Organic food may be no better for you than mass-produced farm food, according to the cabinet minister responsible for the industry.

David Miliband, the environment secretary, says organic produce, which is usually more expensive, is a "lifestyle choice" with no hard evidence that it is healthier.

His comments will be a blow to the organic food industry, which is pressing for government recognition of what it describes as the nutritional and environmental benefits of its produce.

Sales of organic food jumped by 30% last year, with the industry now worth ยฃ1.6 billion. A growing number of shoppers believe that it tastes better and is safer.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Miliband said: "It's only 4% of total farm produce, not 40%, and I would not want to say that 96% of our farm produce is inferior because it's not organic."

He insisted that ordinary food should not be thought of as "second best", although he described the rise of organics as "exciting".

On nutritional benefits, the minister said: "It's a lifestyle choice that people can make. There isn't any conclusive evidence either way."

About 350 pesticides are allowed in conventional farming, with an estimated 4.5 billion litres of chemicals poured onto British crops every year. Campaigners say the average mass-produced apple has 20 to 30 chemicals on its skin.

The Soil Association, which regulates organic food, argues that meat, vegetables and dairy produced without pesticides are likely to be healthier, with some additives used in conventional farming linked to asthma and heart disease.

Organic meat also has welfare benefits, guaranteeing that animals are kept in free-range conditions and fed natural diets.

However, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has refused to accept these arguments. Sir John Krebs, a former chairman of the FSA, angered organic lobbyists when he said that there was no evidence that organic food was more nutritious or safer than conventionally produced food, despite its cost.

Organic produce is up to 63% more expensive than conventional food, according to recent research by Morgan Stanley, the investment bank. The Soil Association says this is because it takes longer to produce and is more labour intensive.

In his interview Miliband also gave the strongest indication yet that the government is preparing to give local authorities the powers to charge householders extra if they produce more non-recyclable rubbish.

The move follows pressure from the Local Government Association, which will this week release figures showing that Britain dumps more household waste into landfill sites than any other European Union state. Miliband said he was "personally interested" in introducing a charging scheme aimed at rewarding those who recycled: "It is right we look at every way of boosting recycling rates."

He said: "We're discussing this in government at the moment. I'm personally interested in the idea that there should be discounts if you recycle more, so effectively incentives for recycling."

The Local Government Association says councils would stop adding fixed charges for waste removal to council tax bills.Instead householders would receive individual bills, according to the weight of non-recyclable rubbish they produced.

Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA's environment board, said bins might need locking systems to prevent residents dumping waste in neighbours' bins. "Councils would like the power to charge, with each authority deciding the best way to do it," he said.

The measures are likely to be outlined in a new government "waste strategy", which is to be published in March.