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Published September 21, 2007 01:44 PM

Nutrient levels in conventional foods declining


The title of a newly-released report from The Organic Center tells a sad but timely story: “Still No Free Lunch: Nutrient levels in US food supply eroded by pursuit of high yields.”

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Historical records from the US Department of Agriculture tell the same story, in more detail. “Garden variety” fruits and vegetables often have lower levels of some vitamins and less iron, calcium, zinc, and other micronutrients than they did a mere half century ago.
Even stronger evidence comes from contemporary side-by-side comparisons of historic and modern crops. Using similar production practices and levels of inputs, researchers found that modern varieties produce 10 to 25 percent lower levels of iron, zinc, protein, calcium, vitamin C, and other essential nutrients.
Brian Halweil, a member of The Organic Center’s advisory board, makes the case in practical terms: “To get our recommended daily allowance of nutrients, we have to eat many more slices of bread today than people had to eat in the past. Less nutrition per calorie consumed affects consumers in much the same way as monetary inflation. That is, we have more food, but it’s worth less in terms of nutritional value.”


Pursuit of a more balanced nutritional “economy” might require strategic changes in farming systems that result in lower crop yields than we have grown accustomed to. In addition to strengthening the soil, organic farming methods, which frequently result in lower yields, tend to produce crops with higher concentrations of micronutrients, phytochemicals, and other health-promoting compounds.

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