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Organic Foods: Not More Nutritious?

Study Says Organic Foods No More Nutritious, but Others Disagree
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July 30, 2009 -- Organically grown food is no more nutritious than conventionally grown food when it comes to the amount of certain important nutrients, according to a new review of published studies.

"We wanted to answer the question, 'Is there any evidence that organic food is nutritionally superior to conventionally grown food?'" says the study's lead author, Alan D. Dangour, PhD, a public health nutritionist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. "The answer is no. Organic food is not nutritionally superior to conventional food."

The conclusions of the review, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, drew strong disagreement from U.S.-based food researchers.

The global market for organic foods is estimated to be about $48 billion annually, according to the London researchers. Organic foods are produced under standards that control the use of chemicals in crop production and medicine in animal production, among other regulations.

Organic vs. Conventional Foods: Review

Dangour and his colleagues searched for studies comparing organic and conventionally grown food from January 1958 to February 2008.

They found 55 studies of satisfactory quality to include in their review and evaluated several nutrient categories, including: 

•         Nitrogen

•         Vitamin C

•         Phenolic compounds (also called polyphenols)

•         Magnesium

•         Calcium

•         Phosphorous

•         Potassium

•         Zinc

•         Total soluble solids

•         Copper

•         Acidity content

They found that conventionally produced crops had a higher content of nitrogen, while organically produced crops had higher phosphorous and acidity content.  No difference was detected for the other crop nutrient categories analyzed. When they looked only at animal-source foods, the researchers found no difference in nutrient content.

The review, funded by the U.K. Food Standards Agency, didn't look at differences in pesticide residues between the two growing methods.

Organic vs. Conventional: Other Views

Officials from the U.S. organic food industry, not surprisingly, took strong exception to the review, as did some other experts.

''Our stand is it's beyond scientific doubt that that organic foods are higher in vitamins and important trace minerals and there are far fewer toxic residues in them," says Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organ Consumers' Association. "And that's the reason that millions of American consumers are paying a premium price for organic production."

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