29 April 2013

Ian Gawler Blog: Organic food – good for fruit flies, good for you

Big commercial Agri-business interests would have us believe that their produce is just as good as the organic stuff, only cheaper and easier to mass produce. Don’t you love it when the little people take on a big issue and make a big impact.

Recently a 16-year-old schoolgirl in the USA has used fruit flies to provide graphic evidence of the differences and to add good reason to eating organic. Then we look at a supermarket selling organics at the same price as commercial produce. But first

Thought for the Day
Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world.
Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.
Margaret Mead

Want to be more active and live longer?

The New York Times reports that Ria Chhabra was inspired by hearing her parents debating the topic of whether organically grown food provide greater health benefits than conventionally grown produce, and decided to investigate for herself.

Ria chose to research fruit flies as they have around 75 per cent of the genes that cause disease in humans and they have a short life span. This means that relatively quickly, differences emerge and can be measured.

Her creative experiment was developed with researchers at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Half of the flies were fed an organic diet and the other half a conventional one. The results? They found that eating organically improved fertility, stress resistance, physical activity and longevity – not a bad package of benefits really.

The researchers commented, "these data suggest that organic foods are more nutritionally balanced than conventional foods, or contain higher levels of nutrients, leading to improved fertility and longevity". Not so useful if you want to die young without children, but good for the average, family minded ones!

Another key finding was that the diet had to be balanced. Flies that were fed only one type of organic food had shorter lifespans and were less fertile than those fed a more balanced diet.

The project won Ria top honours in a national science competition and has now been published in the respected Plos One journal. To quote:

Our data show that Drosophila (fruit fly) can be used as a convenient model system to experimentally test potential health effects of dietary components. Using this system, we provide evidence that organically raised food may provide animals with tangible benefits to overall health.

While the results are by no means conclusive and cannot be directly extended to humans, they add to what many of us who eat organically feel – it is well worth the effort – for us and our environment. And we are not alone. Currently organics is a 1.2 billion dollar a year industry, and is one of Australia's top five growth industries.

On the environmental front, one recent study found that commercial corn crops used a whopping 71% more energy than organics; while other studies have shown how organics reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, as a Stanford study recently found, organic produce had a 30% lower risk of pesticide contamination than conventional fruits and vegetables.

However, there is a major issue, the relative price of organic versus conventionally farmed foods. A recent analysis of Australian supermarket prices by Suncorp Bank found that organic food is 79% more expensive than conventional, with some items up to 300% dearer.

Enter one of my new found heros.

Adrian Barkla is the owner of New World, Remuera, one of the biggest supermarkets in Auckland, NZ.

Adrian is a strong advocate for organic produce. Actually, he is much more than an advocate, Adrian has managed to establish a large organic section in his supermarket and features the fact that the prices for the organics are the same as those for the commercial produce.

On the day Ruth and I visited the supermarket and met with him, it was certainly bustling. Adrian hopes to be a game changer and to inspire, or commercially pressure his neighbouring supermarkets into following suit on his organic lead.

How has he done it? How has he kept the prices down? Well he is passionately committed, but Adrian told me he has made many direct contracts with organic growers. He loves the personal connection. The growers love the assured market and the public love the outcome. And Adrian’s turnover is huge. Everyone is winning. A great model for what is possible with a little creativity and commitment.

So, what to do? I would urge everyone to tell their local organic produce providers of what Adrian has achieved and to encourage the notion that price does not need to be a barrier; they need to be kept down.

Perhaps we need to go to Farmer’s Markets more often and then tell the big chain Supermarkets this is what we are doing. While it is lovely many supermarkets are now adding an organic section into their stores, I cannot help feeling that organics are trendy enough these days to command a high premium and that this fact is being exploited.

Think about this. If it requires less energy (because less commercial fertilizers are used) and the costs are down, why do we have to pay so much for organics?

I dream of the day when sustainable, organic farming/ food production practices are the norm.

In the mean time, it certainly adds even more weight to the home veggie garden!

Ours is enjoying a wonderfully productive Autumn.


1. The fruit fly article - Click here

2. Analysis of Australian supermarket prices: organic versus commercial - Click here

3. Organics as a top 5 growth industry - Click here


Linking lifestyle, sustainability, the environment and health

1. Shepparton Workshop - next week, Saturday 4th May 
Ruth and I are donating our time to support Shepparton High School’s World Challenge, a great project to support the students, so if you are nearby, come along and enjoy the day while you support the students.

Bookings: contact the bursar on 5821 4322 or in person at Shepparton High School.

Enquiries: Craig Martin, a teacher at the school – 58214322, or martin.craig.a@edumail.vic.gov.au

2. Melbourne Workshops - only 2 weeks away, booking soon recommended.

Saturday May 11th : Meditation and the Power of the Mind 
Like a mini meditation retreat. A great chance to refresh, learn some more and deepen meditation in good company

Sunday May 12th : Living Well, Being Well
Looking after ourselves, maintaining a healthy, healing, vital lifestyle takes some doing. Come along and be reminded of what is important, learn of new research and how it applies in daily life, and be re-invigorated! Lots of new material on nutrition.

Bring the family, invite a friend or two, inform your colleagues! Maybe you know someone living in Melbourne who would benefit/like to attend.

For full details and to book, LINK HERE

Getting out in the sun could save your life! 

The less sun, the greater the risk of breast cancer. Australian researchers have found women living south of Coffs Harbour have almost twice the risk of those living above the line. The risk rose to more than double again when comparing women living below or above Brisbane.

Less exposure to UV sunlight and subsequent lower vitamin D levels explained the risk. The message is simple, get regular, moderate exposure to sunlight (do not let your skin burn) or take a Vitamin D supplement.

More detail, click here.


  1. I wonder if the organic grower is getting more for his produce than the conventional grower. Although he does not use expensive chemicals his produce does have to be certified and this can involve some years in getting his soil to certification standard. I beieve it is also expensive to be a certified organic producer and I would have thought more labour intensive. This is the reason I always believed that organic produce is more expensive and I am happy to pay for that. Now I am wondering if the big supermarkets are squeezing the organic producer in the same way as they do the conventional producer. I wonder how strong a body the organic producers are to withstand this treatment by the big supermarkets.

  2. Thank you for this article, I am a very strong advocate of organic food as well, and I may use some of this information in my next articles about food and nutrition (I just finished a cleansing series on my blog). Thanks again and wish you all the best!

  3. Organic Nutritional Supplement

    Fruits are always profitable for us. We should eat atleast one time in a day.

  4. An article in today's Times (UK) stated that British farmers might have to start bringing in specially raised bee swarms to pollinate plants in order to increase yields on conventionally farmed crops - as we're suffering a major drop in the bee population. Sad - if we farmed more sustainably we wouldn't have to manage our environment in this way - it would be properly balanced. Hope you don't have this problem down-under - but I find most of what Ian writes about applies equally in both hemispheres!
    Fiona - London