Organic food 'no healthier than conventional'

Organic food is no healthier than conventional food, according to the world's biggest research project into the issue.

A review of scientific studies for the past 50 years found there were no significant nutritional differences between conventional produce and organic fruit, vegetables, meat and milk.

The findings, intended to answer once and for all a long-running controversy, attack one of the pillars underpinning organic food produced without artificial fertilisers and with higher animal welfare standards: that is is healthier for individuals as well as better for the environment.

However organic farming experts criticised the study carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and questioned why it dismissed evidence it gathered that organic food is higher in some nutrients.

The Food Standards Agency commissioned the research to discover whether Britain's £2bn organic industry could claim higher health benefits for its products.

Of 162 scientific papers, researchers found 55 that were high quality and checked them for different minerals and vitamins such as Vitamin C and iron. In "satisfactory quality studies" there was no difference between the organic and non-organic farming in 20 of 23 nutritional categories. Organic was better satisfactory studies, organic food had "statistically higher levels" of phospohorous and acidity, but conventional was higher in nitrates.

Dr Alan Dangour, who led the study, said: "A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally-produced crops and livestock, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance.

"We found broadly that there was no important difference between organic and conventional produce."

The Food Standards Agency stressed that while people bought organic produce for several reasons, it considered that the long-running debate about whether they were more healthy was now over.

Gill Fine, FSA director of dietary health, said: "This study does not mean we should not eat organic food. What it shows is that there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally-produced food and that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food."

The result accords with the FSA's previous advice that there was "no significant" health benefit from eating organic produce and also echoes the views expressed by previous Government Defra ministers that the case for organic food being healthier is unproven.

Supporters of organic farming, however, claimed that the results were flawed because of the criteria used to select the most important research.

When all 162 studies rather than the 55 highest quality ones were taken into account, organic farming was frequently higher in nutrients than conventional produce. For instance, beta carotenes were 53 per cent higher and flavanoids 38 per cent higher in organic food than non-organic food.

Peter Melchett, Policy Director at the Soil Association, complained: "The review rejected almost all of the existing studies of comparisons between organic and non-organic nutritional differences. This was because these studies did not meet particular criteria fixed by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"Although the researchers say that the differences between organic and non-organic food are not 'important', due to the relatively few studies, they report in their analysis that there are higher levels of beneficial nutrients in organic compared to non-organic foods."

A leading academic, Carlo Leifert, professor of ecology at Newcastle University, also attacked the study. Professor Leifert has been conducting a £12m four-year EU-funded study. Some initial research, published last year in the Journal of Science, Agricultural and Food last year, found that organic milk contained around 60 per cent more antioxidants and beneficial fatty acids than normal milk.

Provisional results from another part of the same study, which has not yet been published, suggests that organic wheat, tomatoes, cabbage, onions and lettuce also had between 10 and 20 per cent more vitamins. Neither have been included in the FSA review.

"With these literarure reviews you can influence the outcome by the way that you select the papers that you use for your meta-analysis," Professor Leifert said.

"My feeling - and quite a lot of people think this - is that this is probably the study that delivers what the FSA wanted as an outcome. If you look at the differences they found – a 50 per cent increase in beta carotenes and a 30 per cent increase in flavanoids – they are quite significant differences, and they come to the conclusion that there's no systematic nutritional differences. That's just not very convincing."

During the past decade, sales of organic produce have soared, rising 22 per cent between 2005 and 2007, hitting £2.1bn last year.

Nine out of 10 households buy organic food. Britain has the third biggest market for organic food, after Germany and Italy, though it still only accounts for only 1 per cent of retail sales and 3.5 per cent of British farmland.

Although organic supporters have mostly trumpeted the environment as the biggest reason for buying organic, "quality and taste" is the biggest factor by buyers, shows research.

Britain's biggest organic farmer, Guy Watson, whose Riverford organic food network serves 40,000 customers, said the research was likely to hit his sales nationally. "In terms of the organic market industry as a whole, this is clearly not going to be helpful," said, adding that he did not believe his veg box scheme would be affected. "People buy from us really for flavour and freshness and secondly because they trust us in a general way."

The National Farmers Union said it had always said that both conventional and organic food to be "equally healthy and nutritious." The NFU said: "It is down to the consumer to choose what kind of food they wish to buy just as it is down to the individual farmer to decide which system he wants to employ – previous research has found there is no evidence to prove organic food is healthier than conventional and we believe there is space in the market for all models of farming to thrive and prosper."

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
Review: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Sport
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
Sport
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull
football
Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
film
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit