Early results of the £12 million 4-year Quality Low Input Food (QLIF) study indicate organic fruit and vegetables contain 40% more antioxidants (believed to cut the risk of heart disease and cancer) in organic produce compared to non-organic foodstuffs. There were also higher levels of other beneficial minerals such as iron and zinc.
These latest findings underpin the founding philosophy and practices of the organic movement, which seeks to build positive health in the crops and livestock raised through organic farming - and thus of people eating that produce. They reinforce the growing body of scientific evidence that indicates significant positive nutritional differences in organic food compared to non-organic food.
Patrick Holden, Soil Association director said, "For the past 60 years, the Soil Association has sought on the basis of practical observation, underpinned where available by sound science, to show the benefits of sustainable, organic farming to the health of people and planet. On a far larger-scale, with much greater resources and more precise, modern analytical methods, this EU-funded project builds on what our founder Lady Eve Balfour sought to do on just 200-acres and with a shoe-string budget back in 1939.
The proponents of industrial, chemical-intensive agriculture dismissed her theories and findings then on the basis of the limited scale and location of the experiment. But today's growing body of evidence backing her instincts and practical observations comes from dozens of independent scientists from around the world - the early results of the work from the Quality Low Input Food project add to that wider body of work.
The Soil Association agrees with Professor Leifert, co-ordinator of the project, 'There is enough evidence now that the level of good things is higher in organics.' Therefore, we challenge the FSA to now recognise and publicly acknowledge the nutritional benefits of organic food produced."
In 2000, the FSA's former chair, Sir John Krebs was quoted on the BBC, questioning the value for money of organic food for consumers, "They're not getting value for money, in my opinion and in the opinion of the FSA if they think they're buying food with extra nutritional quality or extra safety."
The Soil Association challenged Krebs' and the FSA's stance and in 2004 won a major retraction when the FSA's own review reported that 'the vast majority' of people consulted felt the Agency had 'deviated from its normal stance of making statements based solely on scientific evidence' when 'speaking against organic food and for GM food.'
Growing body of evidence shows nutritional benefits of organic food
In Spring 2007, three independent EU studies showed higher nutritional values:
In March 2007, three new independent European research projects were published that revealed that organic tomatoes, peaches and processed apples all had higher nutritional quality.
The US research by Dr Maria Amodio and Dr Adel Kader, from the University of California Davies discovered that organically grown kiwis had significantly higher levels of vitamin C and polyphenols. It is possible that conventional growing practices utilise levels of pesticides that can result in a disruption to phenolic metabolites in the plant that have a protective role in plant defence mechanisms.'
The EU researchers found organic tomatoes 'contained more dry matter, total and reducing sugars, vitamin C, B-carotene and flavonoids in comparison to the conventional ones', while conventional tomatoes in this study were richer in lycopene and organic acids. Previous research had also found organic tomatoes have higher levels of vitamin C, vitamin A and lycopene. In the more recent research, the scientists conclude 'organic cherry and standard tomatoes can be recommended as part of a healthy diet including plant products which have shown to be of value in cancer prevention.' The EU researchers found that organic peaches 'have a higher polyphenol content at harvest' and concluded that organic production has 'positive effects ... on nutritional quality and taste'. Organic apple puree was found to contain 'more bio-active substances - total phenols, flavonoids and vitamin C - in comparison to conventional apple preserves' and the researchers conclude 'organic apple preserves can be recommended as valuable fruit products, which can contribute to a healthy diet'. The study by the Universities of Liverpool and Glasgow, was the first to consider a cross-section of UK farms over a 12-month production cycle. According to the research, a pint of organic milk contains on average 68.2% more total Omega 3 fatty acids than non-organic milk and has a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids, believed to be beneficial to human health.
This confirms the findings of earlier research conducted by the University of Aberdeen and the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research which also found that organically reared cows, which eat high levels of fresh grass, clover pasture and grass clover silage, produced milk that contains higher levels of omega 3 essential fatty acids.
New Scientist reported on published research from California that found organic tomato ketchup contains more of the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene than non-organic ketchup.