even engine oil (remember the recent Belgian foods debacle?) and stray dead dogs (a practice stumbled upon in Ireland in livestock bound for the EU).[12]

Farmed fish are also fed colourants (to turn the flesh pink) and drugs to prevent outbreaks of disease, which invariably reach wild waterways.[13] And will we ever forget BSE and CJD? And what about genetically engineered foods – GM ingredients are already found in 60 per cent of non-organic processed foods and most will remain unlabelled despite new EU legislation.[14]

A recent Food Commission survey also revealed that there can be up to two per cent GM ingredients in non-organic products labelled 'GM free' and that the EU is likely to set a two to three per cent tolerance level. New toxins are feared from these new, untested (on human health) foods which have been found to be toxic to many insects and have foreign genes transplanted into them from other plant or animal species and viruses which are used to 'switch' the new genes on.[15] GM food production also poses the biggest threat to organic food production through contamination by cross-pollination – many campaigners fear that the two cannot co-exist on an island the size of Britain.[16]

And while we make all this 'progress' with hi-tech food production and farming, cancers, other degenerative diseases and infertility are rising and sperm counts and nutrient levels in our farming soils and food are declining.[17] The NHS groans with the burden of more and more sick and malnourished people, and the lists grow long of those awaiting operations.

Key mineral and vitamin deficiencies are becoming widespread[18] – thought to play a vital part in the increase in poor health, behavioural problems and even in the increasing number of criminals. Preventative health is not a popular term in this country. Through our taxes we're paying millions of pounds each year to support unsustainable farming and food, to clean up the mess of fiascos such as BSE, to detect residues of harmful substances which shouldn't be put on or in our food in the first instance, to have our drinking water cleaned of farming pollutants (many of which still remain), to set up a food agency and yet more committees to monitor and regulate conventional food processing (when it's the production system which is the real problem) and worrying developments such as GM foods, and to support an ailing health service treating an ever increasing number of polluted people at the end of the polluted food chain.

Surely we have the basic right to be able to buy and eat uncontaminated food free of artificial chemical additives and GM ingredients? Surely our babies and our children have the right not to be force fed these substances or poisoned by them in the womb, on the breast or in their weaning solids? So where do we turn? To the politicians and government agencies who say there are no risks and it's all perfectly safe (as they did during the BSE crisis?) Just what is safe for us to eat and to feed our families?

Organic and biodynamic foods, including those grown under permaculture systems, hold the answer. Their benefits include the fact that they are grown as naturally as possible without the aforementioned unnecessary additives, and that they are processed without others such as hydrogenated fats, modified starches, artificial flavourings, colourings, sweeteners, preservatives and most other E numbers commonly found in many non-organic foods. Instead of being intensively farmed unsustainably so that natural resources are depleted, and the traditional hedgerow landscape destroyed and turned into monoculture prairies; organic lands and soils are nurtured and built up naturally and gradually with plant and animal manures, composts and rotation methods to increase their fertility – the way they traditionally were before the 'grow big and quick at all costs' chemical methods were introduced.

Scientists and organic pioneers such as the great late Sir Albert Howard promoted the human health benefits of foods farmed this way as far back as the late 1930s and early 1940s when he warned about the dangers of going down the chemical additive route with farming and the public's food, telling us (based on decades of his international work and studies) that: 'A fertile soil means healthy crops, healthy livestock and last but not least healthy human beings. Soil fertility is the basis of the public health system of the future.'[19] Lady Eve Balfour, founder of the Soil Association in the late 1940s similarly said 'The soil is a living organism. The health of man, beast, plant and soil is one indivisible whole.'[20] Nutrition pioneers of the 1930s, Drs Weston Price and Francis Pottenger of the US, and Sir Robert McCarrison of the UK, showed through their extensive studies of humans and animals on wholesome diets natural to them versus refined diets unnatural to them that good health depends on good nutrition.[21]

How sad then that all this early foresight on the need for good, healthy, unadulterated food was officially ignored and that instead organic organisations such as the Soil Association have had to struggle with limited funds and continually battle authorities to have organic food and farming recognised for its merits and benefits to human health and the environment. Organic farming still makes up less than one per cent of total UK agricultural land;[22] and people have to march, protest and forcefully demand what should be our birthright – the right to pure, wholesome, affordable, unadulterated healthy food.[23] Also, an organisation as valuable to healthy future generations as the charity the Foresight Association for the Promotion of Pre-conceptual Care remains relatively unknown in the public eye and poorly funded. It helps to get thousands of couples around the world each year onto healthy organic wholefood diets as part of its programme four to six months before they conceive in order to produce a healthy baby.

The successful Gerson therapy for battling cancer only uses organic foods and claims the therapy simply doesn't work with non-organic produce.[24] Men eating organic diets have been shown to have higher sperm counts than those who don't[25], and Foresight has research results showing a ninety percent success rate, with most of its couples following its organic food programme going on to have healthy, ideal weight babies – even for those couples who previously were 'infertile'.[26] By comparison IVF's average success rate is 16.7%.[27]

There are countless positive anecdotes from individuals and families in books such as The Shopper's Guide to Organic Food by Lynda Brown and The Organic Baby Book who have converted to organic foods and noticed a marked improvement in their own and their families' health.

Anyone who eats a mainly organic diet wouldn't dream of going back intentionally. While we await the scientific evidence to prove what we already know about organic wholefoods and their benefits, and as the supply and quality continues to increase (there is now three times the amount of UK land in conversion than there is existing as organic[28]) the jury is in session daily on the case of non-organic food and farming and its detrimental effects on our health and our environment, collecting more and more damning evidence against it.

It's time the judge finally ordered its demise.


1 Chemical Trespass: A Toxic Legacy, a WWF-UK Toxics Programme Report reviewing various international scientific studies and World Health Organisation findings, including Jensen AA and Slorach SA. Chemical contaminants in human milk. CRC Press, Florida.1991; MAFF. Dioxins and Polychlorinated biphenyls in foods and human milk. Food surveillance information sheet, Number 105, Jun 1997.
2 Colborn Theo. Our Stolen Future. Abacus. 1997. Beland P, De Guise S, Girard C, Lagacee A, Martinequ D, Michaud R, Muir D, Norstrom R, Pelletier E, Ray S and ShugartL. Toxic Compounds and Health and Reproductive Effects in St. Lawrence Beluga Whales. Journal of Great Lakes Research 19(4): 766-75. 1993.
3 The Greening of the Green Revolution. Nature 19 Nov 1988.
4 Buffin David. Pesticides Trust: The SAFE Alliance, Food Indicator's Report. Datamonitor, Natural and Organic Food and Drinks. 1999.
5 Official communication. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. 21 Mar 1999.
6 Pretty Jules. The Living Land. 1998.
7 Working Party on Pesticide Residues Annual Report, 1998. Brown Lynda. The Shopper's Guide to Organic Food. Fourth Estate 1998.
8 The True Cost of Food. Greenpeace and Soil Association, 1999; The Times, Daily Mail 1999; Dr Sarah Brewer. Quoted in Maxted-Frost Tanyia. The Organic Baby Book, Green Books 1999.
9 Pesticides News. Pesticides Trust. Number 39.
10 Working Party on Pesticide Residues, Annual Report 1999.
11 Colborn T et al. Developmental effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals in wildlife and humans. Environ Health Prospect. 101: 378-84. 1993. Various Pesticides Trust Publications 1998 and 1999.
12 Various including Soil Association reports; various speakers at the Compassion in World Farming conference, London 1998; Penman Danny. The Price of Meat. 1996; Harvey Graham. speaker, The Organic Food & Wine Festival, London, Aug 1, 1999.
13 Personal communication, conventional fish farmer turned organic, 1998.
14 Personal communication, The Soil Association September 1999; Greenpeace official communi-cations 1999; Food Magazine July/September 1999.
15 Personal communication, GE expert Dr Michael Antoniou of Guys Hospital, London and Dr Vvyvan Howard, Liverpool University foetal toxicologist September 1999; Genetic Engineering Network internationally sourced scientific studies, reports, etc. email service, 1999.
16 Keenan Lindsay. Greenpeace, speaking at The Organic Food & Wine Festival, London, August 1, 1999.
17 Carlsen E, Giwercman A, Keiding N and Skakkeback NE. Evidence for Decreasing Quality of Semen During Past 50 Years. BMJ. 305: 609-13. 1992. Various including personal communication with Dr Marilyn Glenville, Leslie Kenton and Patrick Holford, 1999.
18 Personal communication, Leslie Kenton, 1999; Antony Haynes, The Nutrition Clinic speaking at The Organic Food & Wine Festival, August 1, 1999;. The Case for Use of Micronutrient Food Supplements in the UK – Evidence of Reduced Population Intakes. Lamberts Nutrition Bites. Issue 5. 1998.
19 Soil and Health. Sir Albert Howard Memorial Number. Spring, 1948.
20 Balfour Eve. The Living Soil. 1946.
21 Price Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation. La Mesa, CA. 1945. Pottenger F.M. Jr. Pottenger's Cats. Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation. La Mesa, CA.. 1983. McCarrison Sir Robert. Nutrition and Health. McCarrison Society. London. 1984.
22 The Organic Food and Farming Report. The Soil Association. 1999.
23 Smith Bob L. Organic Foods vs Supermarket Foods: Element Levels. Journal of Applied Nutrition. 45(1). 1993. Campden Food and Drink Research Association study. 1998.
24 Personal communication with Gerson approved therapists, 1999.
25 Abell A, Ernst E and Bonde JP, High sperm density among members of organic farmers association. Lancet. 343: 1498. 1994.
26 Bradley SG and Bennett N. Preparation for Pregnancy, an Essential Guide. Argyll. 1997.
27 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority Figures, 1998.
28 The Organic Food and Farming Report 1999, The Soil Association. 1999.


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About Tanyia Maxted-Frost

Journalist and organic mother Tanyia Maxted-Frost is the author of The Organic Baby Book, published by Green Books, the first popular guide for parents on how to raise a healthy, organic baby. It has a comprehensive listings guide to all the organic and environmentally-friendly products for babies and young families from babyfood, nappies and clothing to food supplements and toiletries. It costs £7.95 from Green Books on 01803 863 260 or online at

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