Organic fruit and veg superior to conventional

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Research has shown that organic fruit and vegetables contain increased levels of antioxidants, compared to conventional produce.

Organic farmers will welcome these findings as their claims that their food is more nutritious have been denied by the Food Standards Agency.

The team from Newcastle University and their leader, Professor Carlo Leifert, undertook analysis of 343 studies which had been conducted globally to look at the composition of conventional and organic crops. They reached the conclusion that moving to an organic diet would offer consumers a massive increase in antioxidants.

The increased levels of antioxidants, which have been said to be beneficial in the prevention of cancer, were equal to eating approximately two extra portions of vegetables and fruit each day. It was also found that the pesticide levels were 25% of what was found on conventional produce. Organic produce had lower levels of toxic metals.

The debate on organic versus conventional has been going on for years now, but this study has offered overwhelming evidence. The information provided is important to consumers as information previously released has been conflicting and confusing. The research also contradicts the stand taken by the Food Standards Agency whereby they have argued for more than 10 years that there are no nutritional advantages to consuming organic food.

During 2000, the chairman of the FSA at the time, Sir John Krebs, laid down an argument that people were wasting their money by paying more for organic foods. He stated that there was not sufficient evidence to support the claims that organic was more nutritional. This stance was confirmed in a publication released by the FSA during 2009.

The Newcastle team insists that there is evidence of the value of organic after their extensive analysis of organic food nutrition.

The FSA study done originally based the study on only 46 publications covering dairy, meat and crops, but the Newcastle research based their information on data from 343 peer-reviewed publications.

Professor Leifert stated that the main difference between these two studies is time. He stated that research in this arena has been slow to commence and there is much more data available now than there was five years ago. He added that the team have shown without doubt that there are composition differences between the two types of crops.

The research has been welcomed by the Soil Association, which offers support to organic farmers in Britain and sets industry standards. Helen Browning, its chief executive, said that the most important aspect of this research is that the myth that organic farming does not affect the food quality has been shattered. She stated that other countries have accepted the benefits of organic food and she hopes that these findings will bring Britain in line with Europe regarding it.

When policy responsibility on organic farming was moved from the FSA to Public Health England (PHE) by the Government, it stated that it was important for the nation to increase its consumption of vegetables and fruit. The chief nutritionist at PHE welcomed this research, but stated that it was not possible for them to assess the impact of organic foods on public health from this study only.

She added that everyone needs to eat more vegetables and fruit, irrespective of whether they are organic or not. The population is currently consuming 4.1 portions of vegetables and fruit each day and this needs to increase to a minimum of five.

Image Credit: Vidya Crawley

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