Debate continues over nutritional differences

By COOKSON BEECHER

Capital Press

A new study from France concludes that in many important ways, organic foods are more nutritious and safer to eat than their conventional counterparts.

This flies in the face of a United Kingdom study published last month that concluded there was no significant nutritional difference between organic and other food.

The study is yet another salvo in the ongoing debate over the nutritional benefits of organic food compared with food raised using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Originally published in 2003, the review was updated using the findings of new studies.

Coordinated by author Denis Lairon of the University of Aix-Marseille, it was published in the journal "Agronomy for Sustainable Development."

In the report's conclusion, Lairon said the nutritional and toxicological data in the report should encourage a new trend.

"Indeed, I think that organic agricultural systems, recently recognized as highly efficient and sustainable ones, are now facing the challenge of turning from a 'niche' into a potential long-term worldwide impact," he wrote.

The report concluded:

* Organic plants tend to have more dry matter, more of some minerals such as iron and magnesium and more antioxidant micronutrients such as phenols and resveratrol, which help fight some diseases, including cancer.

* Organic vegetables contain about 50 percent lower nitrates. When consumed in food, nitrates easily transform into nitrites in the body, which can form powerful cancer-causing chemicals.

* Animal organic products have more polyunsaturated fatty acids. Scientists say that these fatty acids help prevent or control health problems such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, immune system deficiencies and obesity.

* The vast majority of organic food analyzed in the study -- 94 to 100 percent -- did not contain any pesticide residues.

* Organic cereals contain, overall, comparable levels of mycotoxins as conventional ones. Mycotoxins are toxic molecules synthesized by molds developing on plants. This issue was explored because organic production doesn't allow for the use of chemicals that can kill these toxic molds.

Barbara Haumann of the Organic Trade Association said it's exciting to see the confirmation of other studies that say organic food and organic practices have definite advantages.

"Even though nutritional information is difficult to assess, the evidence in favor of organic food is definitely mounting," she said.

Charles Benbrook, chief scientist with The Organic Center, a pro-organic organization that studies nutrition, said this "back-and-forth" over the nutritional benefits of organic food and farming has triggered a long-overdue discussion among farmers, scientists and agricultural leaders.

"I hope that one outcome will be the recognition that food quality matters, just as increasing crop yields matter," he said in an e-mail to Capital Press.

On the net:

To read the French report: swroc.cfans.umn.edu/organic/ASD_Lairon_2009.pdf

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