Organic food. It may cost more at the shopping till, but it delivers priceless benefits for biodiversity, animal welfare and rural economies, as well as reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Many people also believe, and there is some evidence to back this up, that food fertilised with compost instead of chemicals will be nutritionally superior.
It’s a debate that has been raging for decades, but the lack of scientific research has made claims by either side difficult to back up.
Until now, that is.
A review of scientific papers published last week by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine which concluded: “…there are no important differences in the nutrition content, or any additional health benefits, of organic food when compared with conventionally produced food.”
But that’s not the end of the story. The study, commissioned by the UK’s Food Standards Agency (an independent government department) came under fire from the organic movement for excluding 109 of the 164 published studies from their analysis. The review also ignored findings from a recent European Union-funded study involving 31 research and university institutes and the publication, so far, of more than 100 scientific papers, at a cost of 18million Euros.
The Soil Association’s policy director, Peter Melchett (you can find a street in Tel Aviv named after his great-grandfather), said:
“We are disappointed in the conclusions the researchers have reached. The review rejected almost all of the existing studies of comparisons between organic and non-organic nutritional differences. Although the researchers say that the differences between organic and non-organic food are not ‘important’, due to the relatively few studies, they report in their analysis that there are higher levels of beneficial nutrients in organic compared to non-organic foods.”
Some say that the FSA-backed came as no surprise, given the Agency’s pro-GM stance and history of hostility towards organic food. While the nutrition debate is set to rage on, organic agriculture remains the greenest way of feeding the planet – and not least the Middle East!
Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt.