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Is Organic Produce Healthier?

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, June 19, 2007

Earlier this year we ran a piece, Blunt Talk On Organics In The UK,which told the story of what happened when David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, gave an interview:

David Miliband, the environment secretary, says organic produce, which is usually more expensive, is a “lifestyle choice” with no hard evidence that it is healthier.

The same piece quoted Egon Ronay, a noted food critic in the UK:

He questioned the way organic goods were marketed, stating there is no scientific proof they are healthier….

He told the BBC: “The public has no clear idea what organic food is. We’re being conned and I think the minister ought to be pinned down and ought to be challenged to spell out in terms that the public can clearly understand what is organic food.”

Now a new analysis by the British Nutrition Foundation also casts doubt on nutritional claims regarding organic food:

The overall body of science does not support the view that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food, says a new review from the British Nutrition Foundation.

The review, published in the journal Nutrition Bulletin and authored by the BNF’s Claire Williamson, could re-ignite the debate between conventional and organic fruit that has raged with claim and counter-claim from both sides.

“Organic farming represents a sustainable method of agriculture that avoids the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides and makes use of crop rotation and good animal husbandry to control pests and diseases,” wrote Williamson. “From a nutritional perspective, there is currently not enough evidence to recommend organic foods over conventionally produced foods.”

But the organic potato people did get a little good news:

There exists “moderately strong and consistent” data to show that organic potatoes were richer sources of vitamin C than their conventionally grown counterparts.

And more research is certainly needed:

“More research is also required in the area of phytochemicals, such as flavonoids and carotenoids (if the potential health benefits are found to be evident).”

What is not known is the extent to which perceived nutritional benefits motivate organic purchases:

According to Williamson: “There appears to be a perception among many consumers that organic foods are more nutritious and therefore healthier than conventionally produced foods. However, to date there are limited data to support this view.”

But the report also says:

Despite the insufficient data on the subjects, Williamson noted that nutrition is not seen as a major reason why people consume organic food. Concerns about the environment, pesticide levels, food additives or animal welfare are listed as more important factors by many consumers.

So the best current information we have is that, overall, there is no nutritional benefit to organics, but there may be exceptions, such as potatoes. Though we need more research, it may not matter to consumers anyway!

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