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Concept: Organic food


Demand for organic foods is partially driven by consumers' perceptions that they are more nutritious. However, scientific opinion is divided on whether there are significant nutritional differences between organic and non-organic foods, and two recent reviews have concluded that there are no differences. In the present study, we carried out meta-analyses based on 343 peer-reviewed publications that indicate statistically significant and meaningful differences in composition between organic and non-organic crops/crop-based foods. Most importantly, the concentrations of a range of antioxidants such as polyphenolics were found to be substantially higher in organic crops/crop-based foods, with those of phenolic acids, flavanones, stilbenes, flavones, flavonols and anthocyanins being an estimated 19 (95 % CI 5, 33) %, 69 (95 % CI 13, 125) %, 28 (95 % CI 12, 44) %, 26 (95 % CI 3, 48) %, 50 (95 % CI 28, 72) % and 51 (95 % CI 17, 86) % higher, respectively. Many of these compounds have previously been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including CVD and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers, in dietary intervention and epidemiological studies. Additionally, the frequency of occurrence of pesticide residues was found to be four times higher in conventional crops, which also contained significantly higher concentrations of the toxic metal Cd. Significant differences were also detected for some other (e.g. minerals and vitamins) compounds. There is evidence that higher antioxidant concentrations and lower Cd concentrations are linked to specific agronomic practices (e.g. non-use of mineral N and P fertilisers, respectively) prescribed in organic farming systems. In conclusion, organic crops, on average, have higher concentrations of antioxidants, lower concentrations of Cd and a lower incidence of pesticide residues than the non-organic comparators across regions and production seasons.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Agriculture, Nutrition, Pesticide, Flavonoid, Organic farming, Organic food, Sustainable agriculture


The “organic food” market is the fastest growing food sector, yet it is unclear whether organically raised food is nutritionally superior to conventionally grown food and whether consuming organic food bestows health benefits. In order to evaluate potential health benefits of organic foods, we used the well-characterized fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model system. Fruit flies were raised on a diets consisting of extracts of either conventionally or organically raised produce (bananas, potatoes, raisins, soy beans). Flies were then subjected to a variety of tests designed to assess overall fly health. Flies raised on diets made from organically grown produce had greater fertility and longevity. On certain food sources, greater activity and greater stress resistance was additionally observed, suggesting that organic food bestows positive effects on fly health. Our data show that Drosophila can be used as a convenient model system to experimentally test potential health effects of dietary components. Using this system, we provide evidence that organically raised food may provide animals with tangible benefits to overall health.

Concepts: Nutrition, Model organism, Drosophila melanogaster, Drosophila, Organic farming, Flies, Organic food, Sustainable agriculture


Organophosphate pesticide (OP) exposure to the US population is dominated by dietary intake. The magnitude of exposure from diet depends partly upon personal decisions such as which foods to eat and whether to choose organic food. Most studies of OP exposure rely on urinary biomarkers, which are limited by short half-lives and often lack specificity to parent compounds. A reliable means of estimating long-term dietary exposure to individual OPs is needed to assess the potential relationship with adverse health effects.

Concepts: Nutrition, Eating, Food, Pesticide, Seafood, Organic food, Sustainable agriculture, DDT


Demand for organic meat is partially driven by consumer perceptions that organic foods are more nutritious than non-organic foods. However, there have been no systematic reviews comparing specifically the nutrient content of organic and conventionally produced meat. In this study, we report results of a meta-analysis based on sixty-seven published studies comparing the composition of organic and non-organic meat products. For many nutritionally relevant compounds (e.g. minerals, antioxidants and most individual fatty acids (FA)), the evidence base was too weak for meaningful meta-analyses. However, significant differences in FA profiles were detected when data from all livestock species were pooled. Concentrations of SFA and MUFA were similar or slightly lower, respectively, in organic compared with conventional meat. Larger differences were detected for total PUFA and n-3 PUFA, which were an estimated 23 (95 % CI 11, 35) % and 47 (95 % CI 10, 84) % higher in organic meat, respectively. However, for these and many other composition parameters, for which meta-analyses found significant differences, heterogeneity was high, and this could be explained by differences between animal species/meat types. Evidence from controlled experimental studies indicates that the high grazing/forage-based diets prescribed under organic farming standards may be the main reason for differences in FA profiles. Further studies are required to enable meta-analyses for a wider range of parameters (e.g. antioxidant, vitamin and mineral concentrations) and to improve both precision and consistency of results for FA profiles for all species. Potential impacts of composition differences on human health are discussed.

Concepts: Agriculture, Nutrition, Evidence-based medicine, Systematic review, Meta-analysis, Organic farming, Organic food, Sustainable agriculture


This review summarises existing evidence on the impact of organic food on human health. It compares organic vs. conventional food production with respect to parameters important to human health and discusses the potential impact of organic management practices with an emphasis on EU conditions. Organic food consumption may reduce the risk of allergic disease and of overweight and obesity, but the evidence is not conclusive due to likely residual confounding, as consumers of organic food tend to have healthier lifestyles overall. However, animal experiments suggest that identically composed feed from organic or conventional production impacts in different ways on growth and development. In organic agriculture, the use of pesticides is restricted, while residues in conventional fruits and vegetables constitute the main source of human pesticide exposures. Epidemiological studies have reported adverse effects of certain pesticides on children’s cognitive development at current levels of exposure, but these data have so far not been applied in formal risk assessments of individual pesticides. Differences in the composition between organic and conventional crops are limited, such as a modestly higher content of phenolic compounds in organic fruit and vegetables, and likely also a lower content of cadmium in organic cereal crops. Organic dairy products, and perhaps also meats, have a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids compared to conventional products. However, these differences are likely of marginal nutritional significance. Of greater concern is the prevalent use of antibiotics in conventional animal production as a key driver of antibiotic resistance in society; antibiotic use is less intensive in organic production. Overall, this review emphasises several documented and likely human health benefits associated with organic food production, and application of such production methods is likely to be beneficial within conventional agriculture, e.g., in integrated pest management.

Concepts: Health, Epidemiology, Agriculture, Nutrition, Pesticide, Organic farming, Organic food, Sustainable agriculture


Recent organic diet intervention studies suggest that diet is a significant source of pesticide exposure in young children. These studies have focused on children living in suburban communities.

Concepts: Agriculture, Poverty, Pesticide, Suburb, Organic food, Village


Consumer research has demonstrated halo effects arising from advertising claims on food packaging (e.g., “organic,” “no cholesterol”) that promote misperceiving products more positively on other dimensions (e.g., low-calorie, low-fat). However, little research has explored the conditions under which such claims might give rise to more negative rather than positive evaluations. This paper highlights two domains of judgment in which an ethical or values-based claim (“organic”) can promote negative impressions. In Study 1, participants judged organic foods relative to conventional foods on healthfulness and expected taste quality. Results suggest that whereas organics are perceived as more healthful than conventional foods (consistent with previous findings), they are also perceived as less tasty, especially among participants low in environmental concern. In Study 2, participants judged the effectiveness of a formula drink intended to help alleviate malnourishment that was described as organic or not, depending on experimental condition. Results showed that participants high in environmental concern (who typically evaluate organic products positively) judged the drink more negatively (i.e., as less effective) when it was described as “organic.” Discussion focuses on possible mechanisms for these effects, as well as the moderating role of judgment type and perceivers' values in halo effects more broadly.

Concepts: Nutrition, Effectiveness, Food, Organic food, Sustainable agriculture


Conventional food production commonly uses organophosphate (OP) pesticides, which can have negative health effects, while organic food is deemed healthier because it is produced without these pesticides. Studies suggest that organic food consumption may significantly reduce OP pesticide exposure in children who have relatively higher pesticide exposure than adults due to their different diets, body weight, behaviour and less efficient metabolism.

Concepts: Bacteria, Nutrition, Food, Acetylcholine, Pesticide, Insecticide, Organic food, DDT


Attitude change is a critical component of health behavior change, but has rarely been studied longitudinally following extensive exposures to persuasive materials such as full-length movies, books, or plays. We examined changes in attitudes related to food production and consumption in college students who had read Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma as part of a University-wide reading project. Composite attitudes toward organic foods, local produce, meat, and the quality of the American food supply, as well as opposition to government subsidies, distrust in corporations, and commitment to the environmental movement were significantly and substantially impacted, in comparison to students who had not read the book. Much of the attitude change disappeared after 1 year; however, over the course of 12 months self-reported opposition to government subsidies and belief that the quality of the food supply is declining remained elevated in readers of the book, compared to non-readers. Findings have implications for our understanding of the nature of changes in attitudes to food and eating in response to extensive exposure to coherent and engaging messages targeting health behaviors.

Concepts: Food, Organic food, Local food, Attitude change, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire, In Defense of Food


Little is known about the potential health effects of eating organic food either in the general population or during pregnancy. The aim of this study was to examine associations between organic food consumption during pregnancy and the risk of pre-eclampsia among nulliparous Norwegian women.

Concepts: Nutrition, Demography, Eating, Food, Organic food