Promoters defend organic food after Stanford study shows it's no healthier
Stanford study finds few nutritional benefits over regular grocery products
Promoters of organic produce yesterday defended its worth, after a major American study found little evidence it is much healthier than conventional food.
The Stanford University study said a lack of pesticides and antibiotics was the principal benefit of organic produce, which was not more nutritious. The research analysed the findings of 237 studies that compared both types of food.
Organic food was 30 per cent less likely to contain detectable pesticide levels, though the amount of pesticides measured in conventionally grown produce was within safety limits, the researchers said in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
Simon Wong Ka-wo, chairman of the Association of Green Organic Living, said the organic label was significant as proof against harmful substances.
"Nutrition-wise, organic food could be similar to normal food," Wong said. "But it guarantees the absence of pesticides and growth hormones."
Hong Kong has no specific regulations governing organic food. Imported organic products are certified by various foreign bodies, while domestic produce is certified by two local private agencies.
The Stanford team did find that bacteria lurking in non-organic meat had a 33 per cent higher chance of resistance to multiple antibiotics. Such resistance made treating food poisoning harder.
"There are many reasons why someone might choose organic foods over conventional foods," from environmental concerns to taste preferences, said Dr Dena Bravata, a senior research affiliate at the university. But when it came to health, "there isn't much difference".
The Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre found in a survey that 60 per cent of 616 respondents had bought organic products before. Eighteen per cent bought such food every week.
Professor Jonathan Wong Woon-chung, director of the centre, said there was a lack of consensus on the nutritional value of organic food. "Stanford's research is based on analysing old papers instead of a new field study," he said. "It's hard to compare the nutrition levels, as the samples are too varied."
Connie Lau Yin-hing, of the Consumer Council, said legislation was needed to guarantee the quality of organic food.