Organic food is no more healthy or nutritious than other food
Organic food is no more healthy or nutritious than other food, watchdogs declared yesterday.
The Food Standards Agency's ruling, which follows the world's largest study into the subject, will be a huge blow to the booming organics business.
It will also dismay the millions of Britons who spend more than £2billion a year on fruit, vegetables, eggs and meats produced without the aid of pesticides, artificial fertilisers and intensive farming techniques.
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They pay up to 10p a pint more for organic milk, while organically reared chickens can cost nearly three times as much as those from battery farms.
The analysis of 50 years of research into organic food was quickly rejected by the Soil Association, Britain's biggest certifier of organic foodstuffs.
Critics pointed out that the study ignored possible side-effects from pesticides and that organic farming may be better for the welfare of livestock.
But other bodies, including the British Nutrition Foundation, have long held the view organic products are no better for us than other foods.
Earlier this year, Delia Smith supported the sale of battery chickens and challenged the fashion for organic food.
She said that access to cheap chicken was crucial for poor families and pensioners and the taste of a product mattered more than its green credentials.
The latest study was carried out for the FSA by researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
In the most comprehensive analysis of its kind, they trawled through more than 50,000 studies on the nutritional value of foods published since 1958.
Fifty-five met the researchers' criteria and were used in the comparison.
The work clearly showed organically and conventionally-produced foods to be comparable in their nutritional intake, including in vitamin C, calcium, iron and fatty acids.
It did find conventionally-produced fruit and veg had more nitrogen, while their organic counterparts had more phosphorus.
A similar pattern was found when comparing meat, eggs and dairy products. But the researchers said the differences were small and unimportant.
Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, said the conclusions were disappointing
Dr Alan Dangour, a public health nutritionist and leading researcher, said: 'The shift in demand among consumers from conventionally to organically produced foodstuffs appears to have arisen at least in part from a belief that organically produced foodstuffs are healthier and have a superior nutrient profile.
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 significance.
'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.'
s director of consumer choice and dietary health, said: 'Ensuring people have accurate information is absolutely 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 that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food.'
She said that many buy organic for reasons of taste or animal welfare but added: 'If people are buying organic on the basis it is going to be better for them nutritionally, that is not the case.'
The Soil Association argued the strict criteria set by the researchers meant they had disregarded the findings of many important studies.
Peter Melchett, the organisation's policy director, said: '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.'
But the British Nutrition Foundation said the research confirms its advice that 'organic food offers no benefits over conventionally produced food in terms of nutrition'.