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Organic food myth is hard to swallow, claims professor

The organic food industry is wrong in its claims to produce more nutritious, healthier and tastier food, a leading Irish food scientist has said.

And its credibility will "go down the drain" when it is finally asked to prove these claims, said Professor Mike Gibney, director of UCD's Institute of Food and Health.

He slated the "foolish debate" over the supposed superiority of organic food, noting that every major review, including a recent one by Stanford University, had refuted these claims.

The organic industry will eventually be brought to the European Food Safety Authority to prove its claims, but they have a record of rejecting 90pc of health claims made to them because there's no scientific proof, Professor Gibney told an Agricultural Science Association conference in Wicklow yesterday.

Organic week was just finishing but the industry was wrong on all four counts that it produced more nutritious, tastier, healthier and more environmentally friendly food, he said.

"They are building themselves up for a big crash... Trust is hard won and easily lost".

The organic lobby would be better to market their lifestyle appeal to middle-class people rather than trying to frighten them by claiming they fed their children inferior food if they didn't buy organic.

Professor Gibney said he was incensed as a scientist by the claims made for different foods and had written a book, 'Something to Chew On', to try and dispel myths.

He accused environmental groups of "hideous scaremongering" in the debate on genetically modified crops, which had featured grim reapers and coffins in a protest in Dublin this week.

None of the warnings of environmental or health disaster had come to pass in the US or South America where GM crops were widespread, yet Europe remained risk-adverse to them, said Professor Gibney.

He also noted that while obesity was portrayed as the biggest public health nutrition issue, malnutrition among the elderly had been found to be even more costly, according to a European Parliament white paper.

That was because while there were various drugs to deal with the impact of obesity on heart health, malnutrition among older people led to more hospital admissions and complications.

In Britain, oral nutritional supplements had been found to be highly effective in reducing these high hospital costs, but there was no such initiative or monitoring of this is Ireland.

"We live with a rapidly ageing population and thus there must be a greater investment in studies of diet in areas such as cognitive, motor and visual decline," said Professor Gibney.

Irish Independent