Scientific research increasingly confirming the health benefits of organic food
A new study conducted in the United States has shown that switching from conventionally grown fruits and vegetables to produce grown organically, even just for a few days, significantly reduces the levels of pesticides in children's bodies. Examining 40 children between 3 and 6 years of age, researchers from the Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health at UC Berkeley found that an organic diet quickly lowered their levels of several pesticides by between one-quarter and one-half. Consistent with other research reporting similar findings, the study is the latest in a long line of scientific investigations confirming the health benefits of organic food.
Nutritionally speaking, the benefits of organic food are already well known. In 2014, in what is arguably the most comprehensive analysis to date, an international team led by Professor Carlo Leifert from Newcastle University in the UK found that it contains up to 69 percent more of key antioxidants than regular food, as well as lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides. Based on an analysis of 343 peer-reviewed studies from around the world, Leifert’s findings destroyed the myth that organic food is nutritionally indistinguishable from that produced using pesticides.
Other studies back up Leifert’s work. For example, a review published in 2009 by the French Food Agency AFSSA showed that organic food contains higher levels of minerals, such as iron and magnesium, as well as more antioxidants. Similarly, a study published in 2007 found that organic carrots, apples and peaches contain increased amounts of vitamin C and flavonoids. Scientists analyzing organic tomatoes have repeatedly made comparable findings and confirmed they have more vitamin C, phenolic compounds and flavonoids than their conventionally grown counterparts.
One of the criticisms sometimes levelled at organic farming is that its yields are supposedly lower than those produced by pesticide-based farming. Again, however, scientific analysis has proven this claim to be a myth. Research carried out by scientists at the University of Michigan in 2007 showed that organic methods could produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially even a larger one, but without increasing the agricultural land base. Analyzing 293 different studies looking at yields from organic farming, the Michigan researchers found it can produce up to three times as much food as conventional farming in developing countries and that it holds its own against standard methods in rich countries.
In view of the convincing evidence in its favour, it is hardly surprising that organic farming approaches are rising across the globe. In Europe, the organic farming sector has grown rapidly over the past ten years, with around half a million new hectares now being added annually. Significantly, therefore, in February the Danish government launched an ambitious plan to double its organic farmland by 2020 and increase demand for organic food. Similarly, in Sweden, the city of Malmo has set itself the impressive goal of becoming all-organic by 2020. In the United States, around 81 percent of families are now reported to be eating organically at least some of the time.
As Dr. Rath described in the Barletta Declaration, in order to create a truly effective, preventive health care system we have to tear down the artificial barriers that exist between nutrition and health, as well as between medicine and agriculture. In this respect, the growing awareness regarding the higher micronutrient content of organic foods, and the crucial role organic farming can play in benefitting both our health and that of the environment, will go a long way towards making this happen.
16 October, 2015
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