Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Wild birds opt for conventional food over organic, study shows

Date:
May 20, 2010
Source:
Newcastle University
Summary:
The nutritional benefits of organic food have been called into question by new research which shows wild garden birds prefer conventional seed to that which has been organically- grown. A three-year study by Newcastle University has found that wild birds are not swayed by the organic label, but instead prefer the more protein-rich, conventional food that will help them to survive the winter.

Dunnock on feeder.
Credit: North News and Pictures / Copyright Newcastle University

The nutritional benefits of organic food have been called into question by new research which shows wild garden birds prefer conventional seed to that which has been organically- grown.

Related Articles


A three-year study by Newcastle University has found that wild birds are not swayed by the organic label, but instead prefer the more protein-rich, conventional food that will help them to survive the winter.

Published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, lead researcher Dr Ailsa McKenzie said the findings were likely to be of "considerable interest to the general public in the debate over the relative merits of consuming organic food."

"Our results suggest that the current dogma that organic food is preferred to conventional food may not always be true," explains Dr McKenzie, based in the School of Biology at Newcastle University.

"Protein is an essential nutrient in the diet of all birds and mammals and getting enough of it -- especially in winter -- can be hard.

"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.

"This study is only looking at one aspect of the organic food debate -- it does not take into account the long-term health implications of using chemical fertilisers and pesticides, or the often negative environmental impact of conventional farming; for example, other work has shown that pesticides can strongly reduce availability of seeds for birds.

"But it does raise questions about the nutritional benefits of organic food and what consumers are being led to believe."

Global demand for organic produce is increasing by 4billion annually -- the organic market now accounts for between two and three per cent of all food purchased in Europe and the USA.

One key reason why consumers buy organic food is because they consider it to be better for human and animal health. While this may indeed be the case, these are not necessarily the only factors governing food choice in animals and birds.

To carry out the study the Newcastle team set up feeding stations in more than 30 gardens across the North of England. Organic and non-organic wheat seeds (both of the same variety) were placed in adjacent bird feeders and then the rate at which the birds ate the different seeds was monitored over a six week period.

Half way through the experiment the feeders were swapped around. The experiment was repeated in a second winter with different wheat samples.

The birds showed a strong preference for the conventional seed, eating significantly more of this than the organic. When the feeder positions were switched, the birds 'learnt' the new position of the conventional seed and continued to select it in preference to the organic.

Analysis of the wheat found the conventionally-grown seeds to have an average 10 per cent higher protein content than the organic seeds. Other differences between the samples (e.g. in mycotoxin levels, grain size, energy content or pesticide residues) could not explain the preferences shown by the birds.

The garden bird work was confirmed by laboratory studies on canaries, also showing a significant preference for conventionally- over organically-grown seeds.

Dr McKenzie explained: "Conventionally-grown crops tend to contain significantly higher levels of protein than those grown organically due to the application of inorganic nitrogen fertilisers in conventional farming systems.

"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."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Newcastle University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Ailsa McKenzie and Mark Whittingham. Birds Select Conventional Over Organic Wheat When Given Free Choice. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2010; DOI: 10.1002/jsfa.4025

Cite This Page:

Newcastle University. "Wild birds opt for conventional food over organic, study shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 May 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100518230515.htm>.
Newcastle University. (2010, May 20). Wild birds opt for conventional food over organic, study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100518230515.htm
Newcastle University. "Wild birds opt for conventional food over organic, study shows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100518230515.htm (accessed December 19, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, December 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Kids Die While Under Protective Services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

AP (Dec. 18, 2014) As part of a six-month investigation of child maltreatment deaths, the AP found that hundreds of deaths from horrific abuse and neglect could have been prevented. AP's Haven Daley reports. (Dec. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dads-To-Be Also Experience Hormone Changes During Pregnancy

Dads-To-Be Also Experience Hormone Changes During Pregnancy

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) A study from University of Michigan researchers found that expectant fathers see a decrease in testosterone as the baby's birth draws near. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins