Organic food is no healthier and provides no significant nutritional benefit compared with conventionally produced food, a new, independent study funded by the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) said. However, its conclusions have been called into question by experts and organic food campaigners.
The report looked at evidence published over the past 50 years of the different nutrient levels found in crops and livestock from both types of farming and also at the health benefits of eating organic food.
The findings, partly published on Wednesday in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, contradict previous work that has found organically grown food to be nutritionally superior.
“Most studies were based on the hypothesis that eating organic food is beneficial to health. Looking at all of the studies published in the last 50 years, we have concluded that there's no good evidence that consumption of organic food is beneficial to health based on the nutrient content,” said Alan Dangour, who led the review by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
He said that while small differences in nutrient content were found between organic and conventionally produced food, they were “unlikely to be of any public health relevance.”
Organic food campaigners criticized the study for failing to consider fertilizer and pesticide residues in food. They expressed disappointment at its “limited” nature, saying that without long-term studies it did not provide a clear answer on whether eating organic food has health benefits.
A leading food academic said he found the conclusions “selective in the extreme.”
“We are disappointed in the conclusions the researchers have reached. It doesn't say organic food is not healthier, just that, according to the criteria they have adopted, there's no proof that it is,” said Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association in England.
He criticized the methodology used by the team, which he said meant they rejected as “not important” some nutritional benefits they found in organic food and led them to different conclusions from those reached by previous studies.
“The review rejected almost all of the existing studies of comparisons between organic and non-organic nutritional differences,” Melchett said.
Gill Fine, the FSA's director of consumer choice, defended the scope of the study.
“We are neither anti or pro organic food. We recognize there are many reasons why people choose to eat organic, such as animal welfare or environmental concerns. We specifically checked claims that organic food is better for you,” she said.
“This study does not mean people should not eat organic food. What it shows is that there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food and there is not evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food,” she said.