This lends support to the view that pesticides may be a leading cause of the alarming world-wide drop in sperm counts, which have fallen by half in 50 years.
The study, by a team under Niels Skakkebaek of Copenhagen University, who first drew attention to falling sperm counts, compared sperm from 55 members of the Danish Association of Organic Farmers, each of whom devoted at least a quarter of their diet to pesticide-free produce, with samples from 141 men working for an unnamed airline.
On average, the farmers produced 43 per cent more sperm per millilitre of semen than the airline workers. Professor Skakkebaek stresses that his results are not proof of the effects of pesticides; other factors may also have been involved, such as the fact that more of the farmers than the airline workers lived in the country. Other experts point out that farmers are also likely to eat less packaged food, thus taking in less phthalates, the suspect chemicals found in packaging and in baby milk.
Yesterday, Gwynne Lyons, scientific adviser to the World Wide Fund For Nature and a member of a Government group investigating fertility- impairing chemicals, hailed the new study as a "landmark". She said: "It seems that minimising pesticide exposure maximises sperm." Next month she will publish a study showing that well over 1,000 tonnes of hormone- disrupting pesticides are sprayed in Britain every year. It will call for the use of pesticides to be halved and for a fifth of British farmland to be run organically.
In the meantime, the Danish research suggests that mother was more right than she knew, when she said eating greens was good for you.