FSA report on organic food misses the point

Date Published: 30/07/2009

The Food Standards Agency has released a report on organic food that will potentially confuse shoppers and could harm sales, according to leading control body Organic Farmers & Growers.

The document, which is a study of literature related to organics and nutrition over the past 50 years, concludes that there are no nutritional benefits to organic food.

However Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G) along with many other leaders in the sector, have said that this analysis is potentially flawed, misses the point of organic food and farming and ignores the impending results of the biggest study into the issue ever undertaken.

Richard Jacobs, chief executive of Shrewsbury-based OF&G, a government-approved body which inspects and licenses organic food and farming across the UK, said: “The organic sector doesn’t make any claims for the nutritional value of organic food exactly because the hard evidence does not yet exist in enough quantity. However, piece-by-piece respected scientists are learning more and I think that evidence will win through.

“The important thing about organic farming is that it produces food that puts animal welfare at its heart, does not rely on the regular use of chemicals on the soil or routine antibiotic use in animals and which has proven benefits for wildlife. That’s what shoppers are buying into when they pick up an organic product and they should feel good about continuing to do so. We support the advice the FSA gives on its own website that “eating organic food is one way to reduce consumption of pesticide residues and additives”.”

Confusingly, the study unveiled by the FSA, titled Comparison of composition (nutrients and other substances) of organically and conventionally produced
foodstuffs: a systematic review of the available literature
, does highlight improved levels of a number of beneficial nutrients in a variety of organic foodstuffs. However it then goes on to say that overall there are no demonstrable benefits.

The authors of the report do concede that more and better research is needed.

The biggest scientific study yet into organic food, the 18 million Euro, Europe-wide Quality Low Input Foods study, led by Professor Carlo Leifert, at Newcastle University, is expected to reveal convincing evidence of higher levels of nutritionally desirable compounds in organic food when it reports early next year, after five years of investigation.

Richard Jacobs added: “Organic farming is about so much more than nutrition, though when we are able to prove the nutritional benefits, so much the better. What is disappointing is that this report has generated many negative headlines and reports for organic food when, in actual fact, nothing is different since its publication. The authors themselves admit that the information they have worked with was hard to rely on and there are three pages listing studies they didn’t consider, which is worrying.

“We can only, once again, rely on the good judgement of those who buy organic food to see through the blunt headlines because they know what organics really stands for.”