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While an all-organic farming system might mean we'd have to make do with slightly less food than we're used to, research shows that we can rest assured it would be better for us. In 2001, a study in the Journal of Complementary Medicine found that organic crops contained higher levels of 21 essential nutrients than their conventionally grown counterparts, including iron, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin C. The organic crops also contained lower levels of nitrates, which can be toxic to the body.
Other studies have found significantly higher levels of vitamins - as well as polyphenols and antioxidants - in organic fruit and veg, all of which are thought to play a role in cancer-prevention within the body. Scientists have also been able to work out why organic farming produces more nutritious food. Avoiding chemical fertilizer reduces nitrates levels in the food; better quality soil increases the availability of trace minerals, and reduced levels of pesticides mean that the plants' own immune systems grow stronger, producing higher levels of antioxidants. Slower rates of growth also mean that organic food frequently contains higher levels of dry mass, meaning that fruit and vegetables are less pumped up with water and so contain more nutrients by weight than intensively grown crops do.
Milk from organically fed cows has been found to contain higher levels of nutrients in six separate studies, including omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and beta-carotene, all of which can help prevent cancer. One experiment discovered that levels of omega-3 in organic milk were on average 68 per cent higher than in non-organic alternatives. But as well as giving us more of what we do need, organic food can help to give us less of what we don't. In 2000, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that organically produced food had 'lower levels of pesticide and veterinary drug residues' than non-organic did. Although organic farmers are allowed to use antibiotics when absolutely necessary to treat disease, the routine use of the drugs in animal feed - common on intensive livestock farms - is forbidden. This means a shift to organic livestock farming could help tackle problems such as the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.