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Research points to nutritional benefits from organic food

Early results of EU-funded research have indicated that organic fruit and vegetables contain 40% more antioxidants (believed to cut the risk of heart disease and cancer) compared to non-organic foodstuffs. There were also higher levels of other beneficial minerals such as iron and zinc in organic food. Levels of antioxidants in milk from organic herds were up to 90% higher than in milk from conventional herds.

The study, involving 33 academic centres across Europe and led by Newcastle University, is the largest of its kind and has been carried out for four years already. Researchers grew fruit and vegetables and reared cattle on adjacent organic and non-organic sites on a 725-acre farm attached to Newcastle University, and at other sites in Europe.

While there are significant variations in the results, with some conventional crops having larger quantities of some vitamins than organic crops, the overall trend is that organic fruit, vegetables and milk are more likely to have beneficial compounds. A next step in the research is to identify the agricultural practices responsible for this trend.

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Third World Network
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Item 1

EU-funded Quality Low Input Food project indicates significant nutritional benefits from organic food

* To view the full press release, including appendices, please see http://www.soilassociation.org/web/sa/saweb.nsf/0/536379ea38eaf4ca802573830061ac90?

PRESS RELEASE 10/29/2007 (version 1)

Early results of the £12 million 4-year Quality Low Input Food (QLIF) study indicate organic fruit and vegetables contain 40% more antioxidants (believed to cut the risk of heart disease and cancer) in organic produce compared to non-organic foodstuffs. There were also higher levels of other beneficial minerals such as iron and zinc. [1]

These latest findings underpin the founding philosophy and practices of the organic movement, which seeks to build positive health in the crops and livestock raised through organic farming – and thus of people eating that produce. [2] They reinforce the growing body of scientific evidence that indicates significant positive nutritional differences in organic food compared to non-organic food.

Patrick Holden, Soil Association director said,

"For the past 60 years, the Soil Association has sought on the basis of practical observation, underpinned where available by sound science, to show the benefits of sustainable, organic farming to the health of people and planet. On a far larger-scale, with much greater resources and more precise, modern analytical methods, this EU-funded project builds on what our founder Lady Eve Balfour sought to do on just 200-acres and with a shoe-string budget back in 1939.

The proponents of industrial, chemical-intensive agriculture dismissed her theories and findings then on the basis of the limited scale and location of the experiment. But today’s growing body of evidence backing her instincts and practical observations comes from dozens of independent scientists from around the world – the early results of the work from the QualityLowInputFood project add to that wider body of work.

The Soil Association agrees with Professor Leifert, co-ordinator of the project, ‘There is enough evidence now that the level of good things is higher in organics.’ [3]. Therefore, we challenge the FSA to now recognise and publicly acknowledge the nutritional benefits of organic food produced through well-managed organic farming systems.

The Food Standards Agency has been reluctant to date to reflect the available science in its public statements about organic food and farming. In 2000, the FSA’s former chair, Sir John Krebs was quoted on the BBC Countryfile programme questioning the value for money of organic food for consumers, They’re not getting value for money, in my opinion and in the opinion of the FSA if they think they’re buying food with extra nutritional quality or extra safety.’

The Soil Association challenged Krebs’ and the FSA’s stance and in 2004 won a major retraction when the FSA’s own review reported that ‘the vast majority’ of people consulted felt the Agency had ‘deviated from its normal stance of making statements based solely on scientific evidence’ when ‘speaking against organic food and for GM food.’

Growing body of evidence shows nutritional benefits of organic food

When it comes to human health benefits, whilst the Soil Association recognises there are many factors to take into account, there is nonetheless a significant body of scientific evidence indicating higher nutritional values in organic, compared to non-organic food. In 2001, a review of over 400 scientific papers by an independent nutritionist, published by the Soil Association found indicative evidence of nutritional differences between organic and non-organic food – including higher levels of Vitamin C, minerals and trace elements. [4]

These findings can be considered in the general context of the decline of key minerals found in UK produce as shown from long-term government studies. For example, the annual analysis carried out over 50 years by Defra’s predecessor, MAFF, revealed a 12 - 76% decline in the trace mineral content of UK grown fruit and vegetables between 1940 and 1991. [5]

In Spring 2007, 3 independent EU studies showed higher nutritional values:

In March 2007, three new independent European research projects were published that revealed that organic tomatoes, peaches and processed apples all had higher nutritional quality than non-organic, supporting the results of research from America on kiwi fruit reported on just days earlier (26 March 2007). [6]

The US research by Dr Maria Amodio and Dr Adel Kader, from the University of California Davies discovered that organically grown kiwis had significantly higher levels of vitamin C and polyphenols. The researchers said: 'All the main mineral constituents were more concentrated in the organic kiwi fruit, which also had higher asorbic acid (vitamin C) and total polyphenol content, resulting in higher antioxidant activity. It is possible that conventional growing practices utilise levels of pesticides that can result in a disruption to phenolic metabolites in the plant that have a protective role in plant defence mechanisms.'

The EU researchers found organic tomatoes 'contained more dry matter, total and reducing sugars, vitamin C, B-carotene and flavonoids in comparison to the conventional ones', while conventional tomatoes in this study were richer in lycopene and organic acids. Previous research had also found organic tomatoes have higher levels of vitamin C, vitamin A and lycopene. In the more recent research, the scientists conclude 'organic cherry and standard tomatoes can be recommended as part of a healthy diet including plant products which have shown to be of value in cancer prevention.'

The EU researchers found that organic peaches 'have a higher polyphenol content at harvest' and concluded that organic production has 'positive effects ... on nutritional quality and taste'. Organic apple puree was found to contain 'more bio-active substances - total phenols, flavonoids and vitamin C - in comparison to conventional apple preserves' and the researchers conclude 'organic apple preserves can be recommended as valuable fruit products, which can contribute to a healthy diet'.

In 2006, the Journal of Dairy Science published the results of a three-year study showing a direct link between the whole organic farming system and higher levels of Omega 3 fatty acids in organic milk. The study by the Universities of Liverpool and Glasgow, was the first to consider a cross-section of UK farms over a 12-month production cycle. According to the research, a pint of organic milk contains on average 68.2% more total Omega 3 fatty acids than non-organic milk and has a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids, believed to be beneficial to human health. [7]

This confirms the findings of earlier research conducted by the University of Aberdeen and the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research which also found that organically reared cows, which eat high levels of fresh grass, clover pasture and grass clover silage, produced milk that contains higher levels of omega 3 essential fatty acids.

In total, five studies have now shown that organic milk has more beneficial levels of several nutrients than non-organic milk including omega-3 essential fatty acid, Vitamin E and beta-carotene.

New Scientist reported on published research from California that found organic tomato ketchup contains more of the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene than non-organic ketchup. [8]

Ends

For further information:

Emma Hockridge, campaigner T:0117 914 2433/07909 902946

Peter Melchett, policy director T:07740 951066

Robin Maynard, communications director T:0117 987 4607/07932 040452

Notes to Editors

1.QualityLowInputFood is an integrated project funded by the European Commission. Professor Carlo Leifert of Newcastle University is the project leader.

The project aims to improve quality, safety and reduction of cost in the EU organic and “low input” food supply chains. Integrated projects are designed to generate the knowledge required to implement the priority themes of the European Union's Sixth Framework Programme of Research and Technological Development. These projects integrate the critical mass of activities and resources needed to achieve ambitious and clearly defined scientific and technological objectives.

More details are available at: http://www.qlif.org/about/index.html

2.Haughley Experiment, 1939-69. The Soil Association’s founder, Lady Eve Balfour conducted a 30-year trial on her farm in Suffolk comparing organic to non-organic methods with the aim of understanding and demonstrating beneficial differences.

Lady Eve and the other founders of the Soil Association (1946) were concerned at the general industrialisation of agriculture, particularly its increased use of agrochemicals and the potential negative impacts on human health. They believed that the foundations of a healthy diet are laid back at the farm, in the health of the crops and livestock, and fundamentally in the health of the soil upon which they are raised. Alerting people to this vital connection was Lady Eve’s driving mission, ‘"My subject is food, which concerns everyone; it is health, which concerns everyone: it is the soil, which concerns everyone – even if they do not realise it…"

The thirty year study based on land farmed by Lady Eve at Haughley in Suffolk, showed, for example that " organically grown crops make better utilisation of their soil environment" and "that these and other results of the fundamental research at Haughley are scientifically important for the future. If they are seriously considered and widely applied, they may change the course of agriculture and benefit the health of mankind…"

Extracts from The Living Soil and The Haughley Experiment, republished 1976

E.B Balfour, ISBN 087663269X

3. S.Times, 27/10/07. ‘Official: organic really is better’

4. Organic farming, food quality and human health, A review of the evidence. Soil Association, 2000 ISBN 0 905200 80 2

5. McCance & Widdowson 1940 –91, The Composition of Foods, 1st to 5th editions, published by MAFF/RSC. Also Mayer AM, 1997, ‘Historical changes in the mineral contents of fruit and vegetables cited in Agricultural production and nutrition, Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Boston, MA, Lockeretz W (ed).

6. EU studies show higher nutritional values All 3 studies were published on this webpage: http://orgprints.org/view/projects/int_conf_2007qlif_2_food_quality_and_safety.html

Hollmann, E, Rembialkowska, E; Comparison of the Nutrative Quality of Tomato Fruits from Organic and Conventional Production in Poland; Improving Sustainability in Organic and Low Input Food Production Systems; Proceedings of the 3rd International Congress of European Integrated Project Quality Low Input Food; March 2007; University of Hohenheim, Germany

Fauriel, J, Bellon, S, Plenet, D, Amiot, M-J; On-Farm Influence of Production Patterns on Total Polyphenol Content in Peach; Improving Sustainability in Organic and Low Input Food Production Systems; Proceedings of the 3rd International Congress of European Integrated Project Quality Low Input Food; March 2007; University of Hohenheim, Germany

Rembialkowska, E, Hollmann, E, Rusakzonek, A; Influencing a process on bio-actvie substances content and anti-oxidant properties of apple puree from organic and conventional production in poland; Improving Sustainability in Organic and Low Input Food Production Systems; Proceedings of the 3rd International Congress of European Integrated Project Quality Low Input Food; March 2007; University of Hohenheim, Germany

7. Ellis K, G Innocent, D Grove-White, P Cripps, W G McLean, C V Howard and M Mihm (2006) Comparing the Fatty Acid Composition of Organic and Conventional Milk. J. Dairy Sci., 89: 1938:1950

8. New Scientist, Organic ketchup protects against cancer, 9 January 2005 http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn6844.html

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Item 2

Official: organic really is better

Jon Ungoed-Thomas

The Sunday Times, October 28 2007

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/health/article2753446.ece

THE biggest study into organic food has found that it is more nutritious than ordinary produce and may help to lengthen people's lives.

The evidence from the GBP12m four-year project will end years of debate and is likely to overturn government advice that eating organic food is no more than a lifestyle choice.

The study found that organic fruit and vegetables contained as much as 40% more antioxidants, which scientists believe can cut the risk of cancer and heart disease, Britain's biggest killers. They also had higher levels of beneficial minerals such as iron and zinc.

Professor Carlo Leifert, the co-ordinator of the European Union-funded project, said the differences were so marked that organic produce would help to increase the nutrient intake of people not eating the recommended five portions a day of fruit and vegetables. "If you have just 20% more antioxidants and you can’t get your kids to do five a day, then you might just be okay with four a day," he said.

This weekend the Food Standards Agency confirmed that it was reviewing the evidence before deciding whether to change its advice. Ministers and the agency have said there are no significant differences between organic and ordinary produce.

Researchers grew fruit and vegetables and reared cattle on adjacent organic and non-organic sites on a 725-acre farm attached to Newcastle University, and at other sites in Europe. They found that levels of antioxidants in milk from organic herds were up to 90% higher than in milk from conventional herds.

As well as finding up to 40% more antioxidants in organic vegetables, they also found that organic tomatoes from Greece had significantly higher levels of antioxidants, including flavonoids thought to reduce coronary heart disease.

Leifert said the government was wrong about there being no difference between organic and conventional produce. "There is enough evidence now that the level of good things is higher in organics," he said.

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Item 3

Eat your words, all who scoff at organic food

Jon Ungoed-Thomas

The Sunday Times, October 28 2007

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/health/article2753546.ece

ITS unassuming location belies its importance. Sandwiched between Hadrian’s Wall and the busy A69 road to Newcastle upon Tyne is a 725-acre farm that will help to determine the nation’s future eating habits.

In a unique experiment, its rolling pastures and ploughed fields have been split into two so that conventional and organic produce can be grown side by side. It has enabled scientists to test the alternative foods rigorously and answer a question that most shoppers ask themselves on a regular basis: is buying organic better for you?

Findings from the GBP12m European Union-funded project, the biggest of its kind and the first to investigate systematically the physiology of produce from the different farming techniques, will be peer reviewed and published over the next 12 months.

But already one conclusion is clear: organically produced crops and dairy milk usually contain more "beneficial compounds" - such as vitamins and antioxidants believed to help to combat disease.

"We have a general trend in the data that says there are more good things in organic food," said Professor Carlo Leifert, leader of the QualityLowInput-Food (QLIF) project. "We are now trying to identify the agricultural practices that are responsible for this."

The research has shown up to 40% more beneficial compounds in vegetable crops and up to 90% more in milk. It has also found high levels of minerals such as iron and zinc in organic produce.

The findings from the farm, which is part of Newcastle University, appear to conflict with the official government advice that buying organic food is a lifestyle choice and there is no clear evidence that it is "more nutritious than other food".

The new research comes after a seven-year stand-off between the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the organic sector over the nutritional benefits of organic food. Lord Krebs, the FSA's first chairman, even said that organic food may not be good value for consumers.

The organic market has boomed in recent years, growing by 25% annually on average, and is now worth nearly GBP2 billion a year. Organic produce is typically about 30% more expensive, although for products such as cherry tomatoes and carrots it is almost double the price. Supermarket organic milk is 18% more expensive.

The FSA has recently offered a more conciliatory approach to organic groups such as the Soil Association. One internal e-mail, sent on August 1, 2006 and obtained under freedom of information laws, states: "[There is] a perception among a range of stakeholders that the agency is antiorganic. Part of the action to address this is to change the tone of our statements."

However, the agency has not changed its scientific advice. As David Miliband, then the environment secretary, told The Sunday Times last January: "It's a lifestyle choice that people can make. There isn’t any conclusive evidence either way."

However, the evidence of the nutritional differences has been mounting. Last summer a 10-year study by the University of California comparing organic tomatoes with those grown conventionally found double the level of flavonoids - a type of antioxidant thought to reduce the risk of heart disease. Other studies show milk having higher levels of omega3 fatty acids, thought to boost health.

Over the past four years, the QLIF project, involving 33 academic centres across Europe and led by Newcastle University, has analysed the 725-acre farm's produce for compounds believed to boost health and combat disease.

Like other studies, the results show significant variations, with some conventional crops having larger quantities of some vitamins than organic crops. But researchers confirm that the overall trend is that organic fruit, vegetables and milk are more likely to have beneficial compounds. According to Leifert, the compounds which have been found in greater quantities in organic produce include vitamin C, trace elements such as iron, copper and zinc, and secondary metabolites which are thought to help to combat cancer and heart disease.

Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, said the research could help to contribute to a "seismic" change in the food industry: "If you know there are significant nutritional differences in these foods, any sensible citizen would conclude it must have health implications."

Andrew Wadge, the FSA's chief scientist, said the agency had ordered a review of evidence on the nutritional content of organic and conventional produce. He said that even if the review found significant differences, the government would still need to assess any possible impact on health.

He added that the debate over the relative benefits of organic food should not blur the key message on diet and health. "The organic brand has been hugely successful," he said. "But the most important issue is not whether people are eating organic or not, but whether they are eating a healthy balanced diet."

 


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