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."

News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
News
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
newsTV star had been reported missing
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
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

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone