Organic food: healthier than conventional food?

Organic food is gaining in popularity, but what are the health benefits? MEPs discussed the impact of organic food with experts during a meeting organised by the Parliament's science and technology unit (STOA) on 18 November. They heard further research may be needed to establish organic food's nutritional benefits. In our Twitter poll on the topic, two thirds of respondents said they preferred organic food.

EU Organic Label
The EU organic logo, introduced in 2010, helps shoppers identify products that complied with the EU's organic rules.

About organic food

Organic food is based on sustainable agriculture and processes that do not harm the environment, human health or plant and animal welfare. Products can be labelled as organic only when at least 95% of their ingredients are organic.

New EU rules

A revision of the regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products is currently under preparation. Parliament negotiators want tailored controls and physical on-site checks on all organic farms to avoid fraud.

The benefits of orgainc food

Parliament's science and technology unit organised a meeting with experts on 16 November to discuss the benefits of organic food. Bulgarian S&D member  Momchil Nekov, who chaired the meeting, said: "Organic farming should receive more attention in the public debate as it provides investment in public health."

In general, the experts agreed that although more research is needed to assess the concrete nutritional benefits, consumers of organic foods are generally more health-minded: "There is a lack of evidence of organic crops having more significant nutritional value than conventional ones," said Bernhard Watzl, from the Max Rubner-Institut in Germany. However, Axel Mie from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and Johannes Kahl, from The Netherlands Food Quality and Health Association, pointed out that people who buy organic food tend to consume more fruit, vegetables, wholegrains or nuts than non-organic consumers, which benefits their health.

Animal welfare

Ewa Rembiałkowska, from the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, said organic food is potentially more beneficial for animal and human health than conventional food, referring to the "significant differences" in the hormone and immune systems between organic and non-organic fed animals, especially from the second generation. According to her, studies with animals fed organically show better fertility levels, lower mortality rates at birth and better immunity response. Rembiałkowska also added that studies show that given the choice, rats opt more often for organic feed.

Organic food

  • The EU's organic market grew by about 6% in 2013
  • Germany, France, UK and Italy are the EU countries consuming the most organic food
  • Italy, Spain and Poland are the EU's leading organic producers
Martin Häusling talks us through the Parliament proposal to improve the reliability of the EU's organic food labels.

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