Coop Sverige AB, a Swedish supermarket chain that “promises to do everything it can to support organic farming and urges others who sell food to do the same,” puts out videos such as this one called, The Organic Effect:
Here is a copy of the English language version of the report on which the video is based.
The study was simple… they took one family that didn’t eat organic and took urine samples. They then had the family eat strictly organic food for two weeks and then took more urine samples.
They tested for several conventional pesticides and determined that eating organic dramatically reduced the amount of these pesticides in the urine of this family.
Obviously, the study was small, with just one person of a particular age and sex, so no real lessons can be drawn. But, more importantly, the study is flawed in its design:
1) No long-term outcomes
If one wishes to study the health effect of something, one actually has to study a long-term outcome. Did people with a certain chemical in their urine die earlier than people without this chemical in their urine? Did they get cancer more frequently? Develop dementia more frequently? Otherwise, we don’t know if there is any harm at all.
2) Odd thing to study
Urine is an odd thing to study since if something is in the urine, we know that the kidneys have done their job of getting this substance out of the body. In this sense, the study indicates the opposite of the implication the video tries to make. The study indicates the body is capable of excreting substances it doesn’t require or which might be dangerous.
3) Selective testing
The study tested the urine for certain common synthetic pesticides known to be widely used in agriculture and, low and behold, the study found residues of these substances in the urine. Then, when the test subjects switched consumption to organic product, grown without these substances, the incidence of these substances in the urine either declined or disappeared. But this is a bizarre study. After all, those organically grown substitutes were not grown without pesticides and fungicides, and many of the substances used in organic farming are toxic. Obviously any reasonable study would study pesticides used in conventional agriculture and organic agriculture. Then an assessment would have to be made if residues of one are more dangerous than residues of another.
Consumers like all kinds of things, and this Pundit will battle to the death for their right to buy organic if they so choose. But there is something wrong with retailers funding one-sided studies and putting them out as offering an important insight into the health effects of consumption of conventionally produced foods.
It seems like a scare tactic to move consumers to higher margin items, a marketing trick to try to differentiate one chain from another.
The reality, though, is that it needlessly downgrades the conventional items sold in the store and attempts to play on the emotions of consumers rather than their intellect. That seems an unlikely path to lead people to make prudent decisions about their food choices and their budgets.