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Wild Birds Shun Organic Food

British researchers suspect they prefer higher protein content of conventional seed

TUESDAY, May 18 (HealthDay News) -- You may think organic food is always better for you, but a new British study finds that wild birds beg to differ.

The researchers found that the birds prefer conventional wheat seed, which helps them pack in the protein.

The findings, study author Ailsa McKenzie of Newcastle University said in a news release from the school, were likely to be of "considerable interest to the general public in the debate over the relative merits of consuming organic food."

"Protein is an essential nutrient in the diet of all birds and mammals, and getting enough of it, especially in winter, can be hard," McKenzie said. "We showed that when given free choice, wild birds opt for the conventional food over the organic, and the most likely explanation is its higher protein content."

McKenzie points out, however, that the study doesn't look at some of the reasons that humans eat organic food: because it could be healthier over the long term, because it's less exposed to certain fertilizers and pesticides and because non-organic food can be harmful to the environment.

The researchers reached their conclusions after studying feeding stations at more than two dozen gardens in northern England. They twice examined what birds ate -- organic or non-organic seed -- over six weeks in the winter.

Apparently, the birds like the protein in the non-organic food, which was estimated to be about 10 percent higher.

"Conventionally grown crops tend to contain significantly higher levels of protein than those grown organically due to the application of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers in conventional farming systems," McKenzie said. "This makes our findings potentially applicable across many food types and suggests the issues surrounding organic food are not as cut-and-dried as some might think."

The study was published online May 18 in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has details on food labeling and what it can tell you about things like organic products.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: Newcastle University, news release, May 18, 2010

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