EATING organic food does not provide any significant nutritional or health benefits, finds a study published yesterday.
An independent review commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has found there is no important difference between organic and conventionally-produced food from a health perspective.
The "green" shopping market has grown markedly over the past decade to become the third largest in Europe, with supermarkets offering organic options on a vast array of items.
In 2007, total sales of organic products were worth 1.9 billion – an increase of almost 20 per cent on 2006.
But the conclusion that organic food may not have the claimed health benefits was reached after a team of researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) reviewed all papers published over the past 50 years relating to nutrient and health differences between the two kinds of produce.
The paper reporting the results of the review of nutritional differences – published yesterday by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Principal author Dr Alan Dangour, from the LSHTM's nutrition and public health intervention research unit, said: "A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally-produced crops and livestock, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance.
"Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally-produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority."
Gill Fine, FSA director of consumer choice and dietary health, said: "Ensuring people have accurate information is essential in allowing us all to make informed choices about the food we eat. This study does not mean that people should not eat organic food. What it shows is that there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally-produced food and there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food."
Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said the review rejected almost all existing studies comparing organic and non-organic nutritional differences because they did not meet criteria fixed by the LSHTM.
"The LSHTM study was focused on nutrition, but we also point out that with organic food people know where their food has come from and how it is grown.
"We encourage people to connect with local producers and get involved with box schemes and farmers' markets," he said.
Sarah Anderson, press and parliamentary affairs manager for NFU Scotland, said: "Some farmers have seen the benefits of organic, while others have seen the premium on organic produce eroded and either not converted or have switched back to conventional production."