Organic food bites back

by SEAN POULTER, Daily Mail

Organic food is genuinely healthier and may even help in the fight against cancer, according to a review of scientific research.

The claim is being made by the Soil Association, which sets industry standards and is fighting back against what it sees as recent negative publicity.

The chairman of the Food Standards Agency, Sir John Krebs, insisted that organic produce is poor value and claimed there is no evidence that is any healthier.

Additionally, recent rulings by the Advertising Standards Authority have challenged claims about natural production which are at the cornerstone of organic agriculture.

Yesterday, the Soil Association, which has the backing of Prince Charles and a growing band of consumers, insisted that there is scientific backing for the health and environmental benefits.

It examined more than 400 published papers comparing organic and non-organic foods and their performance in areas such as food safety, nutrition and health effects.

The report, Organic Farming, Food Quality and Human Health, says that while more studies are needed, the benefits of organic produce include improved levels of minerals and vitamin C, plus reduced exposure to potentially harmful pesticide residues and food additives.

Association director Patrick Holden said: 'This report contradicts Sir John Krebs, head of the Food Standards Agency, who said last year that there was not enough information available to be able to say that organic food is nutritionally different from non-organic food.

'On average we found that organic crops are not only higher in vitamin C and essential minerals, but also higher in phytonutrients - compounds which protect plants from pests and disease and are beneficial in the treatment of cancer.

'These findings, coupled with concerns linked to pesticides, antibiotics, GMOs, nitrates and additives in non-organic foods, suggests increased government support for organic production could have significant health benefits in addition to the environmental benefits already proven.'

Nutritionist Shane Heaton, who researched the report, said: 'Official data show an alarming decline in mineral levels in fruit and vegetables over the past half century.

'Even though the typical western diet is more varied than ever before, nutrient deficiencies are common and human health is declining as a result.

'My analysis suggests that farming methods can make a significant difference to levels of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.'

The attempt to protect the image of organic farming comes as the Government launches a review which could revolutionise agriculture in Britain with a move away from industrial techniques and heavy use of chemicals.

Despite the powerful claims, the FSA said the study did not change its view about organic food.

A spokesman said: 'Taken overall, it does not, in our view, make a convincing case that there is any significant difference between organic and conventionally produced food.'

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