The Food Standards Agency in the UK has declared that, “… there are no important differences in the nutrition content, or any additional health benefits, of organic food when compared with conventionally produced food.”
In a comprehensive study, researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine examined more than 50,000 studies on the nutritional value of foods going back to 1958. Of these, 55 met the criteria of the project. Dr Alan Dangour, the principal author, commented on the marginal differences found during the studies, “A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist … but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance. Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority.”
Those marginal differences were that conventionally-produced fruit and vegetables had more nitrogen, while their organic counterparts had more phosphorus. But these differences were small compared to the similarities in nutritional content, including similar levels of vitamin C, calcium, iron and fatty acids in both kinds of food.
Doubters still doubt
Those who support organic production point out that the study didn’t consider possible side-effects resulting from the consumption of pesticides and herbicides used in conventional food production, and that organic farming may improve the welfare of livestock.
The Food Agency commented on negative responses to the report by saying “The Agency supports consumer choice and is neither pro nor anti organic food. We recognise that there are many reasons why people choose to eat organic, such as animal welfare or environmental concerns. The Agency will continue to give consumers accurate information about their food based on the best available scientific evidence.”
Soil Association sees the bigger picture
The Soil Association, Britain’s biggest ‘licensing body’ for organic products, has given its own immediate response to the report, saying that it needs time to examine the detail of the work closely but that, “… it’s a popular myth that people who buy organic food only do so because they think it will make them healthier. Recent EU research has found that regular buyers of organic food (who buy about 80% of all organic products) have a much more sophisticated understanding of the range of benefits that organic farming and food deliver.” The Soil Association also noted that The European Commission, in 2006, reported links between certain cancers, male infertility and nervous system disorders and exposure to pesticides.
Beyond the issue of personal nutrition, buying organic food also promotes a healthy environment. The average industrially-produced apple may have been sprayed up to 16 times with 30 different chemicals. Organic farms have on average 30% more species and 50% more wildlife like birds, butterflies and bees.