Organic food not nutritionally better, survey finds

30 Jul, 2009 10:11 AM
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A SYSTEMATIC review of the literature over 50 years has found no evidence for superior nutritional content of organic produce, according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition this week.

There is no evidence that organically produced foods are nutritionally superior to conventionally produced foodstuffs, according to the new study.

Consumers appear willing to pay higher prices for organic foods based on their perceived health and nutrition benefits, and the global organic food market was estimated in 2007 to be worth $A56 billion.

Some previous reviews have concluded that organically produced food has a superior nutrient composition to conventional food, but there has to date been no systematic review of the available published literature.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine have now completed the most extensive systematic review of the available published literature on nutrient content of organic food ever conducted.

The review focussed on nutritional content. It did not include a review of the content of contaminants or chemical residues in foods from different agricultural production regimens.

Over 50,000 papers were searched, and a total of 162 relevant articles were identified that were published over a 50-year period up to February 2008 and compared the nutrient content of organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.

To ensure methodological rigour, the quality of each article was assessed. To be graded as satisfactory quality, the studies had to provide information on the organic certification scheme from which the foodstuffs were derived, the cultivar of crop or breed of livestock analysed, the nutrient or other nutritionally relevant substance assessed, the laboratory analytical methods used, and the methods used for statistical analysis.

Fifty-five of the identified papers were of satisfactory quality, and analysis was conducted comparing the content in organically and conventionally produced foods of the 13 most commonly reported nutrient categories.

The researchers found organically and conventionally produced foods to be comparable in their nutrient content. For 10 out of the 13 nutrient categories analysed, there were no significant differences between production methods in nutrient content. Differences that were detected were most likely to be due to differences in fertiliser use (nitrogen, phosphorus), and ripeness at harvest (acidity), and it is unlikely that consuming these nutrients at the levels reported in organic foods would provide any health benefit.

Alan Dangour, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s Nutrition and Public Health Intervention Research Unit, and one of the report’s authors, comments: "A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance.

"Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority.

"Research in this area would benefit from greater scientific rigour and a better understanding of the various factors that determine the nutrient content of foodstuffs."

* Source: Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review.

Authors: Alan D Dangour, Sakhi K Dodhia, Arabella Hayter, Elizabeth Allen, Karen Lock, Ricardo Uauy.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July 2009. Authors from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

* The study was commissioned and funded by the UK Food Standards Agency. The funder had no role in study design, data collection, analysis, interpretation or writing of the report.

* For further information email:

Gemma.howe@lshtm.ac.uk

Emer.timmins@foodstandards.gsi .gov.uk

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Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
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READER COMMENTS

Qlander
30/07/2009 12:12:21 PM

Ah, yes...but you can charge much more for it. And there are plenty of people out there with money willing to pay.
Sam
30/07/2009 2:14:15 PM

Well, if I eat wheat from monoculture with three fertilisers as compared to wheat grown in soil that is nutrient rich and has dozens of minerals, I reckon the nutrient-rich soil will produce nutrient-rich wheat
tosca
31/07/2009 6:12:23 AM

When I buy organic, I do not do so based on expectations of higher nutritional value. I do so because of concerns about contamination and pesticide residues - something this study conveniently neglected to report on.
Bob
31/07/2009 6:59:55 AM

Good scientific analysis. But that won't deter media (especially ABC and SMH) from regularly promoting organic above conventional.
John Newton
31/07/2009 7:08:12 AM

Where has this nonsense come from? Apart from environmental benefits, there are any number of studies now beginning to show the health benefits of organically grown foods. Here are a few, and this is not the latest: 1. An emerging area of research shows that there may be yet another problem with pesticide use. Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton cites preliminary studies published in the American based Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry which shows that some of the human anti-cancer agents found in fruit and vegetables happen to be the agents produced by the plants themselves to protect themselves against pests. “The level of these natural anti-carcinogenic agents are higher in organic produce because it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides” said Stanton. The reports, first published in 2003, looked at strawberries, blackberries, plums and corn. 2. An Italian research team led by Dr Morando Soffritti, director of the Euro Ramazzini Foundation in Bologna found that after a seven year lifetime study of 1800 rats, there was a ‘statistically significant increase in incidence of lymphomas and leukemias in female rats’ fed aspartame.
meagain
31/07/2009 7:25:32 AM

Well, these guys seem to be resorting to desperate measures in the hope of holding back the inevitable return to the 'original' farming method: organic... Referring to 50-year-old research simply does not make sense. As far as I can tell, the absolute latest research shows that organic is definitely more nutrient dense. And you don't have to be a genius to work out why... Why the use of pesticides, herbicides, artificial fertilisers, etc was ever referred to as 'conventional', I'll never understand. Organic is as conventional as you can get. Surely we should be calling artificial farming methods just that...artificial.
Jan
31/07/2009 7:50:28 AM

Tosca, just because you seem to still be blinded by the organic hype - Australia has very high standards when it comes to chemical use - and as a result, minimal contamination issues. In fact, products allowed in organic systems (eg fertilisers) can be full of bad bacteria and have led to cases of people becoming seriously ill. I'd bet those people thought their organic food wasn't contaminated with anything. Isn't it convenient that you forgot to read up on that? Don't even start me on how much more land is required to grow food organically - say goodbye to our national parks. Eat organic if you want to, but I've got better things to spend my money on.
humphrey
31/07/2009 9:07:55 AM

One man's organic vegetable is another man's 'grown in excrement ' vegetable. The 'grown in excrement' vegetable costs a lot more and is no better for you than the vegetable produced using good conventional practices. There is a lot of money invested in the organic industry now, and it will continue its propaganda about health benefits - even though they can't be shown to exist.
heathdon
31/07/2009 9:10:20 AM

As "tosca" said, it is the expectation of lower, or better still, no, chemical residues that drive the average buyer. The argument should be: is this so? I want to see a "systematic review" on actual residues in food for sale in Australia, from both local production and imported.
Qlander
31/07/2009 9:10:32 AM

meagain, when the world returns to fully organic farming, I 'bags' being one of the 10pc of the population who doesn't starve to death.
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