The debate over the health merits of organic foods has been reopened after a study found that organic crops has higher concentrations of some nutrients than conventional counterparts.
A global team led by Newcastle University analysed data from more than 340 different studies into the composition of organic and conventionally-grown crops.
They found that the organic varieties could contain up to 60 per cent higher levels of some important antioxidants than those grown by conventional methods. In some cases the difference was striking, since it equated to eating anywhere from one to two extra portions of fruit and veg every day.
Organic crops also contained much lower levels of heavy metals which can be toxic to humans - in fact, they were nearly 50 per cent lower in cadmium content than other crops. Newcastle University points out that cadmium is one of three metals on which the European Commission has set restrictions as a result of safety concerns.
The findings, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, appear to contradict previous research conducted by the UK Food Standards Agency four years ago. That research found that organic food did not offer any substantial benefits and there was little difference between them and conventionally-grown products.
But Newcastle researchers say that the past five years have seen more data become available, improving the accuracy of the results.
However, the study has drawn criticism from a number of experts who remain unconvinced about its methods.
Speaking to the BBC, head of the Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division at King’s College London School of Medicine Professor Tom Sanders described the research as “misleading”. He explained that antioxidants are not essential and that the organic products actually contained less protein in the study than their conventional counterparts.
Meanwhile, Professor Richard Mithen of the Institute of Food Research told the news provider that the study had not proven there would be any impact on public health if people switched to organic foods. Moreover, he even claimed that the way in which antioxidants were discussed in the study pointed to a lack of knowledge.