Organic farmers dispute research


The organic food industry has been dealt a blow after new research claimed that organic food has no nutritional or health benefits over conventionally produced food.

The conclusions were challenged by organic food campaigners, who claimed that they were contradictory and did not take into account the health effects of pesticides and other contaminants found in some foods.

"We are disappointed in the conclusions that researchers reached," said development officer with the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association Grace Maher, speaking on RTÉ's Morning Irelandtoday.

She claimed the new report contradicted research from Newcastle University last year which found organic food was nutritionally beneficial.

"We would be confident that organic food is nutritionally more beneficial," she said.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said consumers paid higher prices for organic food in part because of its perceived health benefits, creating a global organic market worth an estimated $48 billion in 2007.

A systematic review of 162 scientific papers published in the scientific literature over the last 50 years, however, found there was no significant difference.

"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," said Alan Dangour, one of the report's authors.

"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."

The results of research, which was commissioned by the British government's Food Standards Agency, were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Ms Maher said a closer look at the report revealed that there were some benefits, including higher levels of protein and beta carotene, and said the organisation disagreed with the report's conclusion that this was not significantly important.

She also highlighted that no research has been done on a long-term basis into the negative effects of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides in the body.

Sales of organic food have fallen in some markets as recession has led consumers to cut back on purchases.

However, Ms Maher said that it was important that people looked at how food was produced, particularly in the current climate.

"Health is only one of the issues why people would buy organic food," she said. "In the current climate what we do have to look at is the amount of energy which goes into the production of non-organic food.

"The overall cost of producing food in an organic farming way is less energy-intensive and has more positive climate benefits to the population."

Additional reporting: Reuters