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Friday, 1 September, 2000, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Organic food 'no healthier'
Carrots
Research was carried out on carrots
Organic food is no safer or more nutritious than conventionally grown food, according to the chairman of the Food Standards Agency.

However, his comments have provoked protest from environmental groups.

Sir John Krebs told the BBC's Countryfile programme that there was no evidence that organic food was healthier than conventionally grown produce.


The organic industry relies on image

Sir John Krebs, Food Standards Agency

Sir John said the only people who got value for money from organic food were those who wanted producers to adopt more holistic farming methods.

He told the BBC: "They're not getting value for money, in my opinion and in the opinion of the Food Standards Agency, if they think they're buying food with extra nutritional quality or extra safety.

"We don't have the evidence to support those claims."

Sir John's comments contradict research carried out by the organic farming pressure group the Soil Association, which found that organic crops contain more nutrients than conventionally grown plants.

Independent tests

Independent scientific tests, commissioned by the BBC, found that conventionally grown carrots were free of pesticides.

Scientists at the Eclipse Scientific Group laboratory in Cambridgeshire extensively tested carrots that they had bought anonymously from British supermarkets.

Three types were examined for pesticide and chemical residues.

The carrots tested were: an organic British carrot, an organic carrot from abroad and a conventionally grown carrot.

The tests, for more than 40 different pesticide residues known to be associated with carrot production, were negative for all three.

Nigel Gillis of the Eclipse Scientific Group said: "I think the public will be very surprised.

"Their perception of organic carrots is that they have no pesticides and conventional carrots are riddled with them.

"We've shown with this test that that's not the case."

Sir John added: "I think the organic industry relies on image and that image is one that many consumers clearly want to sign up to.

"However, I do think they should be aware of what they're getting when they pay quite a substantial premium in the shops."

He said organic standards in the UK were extremely high but they were not necessarily applied in the rest of the world.

"Much of our organic food is imported and I think consumers should be aware of that," he added.

Criticism

Harry Hadaway, Soil Association spokesman, said: "A big problem in the UK is the lack of expenditure on research into the benefits of organic food.


The truth is that organic food is better for people and the environment

Sandra Bell, Friends of the Earth

"This should be a prime focus for the 20m of taxpayers' money that the Food Standards Agency was given for research.

"As a historic supporter of GM foods we feel Sir John Krebs continues not to represent the wishes of British consumers, who have made it clear that they reject chemical farming and GM food due to the growing evidence of environmental and health impacts of this type of food production."

Sandra Bell, of Friends of the Earth, said she was "appalled" by Sir John's comments.

"Organic food avoids synthetic pesticides, the routine use of antibiotics and genetically modified ingredients. No-one knows what long term impact these may have on human health."

Ms Bell questioned why, if pesticides used in conventionally grown food were safe, did the government advise people to wash and peel vegetables before giving them to children?

"The truth is that organic food is better for people and the environment."

The full interview is broadcast on Countryfile on BBC One at 1230 GMT/1130BST on 3 September.

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