The Sunday Times, October 28 2007 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/health/article2753546.ece
ITS unassuming location belies its importance. Sandwiched between Hadrian’s Wall and the busy A69 road to Newcastle upon Tyne is a 725-acre farm that will help to determine the nation’s future eating habits.
In a unique experiment, its rolling pastures and ploughed fields have been split into two so that conventional and organic produce can be grown side by side. It has enabled scientists to test the alternative foods rigorously and answer a question that most shoppers ask themselves on a regular basis: is buying organic better for you?
Findings from the GBP12m European Union-funded project, the biggest of its kind and the first to investigate systematically the physiology of produce from the different farming techniques, will be peer reviewed and published over the next 12 months.
But already one conclusion is clear: organically produced crops and dairy milk usually contain more 'beneficial compounds' - such as vitamins and antioxidants believed to help to combat disease.
'We have a general trend in the data that says there are more good things in organic food,' said Professor Carlo Leifert, leader of the QualityLowInput-Food (QLIF) project. 'We are now trying to identify the agricultural practices that are responsible for this.'
The research has shown up to 40% more beneficial compounds in vegetable crops and up to 90% more in milk. It has also found high levels of minerals such as iron and zinc in organic produce.
The findings from the farm, which is part of Newcastle University, appear to conflict with the official government advice that buying organic food is a lifestyle choice and there is no clear evidence that it is 'more nutritious than other food'.
The new research comes after a seven-year stand-off between the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the organic sector over the nutritional benefits of organic food. Lord Krebs, the FSA's first chairman, even said that organic food may not be good value for consumers.