‘Strange’: Soil Association gives verdict on Cancer Research UK organic food study

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Study finds eating organic foods does not lessen women’s chances of developing cancer
Study finds eating organic foods does not lessen women’s chances of developing cancer

Related tags Organic food

Pro-organic campaign group the Soil Association has criticised a study by Cancer Research UK and Oxford University that found eating organic foods did not lessen women’s chances of developing cancer.

The study published in the British Journal of Cancer​ by Bradbury et al.​ followed 623,080 middle-aged UK women, who reported their consumption of organic food and were followed for cancer incidence over nine years and three months.

It concluded: “…There was little or no decrease in the incidence of cancer associated with consumption of organic food, except possibly for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma overlooked?

Peter Melchett, Soil Association director of policy, said: “We find it strange that a 21% decrease in non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer, among women who reported usually or always eating organic food, is being so readily dismissed by Cancer Research UK.”

“They seem to have a poor understanding of what pesticides are found in and how pesticides get into food. Many modern pesticides are ‘systemic’ which means they are in every part of the plant and can’t be washed away whatever consumers do when they prepare food.”

He added that 4 out of 5 households in the UK bought organic foods and their motives ranged from perceived benefits to wildlife preservation to avoiding genetically modified (GM) crops. 

‘You can’t wash bread’

Cancer Research UK's health information manager Claire Knight said the research added to evidence that organically grown foods do not lower a person’s cancer risk.

“But if you're anxious about pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables, it's a good idea to wash them before eating.”

Melchett said that the majority of pesticides in the food came through Monsanto’s round-up in bread as it was sprayed on wheat before harvest.

“…We’d be interested to know how she [Knight] expects consumers to wash loaves of bread.”

He added that the study had “a number of weaknesses​” including uncontrolled factors such as the women’s Body Mass Indices (BMIs) and physical activity, which were only measured once during the study.

Eat more veg, organic or otherwise

Knight said: “Scientists have estimated that over 9% of cancer cases in the UK may be linked to dietary factors, of which almost 5% are linked to not eating enough fruit and vegetables. So eating a well-balanced diet which is high in fruit and vegetables – whether conventionally grown or not – can help reduce your cancer risk.”

The study analysed 16 types of cancer and found no great statistical differences with most cancers between the 180,000 women who reported never eating organic food and the 45,000 women who said they usually or always ate organically grown food.

The researchers did however note a small increase in risk for breast cancer and a reduction in the risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma for organic food consumers.

The research was part of the Million Women Study, a collaborative project between Cancer Research UK and the National Health Service, analysing the health of UK woman aged over 50.

British Journal of Cancer
‘Organic food consumption and the incidence of cancer in a large prospective study of women in the United Kingdom’
Authors: Bradbury et al.

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