An unhealthy row: report claiming organic food is better divides UK scientists

 

Fresh research claiming organically grown food is healthier than conventional crops has provoked a row between scientists.

The study, carried out by scientists at Newcastle University, concluded that organic crops are up to 70 per cent richer in key antioxidants and significantly lower in harmful heavy metals.

Researchers concluded that switching to an organic diet would provide an antioxidant boost equivalent to one to two extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Their findings were, however, severely criticised by other scientists.

The study was welcomed by Helen Browning, the chief executive of the Soil Association, as “crucially important” in demonstrating that organic food is healthier than non-organic. “It shatters the myth that how we farm does not affect the quality of the food we eat. The research found significant differences, due to the farming system, between organic and non-organic food,” she said.

Professor Carlo Leifert, led the research, which he said demonstrates organically-certified food can improve intake of “nutritionally desirable” antioxidants. “The organic versus non-organic debate has rumbled on for decades now but the evidence from this study is overwhelming – that organic food is high in antioxidants and lower in toxic metals and pesticides,” he said.

Researchers reached their conclusions after analysing data from 343 studies assessing the differences between organic and non-organic fruit, vegetables and cereals. The findings contradict those of a smaller study in 2009 commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) which found no significant nutritional benefits from eating organic food.

Dr Gavin Stewart, one of the authors of the new report, said: “The much larger evidence base available in this synthesis allowed us to use more appropriate statistical methods to draw more definitive conclusions regarding the differences between organic and conventional crops.”

The study found that concentrations of antioxidant plant compounds such as polyphenolics were 18 per cent to 69 per cent higher in organically grown plants.

Several scientists, however, launched scathing attacks on the research which they said was flawed and misleading.

Dr Alan Dangour, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, was critical of the quality of some of the data used by the researchers and said: “The public health significance of the reported findings have been worryingly overstated. There is no good evidence to suggest that slightly greater antioxidant or polyphenolic intake in the human diet has important public health benefits.”

Professor Tom Sanders, of King’s College London’s School of Medicine, said the study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, was misleading. He said: “This article is misleading because it refers to antioxidants in plants as if they were a class of essential nutrients, which they are not. The article misleadingly suggest health benefits result from a high consumption of antioxidants, particularly cancer protection.

“This study provides no evidence to change my views that there are no meaningful nutritional differences between conventional produced and organic crops.”

Professor Richard Mithen, of the Institute of Food Research, said: “The references to ‘antioxidants’ and ‘antioxidant activity’, and various ‘antioxidant’ assays would suggest a poor knowledge of the current understanding within the nutrition community of how fruit and vegetables may maintain and improve health.”

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

    £15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence