A large scale study has found that food grown organically is better for you then food grown using conventional intensive farming methods.
The Quality Low Input Food (QLIF) study which lasted four years was funded by the European Union at a cost of approximately £12m (US $24m). Researchers led by a team at Newcastle University in the UK found that organic foods were much higher in antioxidants and lower in so called 'bad fats'.
During the study researchers grew fruit and vegetables, grains, and reared cattle on pairs of organic and non-organic sites across Europe. These sites included a 725-acre Newcastle University site located at Nafferton Farm, Northumberland.
Crops grown included cabbages, lettuces, carrots, potatoes and wheat. The organic and non-organic produce was then compared with nutrient content being a key target.
It was found that levels of antioxidants in milk from organically reared cattle were between 50% and 80% higher than normal milk.
After comparing crops, organic wheat, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, onions and lettuce contained up to 40% more antioxidants.
Antioxidants are vitally important to health as they protect the body from damaging moleucles called 'free radicals'. They are known to offer protection against serious degenerative conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Antioxidants may delay the signs of aging such as wrinkles and age spots.
The lead researcher Prof Carlo Leifert described the health benefits as so striking that simply switching to organic food was the equivalent of eating an extra portion of fruit and vegetables every day.
Prof Leifert and his team hope that the results of their study, easily the largest of most comprehensive of its kind to date, will help encourage the UK Government to recommend organic produce to the public. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has so far maintained that organic foods are no healthier than ordinary produce and that choosing them is merely a "lifestyle choice".
A Soil Association spokesman said that the FSA had always been unduly sceptical of organic foods and that they should update their guidelines following the results of this study.
The researchers are still finalising the study results and they are expected to be officially published in a peer-reviewed journal over the next 12 months.
The study provides compelling evidence for consumers to choose organic over regular food. There are other factors however that this study did not take into account that also influence many to choose organic.
Meat and dairy products often cause concern due to the use of growth promoting drugs such as antibiotics and growth hormones. With regard to fruits and vegetables the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers on regular produce is a concern to many. Large numbers of these chemicals are known to be carcinogenic and hormone disruptive. Just last week Environmental Health Perspectives published a study showing higher rates of autism in areas close to pesticide spraying in California.
It is hoped that future studies will take a comprehensive look at the benefits of organic produce and include these factors along with nutritional value.
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