Soil Association response to the Food Standards Agency's Organic Review

29 July 2009

Responding to today’s review on organic food commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Peter Melchett, Policy Director at the Soil Association commented:
“We are disappointed in the conclusions the researchers have reached. The review rejected almost all of the existing studies of comparisons between organic and non-organic nutritional differences. This was because these studies did not meet particular criteria fixed by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which carried out the review.

“Although the researchers say that the differences between organic and non-organic food are not ‘important’, due to the relatively few studies, they report in their analysis that there are higher levels of beneficial nutrients in organic compared to non-organic foods. For example, the mean positive difference between the following nutrients, when comparing organic to non-organic food, was found in the FSA study to be:

– Protein 12.7%
– Beta-carotene 53.6%
– Flavonoids 38.4%
– Copper 8.3%
– Magnesium 7.1%
– Phosphorous 6%
– Potassium 2.5%
– Sodium 8.7%
– Sulphur 10.5%
– Zinc 11.3%
– Phenolic compounds 13.2%

The researchers also found higher levels of beneficial polyunsaturated fatty acids in organic meat and dairy products (between 2.1% – 27.8% higher) compared to non-organic meat and dairy.
The Soil Association is also disappointed that the FSA failed to include the results of a major European Union-funded study involving 31 research and university institutes and the publication, so far, of more than 100 scientific papers, at a cost of 18million Euros, which ended in April this year.

The European Union research programme concluded that:

  • ‘Levels of a range of nutritionally desirable compounds (e.g. antioxidants, vitamins, glycosinolates) were shown to be higher in organic crops’
  • ‘Levels of nutritionally undesirable compounds (e.g. mycotoxins, glycoalkaloids, Cadmium and Nickel) were shown to be lower in organic crops’.

In addition, levels of fatty acids, such as CLA and omega 3 were between 10 – 60% higher in organic milk and dairy products, and levels of Vitamin C were up to 90% higher in leafy vegetables and fruits.

There are limited studies available on the health benefits of organic versus non-organic food. Without large-scale, longitudinal research it is difficult to come to far-reaching clear conclusions on this, which was acknowledged by the authors of the FSA review.

Also, there is not sufficient research on the long-term effects of pesticides on human health.
In 2006 the European Commission said that “long-term exposure to pesticides can lead to serious disturbances to the immune system, sexual disorders, cancers, sterility, birth defects, damage to the nervous system and genetic damage.”

Organic farming and food systems are holistic, and are produced to work with nature rather than to rely on oil-based inputs such as fertilisers. Consumers who purchase organic products are not just buying food which has not been covered in pesticides (the average apple may be sprayed up to 16 times with as many as 30 different pesticides) they are supporting a system that has the highest welfare standards for animals, bans routine use of antibiotics and increases wildlife on farms.