Science Proves Organic Beef 50% Healthier

I’ve written before about the belief that organic food is more healthful. Pretty much all the claims made of it rapidly crumble under the weight of available data, and to my mind organic food is a scientifically and nutritionally bankrupt scam that relies on the naturalistic fallacy to fleece the gullible and deluded. So what of the recent media reports regarding the latest analysis claiming that organic beef:

is better for your health than non-organic produce, because it contains around 50 per cent more omega-3 fatty acidsIndependent

Unfortunately – and unsurprisingly – in this case the news media is uncritically regurgitating the press release and the spin put on it by the Soil Association. I’ll come back to them later. But if journalists could be bothered to read the original paper they might spot that it is quite a piece of work.

Unsaturated Fatty Acids

Let’s look at that principal claim – that organic beef contains 23% more polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and 47% more omega-3 fatty acids and so is ‘healthier’, notably in preventing cardiovascular disease. They say these fatty acids:

are known to reduce LDL production and to enhance its clearance… reduce arrhythmias, blood pressure, platelet sensitivity, inflammation and serum TAG concentrationsBritish Journal of Nutrition

Which is true but ignore the simple truth that red meat is a rubbish source of omega-3 fatty acids. This means even a 50% relative increase is meaningless. In absolute terms 50% of three parts of FA is still three parts of FA – and if you want more polyunsaturated fats with your protein, you’re better off eating chicken or fish, not red meat. Red meat also contains a lot of saturated fats – which really isn’t good.

Claiming organic red meat is a good source of omega-3 FAs is rather like saying dissolving your heroin in lemon juice before you inject it is a good source of vitamin C.

Is Organic Better?

This is why the whole issue is smoke and mirrors. This is not about organic vs traditional agriculture – here’s why. As a rule, organic beef is grass-fed, traditionally-produced beef is grain fed. It’s this basic difference in the animals’ diet that explains the differences in the fatty acid profiles of the meat. Again, you need to read the paper. But don’t worry; I’ve done that for you. The authors admit in the paper:

Evidence from controlled experimental studies indicates that the high grazing / forage-based diets prescribed under organic farming standards may be the main reason for differences in FA profilesBritish Journal of Nutrition

So this isn’t about organic farming at all, it’s about grain vs grass. The animals’ diet is just being conflated with organic farming methods. Why? Could it be because the Soil Association and their cronies both part-funded and reviewed the paper?

Let’s see what else they found:

For many nutritionally relevant compounds (e.g. minerals, antioxidants and most individual fatty acids), the evidence base was too weak for meaningful meta-analyses.

Or, despite looking at 67 studies we couldn’t show any benefit for organic produce over traditional.

However, for these and many other composition parameters, for which meta-analyses found significant differences, heterogeneity was high, and this could be explained by differences between animal species / meat types.

Or the numbers were all over the place but we’ve tried really hard to show some effect. But we did manage to find one difference – strictly speaking it was nothing to do with ‘organic’ but let’s not shout too loudly about that. For me this smacks of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy – where you fire a bullet in to a barn door, draw a target around it and shout ‘Bullseye!!

The Study Design

This is a meta-analysis, not new research. I’ve written about those before – it’s where you get a bunch of similar studies, amalgamate the data and see what the larger data set tells you. At its best you can draw wider and more accurate conclusions. But at its worst, you basically get a bunch of dog turds, mix them together and claim the result is a pot of gold. I’ve kebbabed the British Medical Journal, no less, on dodgy meta-analyses in the past so this sort of stuff is more common than you think.

However, results for specific parameters reported in this study were variable, and both previous reviews covering livestock products and the present study acknowledge serious deficiencies in the evidence, which result in considerable uncertainty.

Or when you try to mix all the colours in the bucket you inevitably end up with brown. And in the above quote the authors seem to implicitly acknowledge that everyone has dipped their hands in a bucket of shit and given themselves a big round of applause.

Conflicts of Interest

So, if – say – a drug trial is funded a pharmaceutical business, you  need to say so. That way folks can judge if the interpretation of the results is fair. But there isn’t a problem with undeclared conflicts of interest if you just declare them all! Just look at the funding sources and the acknowledgement:

Support from Lord Peter Melchett (Policy Director, Soil Association, Bristol, UK) and Bruno Martin (Centre ClermontFerrand-Theix, Institut National de la Recerche Agronomique, INRA, Saint Genès Champanelle, France) for the critical review/ editing of the manuscript is gratefully acknowledged.

So, more drivel spun by the Soil Association – which claims they ‘put animal welfare first‘ then recommend animals are treated with homeopathy. And permit ‘organic’ crops to be slathered in pesticides. So long as they are ‘natural’ such as using copper salts to treat fungal diseases – which stays toxic in the soil forever. Or insecticides like rotenone which is highly neurotoxic to humans and can cause Parkinson’s. Or that organically reared cows produce twice the methane of conventionally reared cattle – and that methane is 20x more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2.

But it’s natural, innit.


Thanks for reading this. As well as the sarcastic posts check out the News and the Resources pages. You can also find out more about Rectofossal Ambiguity or contact me with questions.

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2 thoughts on “Science Proves Organic Beef 50% Healthier

  1. Absolutely first class discussion Thank you for the objective tone and clear reasoning. I would not have recognized coming from the same source as the prior cited work. Bravo. Let’s continue with more professional and highly informative approach. If they were all like this, I would even become a paid subscriber. LWB.

  2. I will say, I do prefer organic food to inorganic food. 😉
    That all said, how a meat animal is grown has impacts on that which is far more important to me than a small percentage of a specific type of fat – out of all of the fat on the animal, taste.
    While I was in the Persian Gulf region, we had lamb and beef from Australia, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Syria and a few other nations that raise livestock. Due to the arid nation of the region, only some vegetables were locally grown.
    Compared to US beef, the beef available there was exceptionally tasty, US beef is tasteless to me.*
    So, I have to ask how we’re growing our beef and likely, it’s what the beef is being fed that impacts the taste.
    Lamb is, as usual, quite good, regardless of where it is raised. The same is true of goat.
    As I now infrequently eat beef and cannot digest beef fat, I’ll not experiment in the various types now hawked at my local supermarket.
    But, I do wonder what the main difference is that impacts the flavor of the meat. Is it being grain fed? Shorter life to market? Insufficient DDT to flavor the meat?
    OK, the last is a really bad joke. For background, DDT was banned for common usage when I was in my teens. Back when some people actually imbibed DDT to “prove it was safe”.

    *I have a negligible sense of smell, to the point of having food poisoning quite a few times, as I was utterly incapable of smelling food that was off.

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