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Organic food no more nutritious than conventionally grown, review finds

July 29, 2009 |  9:11 am


A comprehensive review of research comparing the nutritional content of food that was organically raised with food produced with the use of synthetic pesticides has found no significant differences between the two. Conducted by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the study is the first to bring a heated debate over the value of organic food to a rigorous conclusion. It is published today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"Our review indicates there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organic over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority," said Alan Dangour of the London School's Public Health Intervention Research Unit.

Surveying 50,000 studies conducted over 50 years, the authors focused on 55 that met their standards of scientific rigor. The studies that led to the group's controversial conclusions covered a wide range of crops and livestock that are raised and marketed under organic standards. For 10 out of 13 food crops studied, the researchers found no significant differences. Where they did find differences, those were attributed to differences in fertilizer use (say, the use of nitrogen vs. phosphorus) and the ripeness level at which the crops were harvested. The authors judged the differences observed "unlikely" to "provide any health benefit" to consumers.

The study was commissioned and funded by Britain's Food Standards Agency, the governmental office that regulates food production and sales in Britain.

Estimated to have surpassed the $23-billion mark last year, sales of organic food in the United States have grown sharply in the last 20 years, fueled by consumers' concerns about pesticide exposure, damage to the environment and the nutritional value of food raised by conventional means. The study released today will likely do little to allay the first two fears. But for those who pay premiums for organic food in the belief it is richer in nutrients, the new analysis is likely to be a blow.

The authors did not address taste or freshness, an area unlikely to yield to science anytime soon.

-- Melissa Healy

Photo credit: Chris Hondros / Getty Images

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Comments (61)

"I have a friend who lives near several farms. He and his wife are both dying of cancer. "

I live in a city and my neighbor is dying of cancer. There is NO correlation between proximity to farms and cancer death rates when data are adjusted for the age of the population.

Organic food folks, UFO folks, Kennedy conspiracy "theorists" -- these guys need to join the same union. Or perhaps find some vast tract of land to populate and spare the rest of us their screeds.

The key is to grow food in a more sustainable and natural way. Chemical pesticides that harm the environment, growth hormones, genetically engineered foods, cruel treatment of animals, these are just the top of the iceberg of examples of how the current system is damaging to our health and environment and can be improved.

Having a sustainable food system is the key, organic does not answer all the questions but it takes us towards the right direction.
This study sponsored by the British Government is very foggy as to criteria and the results of the study. Most of the damage done to the food system and the environment has been done within the last 50 years, so the negative consequences of our actions are not to be seen yet. Take the example of genetically altered fruits and vegetables, the potential health risks of such foods have not been studied and documented properly. I suggest for everyone to check out the documentary on You Tube called “The World According to Monsanto” or the documentary currently out today called Food Inc. Quite an eye opener. Please don’t believe all you read. Become informed, become active. This is very important in this day age. Vidura Barrios

Th e scientists
were surprised to learn that organic catsups
were, on average, 57% higher in lycopene.
And they had double the antioxidant power
of conventional catsups.32 One organic brand
contained 183 mcg/g of lycopene – more
than three times the amount in a conventional
brand, and about fi ve times as much as
in a fresh tomato.33 In general, a deeper red
natural color goes along with higher lycopene

The "organic" food fad is just a religion.

there's no evidence that there's anything better about it. you make up your facts about "poison" (the devil) and you won't listen to reason.

it's religion. have fun with your e-coli.

if you've ever eaten a banana, a potato or a carrot, you've eaten genetically modified food, sorry.

I'm a farmer and have worked for Organic farmers before. First of all the most important thing is a well balanced diet and daily exercise.

There are several insects and plant pathogens out in organic crops, and how do you know those insects and pathogens are not harmful to you?

With the rate that the world is growing, how is the world going to be fed?

How is it Organic if its packaged in plastic?

And last, I thank you for what you do for a living and I hope you do the same to others

Farmer RJ

Organic food is NOT food that is grown without pesticides. Often, they use even more pesticide than conventional growers. The large organic growers use so called "all natural" pesticides. Keep in mind, "all natural" does not equal "non-toxic." Organic is also NOT better for the environment. Organic producers grow less food on more land. How is slashing down forests to make room for farms better for the environment? For more info go here:
And for those of you who are against genetically modified food, learn a little about what it is before you denounce something that keeping millions of people from starving:

Those of you saying that the report is false or propaganda by the big conventional food growers because "organic is threatening the conventional food industry, etc" should know something: most organic food is produced by the same companies that grow conventional crops.

For more information on the debate, including the "defense" of this study read this article:

It's not about health. It's about having food that doesn't taste metallic all the time.

It is a really helpful information about organic foods. I live in a village which is a small and and isolated place.
We are 120 km far from the nearest city and as a result we produce our own food. While doing that we use extreme caution
of our food to be organic so every information about organic is very important for me, thanks to the authors here.I also
found another useful guide for organic food and also so many other things about agriculturing, i recommend this
site to everyone who wants to learn useful informations.



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