And writing in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, the food scientists concluded that there is a need for new and novel trials to demonstrate the advantages, if any, of consuming organic foods.
They also report a scarcity of literature based specifically on organic foods grown in Ireland.
Market growth inhibitors
The authors also find higher price and lack of knowledge of the health benefits are the main reasons behind the rejection of organic foods by some Irish shoppers, factors which may also be inhibiting market growth, stress the researchers.
They note a survey from the Irish food board, An Bord Bia, which revealed that 78 per cent of organic rejecters stated the higher cost as their reason for rejecting such products, while 21 per cent of respondents reject organic foods because they do not know what the benefits are.
“Research is needed for Irish consumers to make informed decisions on food choice and also for organic producers to promote their food based on fact,” argue the authors.
But for consumers who already buy organic, notes the review, perceived health benefits coupled with the ban on synthetic pesticides in organic agriculture are the main drivers for their choosing organic food or drink products.
The authors, based at the Limerick Institute of Technology, report that their comprehensive review of the literature shows the difficulty in concluding that organic foods are in any way superior to their conventional counterparts in terms of health promoting compounds.
They note a study carried out on organic and conventional peaches and pears that found that all organic peach samples showed a highly significant increase in polyphenols (measured as mg equivalents of tannic acid per 100g of fresh sample) compared with conventional peaches.
They also note the 10-year comparison by Mitchell et al of the flavonoid content of organic and conventional tomatoes in the US. “The results of the analysis showed statistically higher levels of quercetin and kaempferol in organic tomatoes.” report the Irish reviewers.
Contrasting those findings, the Irish food scientists note a recent study on the polyphenol content and antioxidant capacity of organic and conventional plant foods showed that there was no overall statistical difference observed. They also reference a Danish study that concluded that organically grown onions, carrots and potatoes do not contain higher levels of health-promoting secondary metabolites in comparison to conventionally cultivated ones.
The review of available literature also suggests that there is no statistically significant difference between the sensory properties of organic and conventional fruits and vegetables, concluded the authors.
“A survey has shown that many people believe that organic food tastes better; however, blind sensory evaluation studies have so far failed to show any significant difference.
It is the authors’ opinion that a panel to assess and score a wider range of popular Irish foods will provide data that will contribute greatly to the organic versus conventional sensory question.”
The safety of organic versus conventional foods also remains unresolved, find the reviewers.
“Strict regulation in Ireland means that promotion of organic foods due to health risks from chemicals used in conventional agriculture is not correct; however, IOFGA ‘reasons to buy organic’may show amore ecological basis to buying organic.
Many reviews on the safety of organic versus conventional foods suggest a risk of microbial contamination due to the use of manure as oppose to chemical fertilisers, find the team.
However, they report that no literature was found to support this. They also note that research appears to indicate that organic and conventional produce are equally susceptible to environmental contaminants.
The review highlights evidence that indicates 66 per cent of Irish consumers prefer to buy local. The authors stress that Irish organic producers “must take advantage of this and strongly advertise both the organic and local aspects of their products.”
But Irish organic producers generally are facing a challenging time, they report.
“Evidence shows that consumers are consciously cutting costs at supermarkets by switching to cheaper brands, which could reflect a move from the higher priced organic foods to cheaper conventional foods.
This change could be a large contributor to the drop in the market from a 2009 value of €120m to just €90m as of August 2010,” said the researchers, citing Mintel data.
Source: Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture
Published online ahead of print: DOI: 10.1002/jsfa.4503
Title: The Irish organic food market: shortfalls, opportunities and the need for research
Authors: R. Tobin, T. Larkin and S. Moane