European researchers have taken the organic taste test to an unbiased group—rats—and come out with two rodent thumbs up. Swiss and Austrian scientists analyzed a 21-year field experiment comparing wheat quality in organic and conventional farming. Though nutrient values and baking characteristics were similar in the two groups, organic wheat won out in a rodent taste test.
The rats were given a choice between feed made from conventional and organic wheat harvested in 1995 and 2001. The two different feed biscuits were offered for four or five consecutive days, and the leftovers of each type of feed were weighed to determine the quantity consumed. In both tests, the rats significantly preferred organic over conventional.
"What reason the rats have for preferring [organically produced wheat] over wheat from [conventional farming] has not been established," wrote the researchers in the August issue of Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. "It is known, however, that feeding behavior is influenced by smell, taste, feed texture, metabolic comfort and negative experiences such as poisons and feed shortage."
The researchers pointed to other published studies that have shown a similar preference among test animals, including rats, rabbits and chickens, for organically grown products. "These results clearly indicate that animals can discriminate between organic and conventional food and usually prefer the organic foodstuff," they wrote.
The study concluded that high quality wheat can be produced using organic farming methods.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 11/p.11