MANILA — Campaigners for organic food like Greenpeace and promoters of pesticide-free agriculture like Masipag will be in for a big surprise as studies conducted in Denmark and the US do not support their thesis that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally-grown ones.
A 2010 study conducted by a team led by Pia Knuthsen of the Danish National Food Institute’s Department of Food Chemistry found out that organically grown carrots, onions and potatoes do not possess better antioxidant levels than their conventionally-nurtured counterparts.
Conducted under controlled conditions, the team planted the three vegetables in separate plots using conventional methods for the regularly grown ones and complied with organic farming practices for the others.
Knuthsen’s study was part of a larger project called OrgTrace, which was looking into how farm practices would affect the content of minerals and other compounds in plants.
Temperature, moisture levels, soil type, and other environmental conditions were kept the same between fields.
Some of the vegetables were grown with chemical pesticides and organic fertilizers.
Others complied with Danish guidelines for organic farming.
The researchers measured two types of antioxidants– flavonoids and phenolic acids—after the growing season and found no difference in their levels in the two plots.
Results of the study were published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
“Giving preference to organic products because they contain more bioactive components is doubtful and not supported by scientific evidence,” Knuthsen said. “Still, there are many good reasons for the consumer to select organic food products, including absence of pesticide residues in foods, animal welfare, and environmental protection.”
Geneticist Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam of the University of California at Davis (UC-Davis) earlier this year also reported that a study she conducted covering feeding schedules and livestock output in the past 40 years showed there was no difference among the animals nourished with GM feed and those which consumed conventional animal feed.
After poring through the records, she noted there were no significant differences as to feed conversion ratios, carcass quality and animal health.
The magazine ZME Science reported that the organic food industry was estimated at $29 billion in 2010, and has grown since then by 10 percent annually, while Consumer Reports analysis released in March 2015 found that organic food is 47 percent.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) was a little conservative, saying the premium is only between 5 percent and 7 percent, which means that it will be out of the price range for most Filipinos.
Even for the higher price for organic food, there is scant or very little evidence to support its nutritional superiority over conventional food.
“There’s a definite lack of evidence,” said researcher Crystal Smith-Spangler of the Stanford University School of Medicine.
A 2009 meta-analysis noted there was no nutrient difference in organic versus conventional.
Three years later, a study found slightly higher phosphorous levels in the organic produce and in 2014, another analysis revealed higher antioxidant levels and lower cadmium levels in organic food.
In 2012, a Stanford team analyzed 240 studies: 17 comparing populations consuming organic and conventional diets, and 223 studies that compared either the nutrient levels or the bacterial, fungal or pesticide contamination of various products (fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, milk, poultry, and eggs) grown organically and conventionally.
“They report little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods, as well as no consistent differences in the vitamin content of organic products,” said ZME Science.