Organic foods are all the hype these days, but are they really worth the often substantial premiums you have to pay for them in comparison to our conventional "green revolution" grade food? A new study takes a critical look.
The well-respected German Stiftung Warentest has made an overview of 85 tests of food products since 2002. Organic food does have its strengths, they say, but also its weaknesses.
While there was a total of 85 tests, going from apple juice to cinnamon, the tests were not all of the same type: 52 tests included a quality evaluation. Eleven tests, such as alcohol, did not include a quality evaluation. Nineteen tests measured residues of pesticides and other dangerous products.
For the 52 tests that included a quality evaluation, 249 organic products and 1007 conventional products have been tested. Stiftung Warentest says that organic products represent just barely 4 percent of the market. Hence, they are still niche products.
In a 2007 review, Stiftung Warentest had concluded that conventional and organic foods were on a par. This result became uncertain after two tests in the past three years, in which organic products were better represented than conventional foods. The organic foods failed to convince and were not considered "good".
Of 15 baby foods, 13 turned out to be safe with respect to harmful substances and germs, but they failed to convince with respect to their nutritional value as they did not contain enough vitamin C and fat. As a result, the group as a whole got a "satisfactory" result.
Canola oil fared even worse. While there are quite a few organic brands of native canola oil, most of them failed the sensory test and got a "poor" evaluation.
Since 2007, two organic products have clearly done better than conventional products: fresh whole milk, where six of seven organic brands got a "good" evaluation in comparison to only five of twelve conventional ones and spice oils where all four products tested "good" and seven conventional ones got a "poor" evaluation.
The final result puts organic products slightly behind conventional foods. One percent of conventional and organic foods received a "very good" evaluation. Forty percent of of organic foods was considered "good" in comparison to 44 percent of conventional foods. They were on a par in the "satisfactory" category, with 28 percent each.
Sixteen percent of organic foods and 13 percent of of conventional foods received an "adequate" evaluation, while 15 percent of organic foods and 14 percent of conventional foods were considered "poor".
Considering that organic products are still sold at a premium when compared to conventional foods, the consumer may not be getting maximum value for her/his hard-earned money when buying organic foods, the study found.
Please take into account that Stiftung Warentest is a German agency and that its tests may therefore not be representative for other parts of the world. However, given the prestige of the institution and the fact that it is their job to inform the German population (82 million people), they should not be dismissed out of hand.