- A recent study in Ireland found more antioxidant activity and higher flavonol content in organic onions compared to conventionally grown ones, according to a recent article on New Hope Network. While it’s a relatively narrow finding, it’s significant because the study lasted six years, which is reported as the longest-running study of its kind.
- The differences in antioxidant activity and flavonol content were found to be primarily due to the different soil management practices used in organic farming, such as organic fertilizer, crop rotation, and cover crop, rather than a lack of pesticide/herbicide use.
- “(The study) shows that how we treat the soil can affect the soil microbiome, and how in turn that can affect the food we eat and human health,” said Kim Reilly, the study's author.
While most Americans believe organic produce is healthier than conventionally grown produce, few are aware that there is actually very little research proving its farming practices results in "healthier" fruits or vegetables. This six-year long onion study could add some support to the widely held belief that the practice is better for the public.
Ultimately, consumers have shown they put value in organic produce as demand for these products has soared. Sales of organic food rose to a record $43 billion in 2016, an increase of 8.4% from the prior year. If the latest figures are any indication, organic sales aren't expected to slow down anything soon. A recent TechSci Research report finds the global organic food market is projected to grow at a CAGR of more than 14% from 2016 to 2021.
This study could go a long way toward helping convince skeptical consumers that organic produce can offer a greater health benefit beyond limiting exposure to pesticides. The increased level of antioxidants found in organic onions is significant. It’s an affirmation, at least in this case, that there is a nutritional difference in organic produce, compared to its conventional counterpart.
Still, organic produce does come with a higher price tag. Even if a consumer sees value in buying organic fruits or vegetables, the extra cost may simply not be in their budget, or they may have to limit their selection to only a few products —those could include items with the biggest benefit, such as the onion. The flip side to this is that many consumers correlate higher prices with healthier products. There is a perceived added value that warrants the elevated cost, for those who can afford it.
This study is a boon for the organic farming community, but not a death knell for conventional farming. As the study found, the change in the onions was determined to be the result of the different soil management practices rather than pesticide/herbicide use. In addition, there remains a strong percentage of consumers who choose not to buy organic. It’s doubtful that this study will have a great enough impact on their shopping habits to warrant the concern of conventional farmers.