A survey of organic fruit and vegetables has shown that they do not have an appreciably higher nutritional content than equivalent products grown using conventional techniques.
The study, commissioned by Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper and the CTV televison station, was carried out by researchers at the University of Guelph on 20 organic fruit and vegetables bought at a health food outlet in Toronto.
The nutritional content of the fruit and vegetables was assessed by the Guelph researchers and then compared to the nutrient content of conventionally-produced produce as set out by Health Canada.
The paper reports that of the 135 tests conducted in total, conventional produce came out ahead 66 times and organic produce 49 times. Organic potatoes, for example, were found to have three times the iron of conventional ones, but only half the calcium, while organic red peppers had 42 per cent more vitamin C than conventional ones but 45 per cent less vitamin A.
This is not the first research to suggest that consumers are being misled into believing that organic food, which is usually considerably more expensive than its conventional counterpart, is also healthier. A recent study by the Consumers' Association in the UK suggested much the same thing, although in both cases the samples tested were only small and are not necessarily indicative of organic food as a whole.
The newspaper also cited Dr Phil Warman, an agronomist and professor of agricultural sciences at Nova Scotia Agricultural College, who said that he had carried out similar tests on both organic and conventional crops for the las t 12 years, always with the same results - very little difference in nutritional content.
The news is unlikely to deter supporters of organic food, many of whom point out that the interest in organics is as much about what they do not contain - pesticides and insecticides - as what they do.
The findings also mask the growing concern about overall fruit and vegetable intake in the western world, with most consumers failing to eat sufficient amounts of produce, whether organic or otherwise, to ensure the optimum intake of nutrients.