EU-funded Quality Low Input Food project indicates significant nutritional benefits from organic food

PRESS RELEASE 10/30/2007 (version 2)

Early results of the £12 million 4-year Quality Low Input Food (QLIF) study indicate organic fruit and vegetables contain 40% more antioxidants (believed to cut the risk of heart disease and cancer) in organic produce compared to non-organic foodstuffs. There were also higher levels of other beneficial minerals such as iron and zinc. [1]

These latest findings underpin the founding philosophy and practices of the organic movement, which seeks to build positive health in the crops and livestock raised through organic farming and thus of people eating that produce. [2] They reinforce the growing body of scientific evidence that indicates significant positive nutritional differences in organic food compared to non-organic food.

Patrick Holden, Soil Association director said,
"For the past 60 years, the Soil Association has sought on the basis of practical observation, underpinned where available by sound science, to show the benefits of sustainable, organic farming to the health of people and planet. On a far larger-scale, with much greater resources and more precise, modern analytical methods, this EU-funded project builds on what our founder Lady Eve Balfour sought to do on just 200-acres and with a shoe-string budget back in 1939.

The proponents of industrial, chemical-intensive agriculture dismissed her theories and findings then on the basis of the limited scale and location of the experiment. But today's growing body of evidence backing her instincts and practical observations comes from dozens of independent scientists from around the world the early results of the work from the QualityLowInputFood project add to that wider body of work.

The Soil Association agrees with Professor Leifert, co-ordinator of the project ,'There is enough evidence now that the level of good things is higher in organics.' [3]. Therefore, we challenge the FSA to now recognise and publicly acknowledge the nutritional benefits of organic food produced through well-managed organic farming systems."

The Food Standards Agency has been reluctant to date to reflect the available science in its public statements about organic food and farming. In 2000, the FSA's former chair, Sir John Krebs was quoted on the BBC Countryfile programme questioning the value for money of organic food for consumers,"They're not getting value for money, in my opinion and in the opinion of the FSA if they think they're buying food with extra nutritional quality or extra safety."

The Soil Association challenged Krebs' and the FSA's stance and in 2004 won a major retraction when the FSA's own review reported that the vast majority' of people consulted felt the Agency had deviated from its normal stance of making statements based solely on scientific evidence' when speaking against organic food and for GM food.'
(See attached Appendices for current FSA statements re: organic food)

Growing body of evidence shows nutritional benefits of organic food
When it comes to human health benefits, whilst the Soil Association recognises there are many factors to take into account, there is nonetheless a significant body of scientific evidence indicating higher nutritional values in organic, compared to non-organic food. In 2001, a review of over 400 scientific papers by an independent nutritionist, published by the Soil Association found indicative evidence of nutritional differences between organic and non-organic food including higher levels of Vitamin C, minerals and trace elements. [4]

These findings can be considered in the general context of the decline of key minerals found in UK produce as shown from long-term government studies. For example, the annual analysis carried out over 50 years by Defra's predecessor, MAFF, revealed a 12 - 76% decline in the trace mineral content of UK grown fruit and vegetables between 1940 and 1991. [5]

In Spring 2007, three independent EU studies showed higher nutritional values:

In March 2007, three new independent European research projects were published that revealed that organic tomatoes, peaches and processed apples all had higher nutritional quality than non-organic, supporting the results of research from America on kiwi fruit reported on just days earlier (26 March 2007). [6]

The US research by Dr Maria Amodio and Dr Adel Kader, from the University of California Davies discovered that organically grown kiwis had significantly higher levels of vitamin C and polyphenols. The researchers said: 'All the main mineral constituents were more concentrated in the organic kiwi fruit, which also had higher asorbic acid (vitamin C) and total polyphenol content, resulting in higher antioxidant activity. It is possible that conventional growing practices utilise levels of pesticides that can result in a disruption to phenolic metabolites in the plant that have a protective role in plant defence mechanisms.'

The EU researchers found organic tomatoes 'contained more dry matter, total and reducing sugars, vitamin C, B-carotene and flavonoids in comparison to the conventional ones', while conventional tomatoes in this study were richer in lycopene and organic acids. Previous research had also found organic tomatoes have higher levels of vitamin C, vitamin A and lycopene. In the more recent research, the scientists conclude 'organic cherry and standard tomatoes can be recommended as part of a healthy diet including plant products which have shown to be of value in cancer prevention.'

The EU researchers found that organic peaches 'have a higher polyphenol content at harvest' and concluded that organic production has 'positive effects ... on nutritional quality and taste'. Organic apple puree was found to contain 'more bio-active substances - total phenols, flavonoids and vitamin C - in comparison to conventional apple preserves' and the researchers conclude 'organic apple preserves can be recommended as valuable fruit products, which can contribute to a healthy diet'.

In 2006, the Journal of Dairy Science published the results of a three-year study showing a direct link between the whole organic farming system and higher levels of Omega 3 fatty acids in organic milk. The study by the Universities of Liverpool and Glasgow, was the first to consider a cross-section of UK farms over a 12-month production cycle. According to the research, a pint of organic milk contains on average 68.2% more total Omega 3 fatty acids than non-organic milk and has a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids, believed to be beneficial to human health. [7]

This confirms the findings of earlier research conducted by the University of Aberdeen and the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research which also found that organically reared cows, which eat high levels of fresh grass, clover pasture and grass clover silage, produced milk that contains higher levels of omega 3 essential fatty acids.

In total, five studies have now shown that organic milk has more beneficial levels of several nutrients than non-organic milk including omega-3 essential fatty acid, Vitamin E and beta-carotene.

New Scientist reported on published research from California that found organic tomato ketchup contains more of the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene than non-organic ketchup. [8]


For further information:

Emma Hockridge, campaigner T:0117 914 2433/07909 902946
Peter Melchett, policy director T:07740 951066
Robin Maynard, communications director T:0117 987 4607/07932 040452

Notes to Editors

1.QualityLowInputFood is an integrated project funded by the European Commission. Professor Carlo Leifert of Newcastle University is the project leader.
The project aims to improve quality, safety and reduction of cost in the EU organic and "low input". food supply chains. Integrated projects are designed to generate the knowledge required to implement the priority themes of the European Union's Sixth Framework Programme of Research and Technological Development. These projects integrate the critical mass of activities and resources needed to achieve ambitious and clearly defined scientific and technological objectives.
More details are available at:

2.Haughley Experiment, 1939-69. The Soil Association's founder, Lady Eve Balfour conducted a 30-year trial on her farm in Suffolk comparing organic to non-organic methods with the aim of understanding and demonstrating beneficial differences.
Lady Eve and the other founders of the Soil Association (1946) were concerned at the general industrialisation of agriculture, particularly its increased use of agrochemicals and the potential negative impacts on human health. They believed that the foundations of a healthy diet are laid back at the farm, in the health of the crops and livestock, and fundamentally in the health of the soil upon which they are raised. Alerting people to this vital connection was Lady Eve's driving mission, "y subject is food, which concerns everyone; it is health, which concerns everyone: it is the soil, which concerns everyone even if they do not realise it…"

The thirty year study based on land farmed by Lady Eve at Haughley in Suffolk, showed, for example that " organically grown crops make better utilisation of their soil environment" and "that these and other results of the fundamental research at Haughley are scientifically important for the future. If they are seriously considered and widely applied, they may change the course of agriculture and benefit the health of mankind…"
Extracts from The Living Soil and The Haughley Experiment, republished 1976
E.B Balfour, ISBN 087663269X

3. Sunday Times, 27/10/07. Official: organic really is better'

4. Organic farming, food quality and human health, A review of the evidence. Soil Association, 2000 ISBN 0 905200 80 2

5. McCance & Widdowson 1940 91, The Composition of Foods, 1st to 5th editions, published by MAFF/RSC. Also Mayer AM, 1997, Historical changes in the mineral contents of fruit and vegetables cited in Agricultural production and nutrition, Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Boston, MA, Lockeretz W (ed).

6. EU studies show higher nutritional values All three studies were published on this webpage:
Hollmann, E, Rembialkowska, E; Comparison of the Nutrative Quality of Tomato Fruits from Organic and Conventional Production in Poland; Improving Sustainability in Organic and Low Input Food Production Systems; Proceedings of the 3rd International Congress of European Integrated Project Quality Low Input Food; March 2007; University of Hohenheim, Germany

Fauriel, J, Bellon, S, Plenet, D, Amiot, M-J; On-Farm Influence of Production Patterns on Total Polyphenol Content in Peach; Improving Sustainability in Organic and Low Input Food Production Systems; Proceedings of the 3rd International Congress of European Integrated Project Quality Low Input Food; March 2007; University of Hohenheim, Germany

Rembialkowska, E, Hollmann, E, Rusakzonek, A; Influencing a process on bio-actvie substances content and anti-oxidant properties of apple puree from organic and conventional production in poland; Improving Sustainability in Organic and Low Input Food Production Systems; Proceedings of the 3rd International Congress of European Integrated Project Quality Low Input Food; March 2007; University of Hohenheim, Germany

7. Ellis K, G Innocent, D Grove-White, P Cripps, W G McLean, C V Howard and M Mihm (2006) Comparing the Fatty Acid Composition of Organic and Conventional Milk. J. Dairy Sci., 89: 1938:1950

8. New Scientist, Organic ketchup protects against cancer, 9 January 2005


Current statements re: organic food on Food Standards Agency website, as of 09.54am, 29/10/07:

Is organic food and milk more nutritious?
Consumers may choose to buy organic fruit, vegetables and meat because they believe them to be more nutritious than other food. However, the balance of current scientific evidence does not support this view.

Nutrient levels in food vary depending on many different factors. These include freshness, storage conditions, crop variety, soil conditions, weather conditions and how animals are fed. All crops and animals therefore vary in nutrient level to some extent. The available evidence shows that the nutrient levels and the degree of variation are similar in food produced by both organic and conventional agriculture. All processed food, including organic, has a nutrient content that is dependent on the nutrient content of ingoing ingredients, recipe and cooking methods. The impact of processing on nutrient levels will be the same for products made from organically and conventionally produced ingredients.

What about organic milk?
While the nutrient profile of organic milk appears to be different from non-organic milk, care must be taken when drawing conclusions as to the nutritional significance of this. Dairy sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are not a viable alternative to eating oily fish. Milk contains the shorter chain form of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid), while the forms present in oily fish are the long chain fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acids (DHA)).
Research has shown that the short chain form found in plant and dairy sources does not appear to be as beneficial as those found in oily fish, which have been shown to be protective for cardiovascular disease, and may also have beneficial effects on foetal development. Although the shorter form can be metabolised to the longer forms, in humans the conversion appears limited.

Isn't there evidence that organic food is safer and more nutricious (sic)?

It is true that some scientific papers reach this conclusion. However, others find no difference. As in any field of science, to reach a robust conclusion it is necessary to evaluate the weight of evidence across a range of published papers. Care should be taken over reliance on single papers.
The Agency maintains a close watch on scientific papers that evaluate organic food and will continue to assess new research as it is published.'

FSA - recent slight shift in attitudes to organic.

Whilst the Food Standards Agency's overall advice to the public as above is generally begrudging in acknowledging the distinctive benefits of organic food and farming, since the appointment of the more consumer-focussed chair, Dame Deirdre Hutton, the FSA has issued a number of more positive statements re: organic food. For example, the FSA has advised consumers that "eating organic food is one way to reduce consumption of pesticide residues and additives".

It also acknowledged the recent research at Liverpool University showing, "organically produced milk can contain higher levels of types of fats called short-chain omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced milk" and endorsed by the FSA Chair's own comment that, "the available evidence indicates that organically produced milk can contain higher levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) than conventionally produced milk".

The Food Standards Agency has also acknowledged that beef produced from animals fed a diet high in forage (organic standards require that cattle be fed predominantly on forage-based diets) rather than grain reduces the saturated fatty acid concentrations and enhances the content of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in beef.

Other factors relevant to organic food's nutritional differences

Avoidance of agrochemicals:

The negative health impacts of pesticide and antibiotic residues in non-organic food and the use of food additives is contested by the chemical, pharmaceutical and food processing industries, who rely on the fact that government approves their products for use as proof that they are benign. But in its 2005 report, Crop spraying and the health of residents and bystanders', the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution stated, The RCEP concluded that a more precautionary approach to regulating the use of pesticides is needed.'

The RCEP also noted their major concern' that the Government's Advisory Committee on Pesticides gave little recognition' to the fact that there could be important differences in the susceptibility of individuals within the human population to novel chemicals.'
RCEP Crop spraying and the health of residents and bystanders, September 2005, ISBN 0 9544186 2 X

Whilst non-organic farmers have access to 440 active ingredient pesticides formulated in over 4000 products, the Soil Association permits the use of only 4 pesticides of natural origin or made from simple chemicals which can only be used as a last resort. In 2003, 31,000 tonnes of pesticides were applied to UK non-organic farmland, whereas just around ten tonnes of the 4 permitted pesticides under Soil Association standards were used on organic farms.

UK government figures show that between 1998 to 2001, at least 40% of fruit and vegetables in UK supermarkets contained pesticides. In a government survey of 2005, 25% of non-organic food sampled contained residues, whilst none of the organic food sampled had pesticides present.
Food Standards Agency,; UK Government pesticide monitoring data.

Avoidance of routine use of antibiotics:
Whilst antibiotics can be used to relieve suffering in organic animals with the advice of a vet, Soil Association standards prohibit their routine use.

Avoidance of artificial food additives:

Of the 300 food additives permitted in conventional food, only 30 are allowed under Soil Association standards. Of these 30, some are required by law in certain foods, such as iron, thiamine (vitamin B) and nicotinic acid (vitamin B3) in white flour and various vitamins in some baby foods. All artificial colourings and sweeteners are banned in organic food.

Committee on Advertising Practice approved quotes
The following statements about the benefits of organic food were approved by the Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP), following submission of evidence in response to challenges about the benefits of organic food. The evidence we submitted in support of the benefits of organic food and farming to the environment, animal welfare, human health and the economy convinced the CAP to approve even stronger supporting statements than those that had been challenged.
Some CAP Approved quotes relevant to the issue of nutritional differences and health benefits of organic food:

Vitamins and minerals

No food has higher amounts of beneficial minerals, essential amino acids and vitamins than organic food.
The use of synthetic fertilisers, plant breeding, and longer delays between harvesting and consumption have led to reduced trace element and vitamin content in food. 1


The best method of reducing exposure to potentially harmful pesticides would be to consume organically grown food, where their use is avoided 2

"Consumers who wish to minimise their dietary pesticide exposure can do so with confidence by buying organically grown foods" (US scientists). 3

"Consumption of organic produce represents a relatively simple means for parents to reduce their children's pesticide exposure" (US scientists). 4

Looking at the bioaccumulative pesticides used in non-organic farming, the British Medical Association say that due to the manner in which pesticide residues are stored in fatty tissues they may remain in the body for several years, and there is concern regarding possible neurobehavioural and neurotoxic effects, mutagenicity, teratogenicity, carcinogenicity, and allergic and other immuno-regulatory disorders. 6

Under Soil Association standards only four chemicals are allowed in sprays on organic crops - 430 are allowed on non-organic crops. As a result, organic foods contain fewer pesticide residues and fewer cocktails' of chemicals than non-organic food, including 'conservation grade' food or food from 'integrated pest management' farming. 3

Some pesticides are endocrine disrupters.1


Some chemical additives that preserve food, or add colour or flavouring, affect individual well being, for example, tartrazine food colouring is linked with hyperactivity. 1

Only 32 of the 290 food additives approved for use across the EU are permitted in organic food. The controversial additives aspartame, tartrazine and hydrogenated fats are banned in organic food. Therefore a wide range and large quantity of potentially allergenic or harmful additives are avoided on a diet high in organically grown foods. 7


'Prophylactic and regular use of antibiotics is not permitted in organic standards for animal husbandry. There is growing concern that antibiotic residues in meat and dairy products could result in the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria that are prevalent in humans, thereby reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics used to treat human disease.' (World Health Organisation). 8

Antibiotic additives routinely added to animal food to speed animal growth are linked with bacterial resistance in humans to the same or closely related antibiotics.2


No hydrogenated fats are allowed in organic food.
Eating organic food allows people to avoid hydrogenated fats completely.
The UK Food Standards Agency says that "trans fats have no known nutritional benefits and because of the effect they have on blood cholesterol they increase the risk of coronary heart disease. Evidence suggests that the effects of trans fats are worse than saturated fats". 9

When hydrogenated fats are made, trans fats are created too.

The US National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine says that there is no safe level of trans fat consumption and that consumers should consume as little as possible of products containing this substance.10

Organic standards require that cattle be fed on predominantly forage-based diets. Research suggests that a diet high in forage rather than grain reduces the saturated fatty acid concentrations and enhances the content of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in beef. 11, 12

1. The King's Fund, an independent medical charity.
2. (Professor Vyvyan Howard, University of Liverpool). Vyvyan Howard MB. ChB. PhD. FRCPath. Developmental Toxico-Pathology Research Group, University of Liverpool.
3. Baker BP, Benbrook CM, Groth E, and Benbrook KL (2002) Pesticide residues in conventional, IPM-grown and organic foods: Insights from three sets. Food Additives and Contaminants, Volume 19, No. 5, May 2002, p. 427-446.
4. Curl CL , RA Fenske and K Elgethun (2003)Organophosphorus pesticide exposure of urban and suburban pre-school children with organic and conventional diets. Environmental Health Perspectives, October 13, 2002.
5. Rt. Hon Clare Short MP (2003) Foreward, Silent invaders: pesticides, livelihoods and women's health. Jacobs M & Dinham B (Eds.). Zed Books, London & New York. p. viii x.
6. BMA (1992) The BMA guide to pesticides, chemicals and health, Report of the board of science and education.
7. Balch JF & Balch PA (1997) Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 2nd Edition, Avery publishers, USA.
8. World Health Organisation (1997) Antibiotic use in food producing animals must be curtailed to prevent increased resistance in humans', press release WHO/73, 20 October 1997.
10. National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, (2002) Letter Report on Dietary Reference Intakes for Trans Fatty Acids: FDA's Next Steps. National Academy of Sciences.
11. Warren, H., Scollan, N.D., Hallett, K., Enser, M., Richardson, I, Nute, G and Wood, J.D. (2002). The effects of breed and diet on the lipid composition and meat quality of bovine muscle. Proceedings of the 48th International Congress of Meat Science and Technology, Rome.
12. R & H Hall (1999) The quality of meat from beef cattle: is it influenced by diet? Technical bulletin issue No. 4 ~ 1999.
13. DEFRA (2002) Action plan to develop organic food and farming in England. Crown copyright 2002. PB 7380.

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