Oct 29, USA (NYTIMES) — In any controversy it can be helpful to consider the views of disinterested parties. So, on the subject of agricultural policy and practice, it’s worth noting that an unimpeachably neutral group has joined the ranks of those who prefer organic foods over foods produced with the help of synthetic chemicals. That group is 40 Swiss rats.
A team of Swiss and Austrian scientists recently concluded a 21-year study of organic wheat production. As an “integrative method” for assessing quality, they gave lab animals a choice of biscuits made from organic or conventional wheat. The rats ate significantly more of the former. The authors call this result remarkable, because they found the two wheats to be very similar in chemical composition and baking performance.
In fact, the rats were better at telling the difference between organic and conventional foods than many humans have been. In the handful of carefully designed taste-offs reported in the last few years, people were often unable to identify the organic foods, and often didn’t prefer them. This is puzzling, since organic produce generally does pack more antioxidants and other potentially healthful — and potentially flavorful — phytochemicals than conventional produce.
Just last July, Professor Alyson Mitchell and colleagues at the University of California, Davis summarized 10 years of data from tomatoes grown in carefully controlled organic and conventional systems. The antioxidant contents varied from year to year, but were consistently higher in the organic tomatoes.