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AgMag BLOG

Feeding your mind, saving the planet >>

Study: Organic Berries Trump Others on Taste, Nutrition and More

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Recent government-sponsored tests at more than a dozen California farms found that organic strawberries were tastier and more nutritious than conventionally grown berries. On top of that, the organic berries had longer shelf life and left the soil in better condition.

In a report published Sept. 1, the research team led by John P. Reganold, Ph.D. of Washington State University’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences wrote that:

Organic farms had strawberries with longer shelf life, greater dry matter, and higher antioxidant activity and concentrations of ascorbic acid and phenolic compounds, but lower concentrations of phosphorus and potassium. In one variety, sensory panels judged organic strawberries to be sweeter and have better flavor, overall acceptance, and appearance than their conventional counterparts.

Or, as The Washington Post’s Jane Black reported:

Organic farms produced more flavorful and nutritious berries while leaving the soil more healthful and genetically diverse. In a surprising twist, the organic strawberries also had a longer shelf life than the other varieties.

The study, whose funding came largely from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), concluded:

Our findings show that the organic strawberry farms produced higher quality fruit and that their higher quality soils may have greater microbial functional capability and resilience to stress.

“Our findings have global implications and advance what we know about the sustainability benefits of organic farming systems,” said Reganold in a separate statement, “We also show you can have high quality, healthy produce without resorting to an arsenal of pesticides.”

The organic strawberries tested were nearly 10 percent richer in antioxidants and ascorbic acids (Vitamin C) than the conventionally grown fruit. In addition, the amount of carbon left in the soil in the organic fields was 21.6 percent higher percent and the amount of nitrogen was 30.2 percent higher.

This is significant, researchers wrote in the journal Public Library of Science One, because carbon and nitrogen can have a beneficial impact on soil quality, enhancing soil structure and fertility and increasing water infiltration and storage.

This seminal study could not have come out at more inconvenient time for conventional chemical agriculture growers, whose market share has steadily dwindled in the face of growing demand for organic products. U.S. pesticide interests, including conventional strawberry growers in California, recently launched a campaign to push back against the idea that organic fruits and vegetables are better or safer. An organization calling itself The Alliance for Food and Farming specifically targeted Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides, claiming that the popular guide has turned people away from eating fruits and vegetables.

EWG believes this effort by proponents of chemical agriculture has nothing to do with some imaginary drop in fruit and vegetable consumption and everything to do with the exponential growth of the organic food market. Between 1997 and 2008, sales or organics in the U.S. went from $3.6 billion to more than $21 billion – a six-fold leap in just over ten years.

Conventional food production, whether strawberry farms or large-scale egg producers, is losing the confidence of the American consumer. People aren’t making the switch to organics because they like paying more. They’re making that choice largely out of concern over the risks associated with pesticides or contaminated food.

Strawberries are a perfect example. An international agreement to phase out the ozone-depleting pesticide methyl bromide by 2013 means that strawberries and other produce will soon be grown using highly toxic methyl iodide instead. Just three years ago, a group of more than 50 scientists, including five Nobel Laureates, sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency warning that methyl iodide poses serious risks.

In addition to the potential for increased cancer incidence, EPA’s own evaluation of the chemical also indicates that methyl iodide causes thyroid toxicity, permanent neurological damage, and fetal losses in experimental animals. It is astonishing that the [EPA’s] Office of Pesticide Programs is working to legalize broadcast releases of one of the more toxic chemicals used in manufacturing into the environment.

It’s no wonder that consumers are taking matters into their own hands.