Organic food gives consumers no “additional health benefits”, according to research commissioned by the UK’s food watchdog.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) today (29 July) published a study that reviewed papers published over the last 50 years on the nutritional content and health differences between organic and conventional food.

Gill Fine, director of consumer choice and dietary health at the FSA, insisted that the agency “supports consumer choice and is neither pro nor anti organic food”.

“This study does not mean that people should not eat organic food. What it shows is that there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food and that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food,” Fine said.

The FSA’s comments drew a predictably fierce response from The Soil Association, one of the bodies that certifies organic food in the UK.

Peter Melchett, the association’s policy director, said he was “disappointed” with the study’s conclusions.

He claimed the review had rejected “almost all” studies that compared the nutritional differences between organic and non-organic food as the evidence “did not meet the particular criteria” set by the review’s authors.

The FSA, Melchett said, had insisted the differences between organic and conventional food were “not important” but, he added, the agency’s study still found differences in the level of nutrients found in both types of foodstuffs.

“The researchers also found higher levels of beneficial polyunsaturated fatty acids in organic meat and dairy products (between 2.1% – 27.8% higher) compared to non-organic meat and dairy,” Melchett said.

“There are limited studies available on the health benefits of organic versus non-organic food. Without large-scale, longitudinal research it is difficult to come to far-reaching clear conclusions on this, which was acknowledged by the authors of the FSA review.”

Sales of organic food have slowed in the UK during the downturn. According to the Soil Association’s own figures, published in April, sales inched up by 1.7% to over GBP2.1bn (US$3.45bn) in 2008, although the figure was boosted by food inflation.