Is Refined Food Really Organic?

By Brane Žilavec, May 2012

In recent years we have seen more and more certified organic products made from refined ingredients, such as white flour and whitish types of sugar, while at the same time we are witnessing in the mainstream food market the trend towards whole grains and even a movement promoting complete elimination of sugar on the basis of health reasons. How is it possible that the organic movement, in spite of all its past positive work to provide people with good quality food, has lost its compass in regard to the choice between whole and refined food?

How can the representatives of the organic movement claim that their main purpose is "to produce high quality, nutritious food that contributes to preventative health care and well-being" of people while there is no single scientific evidence about the positive health impact of refined foods? Here is a full report which looks at this issue from various perspectives in an attempt to provide evidence of the unhealthy attitudes and practices that are – without much public awareness – going on inside the organic movement.

Here is the pdf version of the full report Is Refined Food Really Organic? plus Appendix 1, Appendix 2-6 and Appendix 7.

Below are the links to the full reports of specific topics and their conclusions.

Glossary of the Key Words

Holistic Approach to Nutrition

1. Core Values of the Organic Movement

If we look at the CORE VALUES OF THE ORGANIC MOVEMENT versus the fast food culture we can see the following main food attributes:

New Food Culture Fast Food Culture
Natural Food Altered/Adulterated Food
Organic Food Food with Chemical Residues & Additives
Wholefood Refined and/or Enriched Food

Thus we can see that in the beginnings of the organic movement natural food, organic food, and wholefood were synonyms – presenting three different aspects of the same thing. But now it is different: the split has happened. Inside the organic movement are still those who are adhering to these core values. Beside them are those who have been accepting the existence of Organic Refined Foods as something ‘natural’.

Regardless of the reasons behind the dilution of these core values it is fact that nowadays Organic does not mean Wholefood anymore. Now we can even buy Organic White Sugar – the utmost symbol of the fast food culture!

2. Integrity of Organic Standards

If we look at the issue of INTEGRITY OF ORGANIC STANDARDS we can conclude:

The standards of all three organisations – IFOAM, Soil Association and Demeter – are suffering from the same problem: in regard to Wholefoods vs Refined there exists a gap between basic principles on the one hand and practices of food production and certification on the other hand. In its intrinsic nature it is the gap between ideals of organic movement and business practices of those who produce organic food.

3. Question of Food Quality

In regard to the QUESTION OF FOOD QUALITY we can conclude:

The main result of refining carbohydrates is denatured, low quality food, stripped of fibre, minerals, vitamins, and other vital nutrients. (Organic) Refined Foods are also inferior in regard to taste, smell, and colour (in spite of the fact that many people today really enjoy such foods). This is due to the lack of phytochemicals which are the source of complex tastes, aromas, and colours of the plants.

On the other side we preserve the intrinsic quality of Organic Wholefood which is due to organic agricultural practices as much as possible. Indeed one can only wonder why one would make such an effort to increase the quality of living soil and consequently the quality of crops, and then, in the case of Organic Refined Foods, all these advantages are literally thrown away through costly and unnecessary refining.

4. Evidence of Health Impacts

If we look at EVIDENCE OF HEALTH IMPACTS we can conclude:

There is more than enough scientific, medical and statistical evidence about the health benefits of wholefoods being rich in fibre, vitamins, and trace minerals. In regard to human health, Wholefoods are without any doubt superior to Refined Foods.

There is also more than enough scientific, medical and statistical evidence about the detrimental effects of eating predominantly Refined Foods. So far I haven’t heard any evidence about the positive health effects of consuming refined foods on the regular basis. In fact, it could be said that the three greatest negative impacts on human diet in modern time are caused by the introduction of:

While the last two are harmful because they introduce into the human diet artificially-made substances which should not be part of natural food, the first one is also harmful because it deprives human beings from natural substances which should stay as an integral part of human diet.

And while the last two groups of substances are not tolerated – for very good reasons – inside the organic movement, we are at the same time tolerating Refined Foods.  Can we, members of the organic movement, continue our good work with the existence of such disparity?

And above all, can we tolerate the methods of manipulation of consumers by avoidance and ignorance of the evidence of negative health consequences of regular consumption of Refined Foods? Maybe it is time for a truly independent consumer organisation which will expose such unhealthy practices inside the organic sector?

5. Promotion of Organic Foods

 In regard to the PROMOTION OF ORGANIC FOODS we can conclude:

Promotion of organic foods as better quality and therefore healthier than non-organic is seriously flawed because of the existence of Organic Refined Foods. If IFOAM members want to continue to use such claims for the promotion of organic food, then they should either stop giving certifications to Refined Foods, or otherwise add the following disclaimer to their promotional materials "The claim of health benefits does not hold true for any Organic Refined Foods."

On the other side where are the benefits of consuming Wholefoods being promoted inside the organic movement? Is it not our task to promote what we recognise as good quality food? Is it not an inseparable part of our work to educate people in regard to food and nutrition?

6. Labelling of Organic Refined Foods

In regard to the LABELLING OF ORGANIC REFINED FOODS we can conclude:

The guiding principle of labelling any organic produce should be to provide consumers with clear and correct information about the product and its ingredients, as is explained in the brochure From farm to fork – Safe food for Europe's consumers (italics mine): "People want, and have a right, to know what they are eating. Food labelling rules recognise that right. The fundamental principle of EU food labelling rules is that consumers should be given all essential information on the composition of the product, the manufacture, methods of storage and preparation. Producers and manufacturers are free to provide additional information if they wish, but this must be accurate, not mislead the consumer and not claim that any foodstuff can prevent, treat or cure illness." [5]

IFOAM standards recommend that "product labels should identify all ingredients, processing methods, and all additives and processing aids" [6] (italics mine). The Soil Association also encourages their licensees "to provide information on the label which will allow customers to make informed choices about which product to buy." [7] And in the Demeter standards we can find the following statement (italics mine): "An honest product is one whose composition and life history is transparent for all traders and consumers to see. A clear declaration is the first step." [8]

From the above presented examples it is evident that the practices of labelling Organic Refined Foods are not in accordance with these guidelines. The question is: Do we want to tolerate such methods or do we want to give customers what is their lawful right – clear information about what they buy? In my opinion the top priority is to take seriously the law and stop the above presented practices of misleading consumers as soon as possible. Another option is to wait for a more unpleasant stimulus to sort out this unhealthy practice, such as a court case against an organic company for not complying with the laws regulating consumers’ rights. Can you imagine the harm to the whole organic movement if this was to happen?

7. Consumers’ Freedom of Choice

In regard to the CONSUMERS’ FREEDOM OF CHOICE we can conclude:

One could use the argument about freedom of consumer's choice only under specific basic conditions. These conditions are:

Only under such conditions could one talk about real freedom of choice in regard to Wholefood vs Refined. Real freedom of choice can exist only if people understand what the consequences of their choices are. For that reason our primary task is to educate organic farmers, food processors, traders, and consumers about the real significance of Wholefoods for the health and overall development of the human being. The evidence presented in this report is proof for the need for such ongoing education.

Final Conclusion of the Research

On the basis of all above conclusions we have to arrive at the following FINAL CONCLUSION OF THE RESEARCH:

On the basis of all evidence presented in this report we can call Organic Refined Foods Organic Junk Food. Therefore it should be obvious that their existence is one of the biggest weaknesses of the organic movement. [1] The production of Organic Refined Foods is seriously undermining one of the fundamental goals of the organic movement – to produce healthy food which can nourish and sustain the whole human being. For the word ‘Integrity’ means ‘Wholeness’. And wholeness is the state of being wholesome. It is no wonder that the words ‘Whole – Healthy – Holy’ have the same root. But this root of organic movement has been seriously compromised due to lack of integrity of those members who have accepted the existence of Organic Refined Foods as the new ‘normal’.

NOTES

  1. To my opinion there exists three greatest weaknesses of the organic food production: the use of hybrid seeds; the mutilation of cows by the removal of their horns, and refining of foods. All these practices are not contributing to the increase of the life forces in our food, neither are they providing all possible nutrients that could be available to us if these practices were not uncritically adopted by the conventional approach to food production.