Australia’s largest organic body – the Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA) – has rejected claims by the UK’s Foods Standard Agency (FSA) that organic produce has no health or nutritional benefit over conventionally-produced food.

Shane Heaton, nutritionist spokesperson and researcher for the BFA, said that, despite the review finding that organic produce contains only slightly higher nutrient levels, the wider health and environmental benefits of organic over non-organic production are in no way “insignificant”.

“Proof of the nutritional benefits is there, which adds to the raft of other benefits of organic food and farming,” he suggested. “Fewer pesticides in foods, fewer additives, better taste, animal welfare, no hyperactivity-causing food additives – which the UK FSA finally confirmed in 2007 – and important environmental benefits such as carbon sequestration in organically-managed soils.”

Heaton added that the research, which looked into a host of previous organic studies to provide an overall view, was incomplete and failed to offer what was needed – more substantial research.

“This review is little more than a rehash of the UK Foods Standard Agency’s long-standing stance,” he said. “All they’ve found is that more substantial research is needed, and we’ve known that for a decade.”

The BFA has referred to preliminary findings from the largest ever study of organic and non-organic production commissioned by the EU, which found evidence that organic produce has significantly higher nutrient levels, results the FSA failed to include in the study – the industry group advised.

Evidence from the A$27m (US$22.3m), four-year EU study found organic fruit and vegetables contained between 20 and 40% more antioxidants. The research also found organic produce contained higher levels of vitamin C, antioxidants, beneficial minerals such as iron and zinc and substantially higher levels of compounds thought to boost health and combat disease.

Carlo Leifert, co-ordinator of the EU-funded project, said the health benefits demanded the attention of the food industry and consumers.

“If you have just 20% more antioxidants in every portion of vegetables, then it’s simply a question of maths – eating four portions of organic fruit and vegetables is the equivalent to eating five portions of traditional fruit and vegetables,” he said.

Australian Food News is Australia’s leading resource for the food industry, delivering daily news from the grocery, retail and hospitality sectors to 40,000 professionals each month.