Fruits and vegetables from farms that use organic methods are safer and better for you than their conventional counterparts, according to a report from the U.K.-based Soil Association.
The document, "Organic Farming, Food Quality and Human Health," called for more research but concluded that consumers who wish to improve intake of vitamin C, essential minerals and phytonutrients, while decreasing exposure to potentially harmful pesticide residues, nitrates, GMOs and artificial additives used in food processing, should choose organic instead of conventional.
"My analysis suggests that farming methods can make a significant difference to levels of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients," said Nutritionist Shane Heaton, of the London-based Institute for Optimum Nutrition, who examined more than 400 published papers to compile this report. He called for focused research on the subject.
Katherine DiMatteo, president of the Organic Trade Association in Greenfield, Mass., was excited to see the report and also called on the U.S. government to fund research into claims based on the report. "We need more studies that aren't limited in scope, ones that will allow strong claims to be made," she said.
Organics aside, the most alarming aspect of the research, according to Heaton, was the evidence that showed declining nutrient content in conventionally grown produce. "Official data show an alarming decline in mineral levels in fruit and vegetables over the past half-century," he said. "Even though the typical Western diet is more varied now than ever before, nutrient deficiencies are common and human health is declining as a result."
Soil Association Director Patrick Holden said that, in light of the public health implications of the report, government officials should look to organic foods to help turn the tide of waning nutrition. "These findings, coupled with health concerns linked to pesticides, antibiotics, GMOs, nitrate and additives occurring in nonorganic foods, suggests increased government support for organic production could have significant health benefits in addition to the environmental benefits already proven."
These findings directly challenge the position of the U.K. Food Standards Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Both agencies hold that insufficient evidence exists to conclude that organic foods have different nutritional profiles than nonorganic ones.
A spokeswoman for the FSA told the Belfast News, "Taken overall, [the report] does not, in our view, make a convincing case that there is any significant difference between organic and conventionally produced food. Clearly further research is necessary."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXII/number 9/p. 1