Is organic food healthier for you and worth the higher price tag?
Even if organic isn’t healthier, it is still tastier in some people’s eyes
It comes at a premium price, but it seems organic food may not be worth shelling out for.
Many people pay as much as a third more for organic food in the belief that it is healthier and safer. However, Dr Dena Bravata and colleagues from Stanford University Medical Centre, California, found no clear evidence of any significant added health benefits.
They also found that there was no guarantee organic food would be pesticide-free – a key attraction for many consumers – though it did have lower levels.
Senior author Dr Bravata said: ‘There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health.’
The results, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal, come from the biggest review yet of existing studies comparing the two types of food. However, UK campaigners said the survey was not equipped to detect real differences.
Researchers sifted through thousands of papers looking into the health benefits of organic food.
The review included studies of people with organic and conventional diets, as well as research into nutrient levels, bacterial, fungal or pesticide contamination.
Researchers found no consistent differences in the vitamin content of various foods. They also found no difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk.
They were also unable to identify specific fruits and vegetables for which organic appeared consistently to be the healthier choice.
Certain organic foods produce higher greenhouse gas emissions than their conventional farmed counterparts
Co-researcher Crystal Smith- Spangler, who is also an instructor of medicine at Stanford’s School of Medicine, said: ‘Some believe that organic food is always healthier and more nutritious. We were a little surprised that we didn’t find that.’
The researchers did find organic produce was 30 per cent less likely to be contaminated with pesticides than conventional fruit and vegetables, but not guaranteed to be pesticide-free, while pesticide levels of all foods came within the allowable safety limits.
Two studies of children found lower levels of pesticide residues in the urine of those on organic diets, though for all those studied the levels were below allowable safety thresholds.
A spokesman for the Soil Association said: ‘This US study, of limited application in Europe, found organic food helps people avoid pesticides in their food.
“However, the scientific methodology used for the review, while suitable for comparing trials of medicines, is not right for comparing different crops.’
Organic farming may not be better for the environment, according to Oxford University scientists.
They found organic milk, cereals, and pork all generated higher greenhouse gas emissions than their conventionally farmed counterparts. Organic beef and olives produced lower emissions.