Organic food 'is a waste of money'

'Natural' produce is no more safe or nutritious than conventional fare, Government's Food Standards Agency reports

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Organic food is neither safer nor more nutritious than conventionally grown food and people are wasting their money by paying a premium for it, the head of the Food Standards Agency said yesterday.

Organic food is neither safer nor more nutritious than conventionally grown food and people are wasting their money by paying a premium for it, the head of the Food Standards Agency said yesterday.

Sir John Krebs, chairman of the government-appointed body, said there was no evidence that organic food was healthier than conventionally grown produce. He said he believed that people were only getting value for money if they wished to pay for the holistic approach to farming.

"They're not getting value for money, in my opinion and in the opinion of the Food Standards Agency, if they think they're buying food with extra nutritional quality or extra safety. We don't have the evidence to support those claims," he said.

Environmental and organic organisations said they were "appalled" by Sir John's comments, who they believed was "out of touch" with consumers and failing to inform himself properly about organic food.

In Britain sales of organic food are soaring by 40 per cent a year. The projected organic food sales for this year are £546m and expected to reach more than £1bn by 2002. Customers pay an average of 70 per cent more for organic produce than the ordinary equivalents.

Sir John said he thought the market was booming because people were seduced by an image of healthy and nutritious products. "I think the organic industry relies on image and that image is one that many consumers clearly want to sign up to," he said.

"However, I do think they should be aware of what they're getting when they pay quite a substantial premium in the shops," he said in an interview with the BBC's Countryfile programme, to be broadcast tomorrow.

Harry Hadaway, a spokesman for the Soil Association, a standards setterwhich registers organic farmers, said: "We are deeply concerned that Sir John Krebs of the FSA is failing to inform himself and be objective in the on-going national food debate.

"As a historic supporter of genetically modified foods we feel Sir John continues not to represent the wishes of the British consumers, who have made it clear that they reject chemical farming and GM food, due to the growing evidence of environmental and health impacts of this type of food production."

Independent scientific tests, commissioned by the BBC, found conventionally grown carrots free of pesticides. Scientists at the Eclipse Scientific Group laboratory in Cambridgeshire extensively tested carrots bought anonymously from supermarkets.

An organic British carrot, an organic carrot from abroad and a conventionally grown carrot were examined for more than 40 pesticide residues. The tests were negative for all three.

Nigel Gillis, of Eclipse, said: "I think the public will be very surprised. Their perception of organic carrots is that they have no pesticides in and conventional carrots are riddled with them. We've shown... that that's not the case."

This latest research contradicts previous evidence by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's working party on pesticide residues which showed in 1998 that 26 per cent of foods tested contained pesticide residues, and 1.3 per cent contained residues above legal levels.

Even organic carrots were found to contain residues, albeit at levels 10 times lower than maximum level allowed in non-organic vegetables.

Sandra Bell, real food campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said the group was "appalled" that Sir John had launched this attack. "Organic food avoids synthetic pesticides, the routine use of antibiotics and genetically modified ingredient," she said.

"No one knows what long-term impact these may have on human health. If there is no problem with pesticides in conventionally grown food why does the Government advise people to wash and peel vegetables before giving them to children?

She said pesticide residues were being reviewed for potential health problems.

"The truth is that organic food is better for people and the environment. The [FSA} should be promoting it, not rubbishing it," she said.

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