A report by the UK Consumers' Association claims that consumers are increasingly buying organic food because they believe it is better for them - a preconception which is often far from the truth.
The study, which appeared in the CA's publication Which?, showed that organic products cost on average 40 per cent more than standard food items in the UK, which leads many consumers to believe that they are better for them.
However, in a number of cases, processed organic products such as cakes and cereal contain more fat and sugar than the same food in the standard range, the study showed.
Which? interviewed 90 shoppers in 2001 to find out what people thought were the benefits of buying organic. Most said they bought organic products to avoid pesticides, but the CA claimed that pesticides are generally less of an issue in processed food - organic or standard - than they are with fresh fruit and vegetables.
Not surprisingly, protecting the environment was another popular reason for buying organic food, but the Which? study suggested that organic production is not necessarily better for the environment than standard production methods.
"Around 70 per cent of organic food is imported to the UK," the report said. "This has its own environmental impact in terms of transport, packaging, waste and pollution. Food processing also has environmental costs in terms of energy use and packaging."
The Which? article stressed that there were clear advantages in buying organic because of fewer additives, no genetically modified ingredients and food being more traceable, but nonetheless questioned whether some products should be labelled as organic.
"At least 95 per cent of the agricultural ingredients must be organic, and the other 5 per cent can be made up of non-organic ingredients, such as approved herbs and spices. Non-agricultural ingredients such as water and salt approved for use in organic food are not included in these calculations. So a drink made of carbonated water, organic sugar and natural flavourings can be labelled organic although only the sugar is organic," the report said.