Early results of a 12 million pound, 4-year EU study on the benefits of organic food suggest that some of them, such as fruit, vegetables and milk, are more nutritious than non-organically produced food and may contain higher concentrations of cancer fighting and heart beneficial antioxidants.

The results were released to the press but there is no mention of a of a journal publication as yet. The research team said its findings will be published in full within the next 12 months.

The findings were announced by Professor Carlo Leifert of the Tesco Centre for Organic Agriculture based at Newcastle University, UK, who with his team are working on the EU funded project called the Quality Low Input Food (QLIF) project, the biggest ever to research the pros and cons of organic farming and food.

Prof Leifert told the press that the research results suggested that eating organic food was equivalent to eating an extra portion of fruit and vegetables a day.

The early results of the study show that organic fruit and vegetables have up to 40 per cent more antioxidants than non-organically grown produce. Even greater contrasts were found for milk, with organic milk containing up to 60 per cent more antioxidants and healthy fatty acids, said Leifert.

The Newcastle University researchers raise cattle and grow fruit and vegetables on 725 acres of organic and non-organic farms situated next to each other at the university’s agriculture centre in Stocksfield, Northumberland. Similar set ups exist at other research centres across Europe.

Leifert’s findings contradict advice by the UK government’s Food Standards Agency which states that organic produce is no healthier than non-organically produced food.

QualityLowInputFood (QLIF) is a European Union (EU) sponsored project that aims to “improve quality, ensure safety and reduce cost along the organic and ‘low input’ food supply chains through research, dissemination and training activities”.

According to information on its website, QLIF focuses on “increasing value to both consumers and producers using a fork to farm approach”.

The project was set up in March 2004 and has a grant of 18 million Euros (12.6 million pounds, or 25.8 million dollars) from the EU.

The QLIF research programme involves 31 research centres, companies and universities in Europe and beyond.

Leifert said he and his team now want to explore the underlying mechanisms by which organic as opposed to non-organic farming methods lead to such higher concentrations of healthy nutritients.

A spokeswoman for the Soil Association told the press that they were pleased with the results and this could be the start of a significant change in what consumers buy.

Click here for QualityLowInputFood (QLIF) website.

Written by: Catharine Paddock