Differences between organic and non-organic food
New findings – organic crops, such as fruit, vegetables and cereals, and crop-based foods are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants than non-organic crops. The findings shatter the myth that how we farm does not affect the quality of the food we eat.
A landmark paper to be published in the British Journal of Nutrition1 on Tuesday 15 July, concludes there are significant differences in the nutritional content of organic and non-organic crops. The study, the largest of its kind carried out by an international team of experts, led by Newcastle University is the most extensive analysis of the nutrient content in organic vs non-organically produced foods ever undertaken.
"...While 5-a-day should be the starting point for everyone, switching to food produced using organic standards can lead to increased intake of nutritionally desirable antioxidants, as well as a reduced intake of potentially harmful cadmium and pesticides."
Key findings by Newcastle University were:
- Farming method affects quality: The analysis is the most extensive and reliable to date and clearly supports the view that the quality of food is influenced by the way it is produced.
- More antioxidants: Organic crops (cereals, fruit and vegetables) have significantly higher concentrations of antioxidants/(poly)phenolics compared with non-organic produced counterparts. This includes more phenolics (19% higher), flavanones (69% higher), stilbenes (28% higher), flavones (26% higher), and flavonols (50% higher). A switch to consuming organic crops would allow a 20-40% increase in antioxidant/(poly)phenolics consumption without an increase in calorie intake.
- Fewer pesticides: The frequency of occurrence of detectable pesticide residues is four times higher in non-organic crops. Non-organic fruit had the highest pesticide frequency (75%), compared to non-organic vegetables (32%) and non-organic crop based processed foods (45%). By contrast pesticide residues were found in 10% of organic crop samples.
- Less cadmium: The analysis detected 48% lower concentrations of the toxic heavy metal cadmium in organic crops.
- Less nitrogen: Nitrogen concentrations - linked in some studies to an increased risk of certain cancers such as stomach cancer – were found to be significantly lower in organic crops.
"We know that people choose organic food because they believe it is better for them, as well as for wildlife, animal welfare and the environment, and this research backs up what people think about organic food," says Soil Association Chief Executive Helen Browning. “In other countries there has long been much higher levels of support and acceptance of the benefits of organic food and farming: we hope these findings will bring the UK in line with the rest of Europe, when it comes to both attitudes to organic food and support for organic farming.”
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1 Source Information: “Higher antioxidant concentrations and less cadmium and pesticide residues in organically-grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses.” Baranski, M. et al. British Journal of Nutrition, July 15th 2014.