However, younger people remain more likely than their older counterparts to say organics are healthier than conventionally grown food. As in the survey, there are no differences among men and women on views of the healthfulness of organic foods. These latest findings come as consumers sort through ongoing public debates over how the foods we eat can affect our health.
About four-in-ten U. Organic farming strives to eliminate the use of conventional pesticides and fertilizers so that fruits, vegetables and grains have substantially lower levels of those chemicals. Farmers also pledge that organic crops are not genetically modified GM. The retail value of organic produce has prompted some importers to attach fake organic labels to produce. Organic production aims for less intensive animal production, which generally means that the animals have access to a more spacious and enriched environment, access to an outdoor range and restricted group sizes, and other preconditions [ 70 ].
This would ultimately decrease the need for preventive medication of the animals as they can perform more natural behaviours and have more opportunity to maintain a good health. However, in practice, the health status of organic livestock is complex and disease prevention needs to be adapted to the individual farm [ ].
A report on the consequences of organic production in Denmark demonstrates that meeting the requirements of organic production has several positive consequences in relation to animal welfare and health [ 70 ]. According to EU regulations, routine prophylactic medication of animals in organic production is not allowed. However, diseases should be treated immediately to avoid suffering, and the therapeutic use of antibiotics is allowed, but with longer withdrawal periods than in conventional production [ 5 ].
This means that therapeutically the same antibiotics used in conventional farming may be used in organic farming, but under different conditions.
Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture: a comprehensive review
For example, antibiotics mainly used for sub-therapeutic treatment as prophylaxis are never considered in organic production. While the organic regulations aim for a low use of antibiotics in livestock production, the actual use of antibiotic drugs in European organic compared to conventional animal husbandry is not comprehensively documented. Scattered studies indicate that the antibiotic use generally is substantially higher in conventional compared to organic systems, especially for pigs approximately 5 — fold higher [ , ].
While only sparingly documented e. This is a consequence of regulations prohibiting prophylactic use and prescribing long withdrawal periods before slaughter [ 6 , ], in conjunction with the fact that it is not feasible to treat single animals in broiler flocks. In conventional broiler production, antibiotic use is common e. Recently, gene sequencing has revealed that the routes of transmission of resistance genes between human and farm animal reservoirs seem to be complex [ , , ].
In addition to direct transmission between animals and humans via contact or via food, resistant strains and resistance genes may also spread into the environment [ ]. Previously, it has been postulated that a reduced need and use of antibiotics in organic livestock production will diminish the risk of development of antibiotic resistance [ ], and this has also been demonstrated with regard to resistant E.
It has also been shown that the withdrawal of prophylactic use of antibiotics when poultry farms are converted from conventional to organic production standards leads to a decrease in the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella [ ]. Resistant bacteria may be transferred within the production chain from farm to fork [ ]. It has been found that organic livestock products are less likely to harbour resistant bacteria in pork and chicken meat [ 25 ]. Furthermore, it has been found that healthy French pig farmers are more likely to carry MRSA than control persons [ ] and that they carry similar strains of MRSA to those found on their pig farms [ ].
Multivariate adjustment for potential risk factors rendered this association non-significant, suggesting that it was carried by other factors, including factors that are regulated in or associated with organic production, such as non-slatted floors, no use of antibiotics, and farrow-to-finish herd types. Furthermore, even if there are considerable differences in antibiotic use between countries, it has been found that antibiotic resistance is less common in organic pigs compared to conventional pigs in France, Italy, Denmark, and Sweden [ , ]. Although it is rare for conventional farms to adopt knowledge about management and housing from organic production except when converting farms in line with organic standards, there may be options to improve animal health and welfare by knowledge transfer to conventional farms in order to reduce the use of antibiotics [ ].
Within organic production, labelling requires full traceability in all steps in order to guarantee the origin of the organic products being marketed [ 5 ]. Application of the general principle of organic regulations about transparency throughout the food chain can be used to mitigate emerging problems of transmission of antimicrobial resistance. However, transition to organic production for the whole livestock sector would, on its own, be only part of a solution to the antibiotics resistance issue, because factors outside animal production, such as their use in humans, will be unaffected.
An assessment of the human health effects associated with diets based on organic food production must rely on two sets of evidence. The first set of evidence is the epidemiological studies comparing population groups with dietary habits that differ substantially in regard to choices of organic v. These studies are to some extent complemented by experimental studies using animal models and in vitro models. The second set of data relies on indirect evidence such as chemical analyses of food products and their contents of nutrients and contaminants or antibiotic use and resistance patterns, in onsequence of agricultural production methods.
Both sets of results are associated with certain strengths and weaknesses. Owing to the scarcity or lack of prospective studies and the lack of mechanistic evidence, it is presently not possible to determine whether organic food plays a causal role in these observations. However, it has also been observed that consumers who prefer organic food have healthier dietary patterns overall, including a higher consumption of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes and a lower consumption of meat [ 18 , 29 , 37 ].
This leads to some methodological difficulties in separating the potential effect of organic food preference from the potential effect of other associated lifestyle factors, due to residual confounding or unmeasured confounders. These dietary patterns have in other contexts been associated with a decreased risk of several chronic diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease [ 30 — 36 ]. It is therefore expected that consumers who regularly eat organic food have a decreased risk of these diseases compared to people consuming conventionally-produced food, as a consequence of dietary patterns.
These dietary patterns appear also to be more environmentally sustainable than average diets [ ]. Food analyses tend to support the notion that organic foods may have some health benefits. Consumers of organic food have a comparatively low dietary exposure to pesticides. Although chemical pesticides undergo a comprehensive risk assessment before market release in the EU, there are important gaps in this risk assessment.
In some cases, specifically for cognitive development during childhood as an effect of organophosphate insecticide exposure during pregnancy, epidemiological studies provide evidence of adverse effects [ , ]. This review emphasizes that pesticide exposure from conventional food production constitutes a main health concern. A key issue that has only recently been explored in biomedical research is that early-life exposure is of major concern, especially prenatal exposure that may harm brain development.
Most insecticides are designed to be toxic to the insect nervous system, but many higher species depend on similar neurochemical processes and may therefore all be vulnerable to these substances [ ]. Besides insecticides, experimental studies suggest a potential for adverse effects on the nervous system for many herbicides and fungicides as well [ 99 ]. However, no systematic testing is available since testing for neurotoxicity — especially developmental neurotoxicity — has not consistently been required as part of the registration process, and allowable exposures may therefore not protect against such effects.
At least different pesticides are known to cause adverse neurological effects in adults [ ], and all of these substances must therefore be suspected of being capable of damaging also developing brains. The outcomes in children and adults and the dose-dependences are still incompletely documented, but an additional limitation is the lack of exposure assessments in different populations and also their association with dietary habits. The costs from pesticide use in regard to human health and associated costs to society are likely to be greatly underestimated due to hidden and external costs, as recently reviewed [ ].
Also, gaps in the regulatory approval process of pesticides may lead to important effects being disregarded and remaining undetected. However, as these products only are a minor source of omega-3 fatty acids in the average diet, the nutritional significance of this effect is probably low although this has not been proven. The nutritional content of crops is largely unaffected by the production system, according to current knowledge.
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Vitamins and minerals are found in similar concentrations in crops from both systems. One exception is the increased content of phenolic compounds found in organic crops, although this is still subject to uncertainty despite a large number of studies that have addressed this issue. Accordingly, although in general being favourable for organic products, the established nutritional differences between organic and conventional foods are small, and strong conclusions for human health cannot currently be drawn from these differences.
There are indications that organic crops contain less cadmium compared to conventional crops. This is plausible, primarily because mineral fertiliser is an important source of cadmium in soils. However, notably, long-term farm pairing studies or field trials that are required for definitely establishing or disproving this relationship are lacking.
Owing to the high relevance of cadmium in food for human health, this lack of research constitutes an important knowledge gap. With respect to the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, organic animal production may offer a way of restricting the risks posed by intensive production, and even decreasing the prevalence of antibiotic resistance.
Organic farm animals are less likely to develop certain diseases related to intensive production compared to animals on conventional farms. As a consequence, less antibiotics for treating clinical diseases are required under organic management, where their prophylactic use also is strongly restricted. This decreases the risk for development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Furthermore, the transparency in organic production may be useful for acquiring knowledge and methods to combat the rising issues around transmission of antimicrobial resistance within food production.
It appears essential that use of antibiotics in animal production decreases strongly or completely ceases in order to decrease the risk of entering a post-antibiotic era. The development and upscaling of rearing systems free or low in antibiotic use, such as organic broiler production, may be an important contribution of organic agriculture to a future sustainable food system. Most of the studies considered in this review have investigated the effects of agricultural production on product composition or health. Far less attention has been paid to the potential effects of food processing.
Processing may affect the composition of foods and the bioavailability of food constituents. It is regulated [ 5 ] and recognised [ ] that food additives are restricted for organic products compared to conventional products. It is also recognised that the degree of food processing may be of relevance to human health [ , ]. With the exception of chemical additives, it is unknown whether certain food processing methods e.
The scopes of two recent reports, from Norway [ ] and Denmark [ 70 ], in part overlap with the present work. Broadly, the reviewed results and conclusions presented in those reports are in line with this article. For several topics, important new evidence has been published in recent years.
Consequently, in some cases stronger conclusions can be drawn today. Furthermore, the present review includes epidemiological studies of pesticide effects in the evidence base reviewed. Over all, the evidence available suggested some clear and some potential advantages associated with organic foods. The advantages in general do not necessarily require organic food production as strictly defined in current legislation.
Certain production methods, such as changes in the use of pesticides and antibiotics, can be implemented in conventional production, e. Thereby, practices and developments in organic agriculture can have substantial public health benefits also outside the organic sector. Diet choices and the associated food production methods also have important impacts on environmental sustainability [ ].
Consumption patterns of consumers preferring organic food [ 16 , 18 , 19 , 37 , 47 ] seem to align well with sustainable diets [ 2 ]. These consumption patterns also show some similarities with the Mediterranean Diet [ — ] and with the New Nordic Diet [ — ], with lower dietary footprints in regard to land use, energy and water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions compared to concurrent average diets.
Further evaluation is needed to assess the extent to which organic food systems can serve as example of a sustainable food systems [ ]. While an evaluation of overall impacts of different food systems on environmental sustainability would be highly desirable [ ], the present review has attempted to assess the human health issues in regard to organic production methods and consumer preferences for organic food, both important aspects of sustainability. Suggestive evidence indicates that organic food consumption may reduce the risk of allergic disease and of overweight and obesity, but residual confounding is likely, as consumers of organic food tend to have healthier lifestyles overall.
Animal experiments suggest that growth and development is affected by the feed type when comparing identically composed feed from organic or conventional production. In organic agriculture, the use of pesticides is restricted, and residues in conventional fruits and vegetables constitute the main source of human exposures.
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The nutrient composition differs only minimally between organic and conventional crops, with modestly higher contents of phenolic compounds in organic fruit and vegetables. There is likely also a lower cadmium content in organic cereal crops. Organic dairy products, and perhaps also meats, have a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids compared to conventional products, although this difference is of likely of marginal nutritional significance. Thus, organic food production has several documented and potential benefits for human health, and wider application of these production methods also in conventional agriculture, e.
The present review is an updated and abbreviated version aimed for the scientific community. The Science and Technology Options Assessment Panel of the European Parliament provided funding for writing this paper, travel support to the authors and coverage of incidental expenses. EKG drafted the human studies section.
JK drafted the food consumption pattern aspects in the human studies section and in the discussion. AM and ER drafted the in vitro and animal studies section. HRA and PG drafted the pesticides section. AM and ER drafted the plant foods section. AM drafted the animal foods section. SG drafted the antibiotic resistance section. AM and PG drafted the discussion and conclusions. All authors commented on the entire draft and approved the final version.
The authors have no conflict of interest to report.
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AM has participated as an expert witness in a court case in Sweden related to pesticide exposure from organic and conventional foods Patent and Market Courts, case no. PG is an editor of this journal but recused himself from participating in the handling of this manuscript. Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Axel Mie, Email: es.
Helle Raun Andersen, Email: kd. Stefan Gunnarsson, Email: es. Johannes Kahl, Email: kd. Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot, Email: rf. Gianluca Quaglio, Email: ue. Philippe Grandjean, Email: kd. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Journal List Environ Health v. Environ Health. Published online Oct Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer.
Corresponding author. Received May 22; Accepted Oct 2. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract This review summarises existing evidence on the impact of organic food on human health. Background The long-term goal of developing sustainable food systems is considered a high priority by several intergovernmental organisations [ 1 — 3 ]. This review details the science on the effects of organic food and organic food production on human health and includes studies that directly address such effects in epidemiological studies and clinical trials.
Focusing on narrower aspects of production, we then discuss the impact of the production system on 3. Association between organic food consumption and health: Findings from human studies A growing literature is aiming at characterizing individual lifestyles, motivations and dietary patterns in regard to organic food consumption, which is generally defined from responses obtained from food frequency questionnaires [ 15 — 23 ].
Experimental in vitro and animal studies In vitro studies The focus on single plant components in the comparison of crops from organic and conventional production, as discussed further below, disregards the fact that compounds in food do not exist and act separately, but in their natural context [ 49 ]. Animal studies of health effects Considering the difficulties of performing long-term dietary intervention studies in humans, animal studies offer some potential of studying long-term health effects of foods in vivo.
Pesticides Plant protection in organic and conventional agriculture Plant protection in conventional agriculture is largely dependent on the use of synthetic pesticides. Open in a separate window. Microorganisms biological plant protection products are not included b Basic substances are compounds with a low risk profile that are useful in plant protection but primarily have other uses. Some substances have multiple classifications for different endpoints, therefore the total number of compounds is lower than the sum f Pyrethrins, extract from Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium , are classified as acutely toxic class 4.
Pesticide use — Exposure of consumers and producers One main advantage of organic food production is the restricted use of synthetic pesticides [ 5 , 6 ], which leads to low residue levels in foods and thus lower pesticide exposure for consumers. Pesticide exposure and health effects The regulatory risk assessment of pesticides currently practised in the EU is comprehensive, as a large number of toxicological effects are addressed in animal and other experimental studies.
Production system and composition of plant foods Fertilisation in organic agriculture is based on organic fertilisers such as farmyard manure, compost and green fertilisers, while some inorganic mineral fertilisers are used as supplements. Overall crop composition Metabolomics [ — ], proteomics [ , ] and transcriptomics [ , ] studies in controlled field trials provide evidence that the production system has an overall influence on crop development, although there is no direct relevance of these studies for human health.
Vitamins Systematic reviews generally agree that the concentration of macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals in crops is either not at all or only slightly affected by the production system. Polyphenols Poly phenolic compounds are not essential nutrients for humans but may play a role in preventing several non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular disease, neurodegeneration and cancer [ ].
Fungal toxins Regarding fungal toxins in crops, one meta-analysis has reported a lower contamination of organic compared to conventional cereal crops with deoxynivalenol DON , produced by certain fusarium species [ 25 ]. Fatty acids Much of the focus of existing research on compositional differences of organic and conventional animal-based foods is on the fatty acid composition, with a major interest in omega-3 FAs due to their importance for human health. Antibiotic resistant bacteria Overly prevalent prophylactic use of antibiotics in animal production is an important factor contributing to increasing human health problems due to resistant bacteria.
Discussion An assessment of the human health effects associated with diets based on organic food production must rely on two sets of evidence. Conclusions Suggestive evidence indicates that organic food consumption may reduce the risk of allergic disease and of overweight and obesity, but residual confounding is likely, as consumers of organic food tend to have healthier lifestyles overall. Funding The Science and Technology Options Assessment Panel of the European Parliament provided funding for writing this paper, travel support to the authors and coverage of incidental expenses.
Availability of data and material Not relevant. Notes Ethics approval and consent to participate Not applicable. Consent for publication All authors approved the manuscript for publication. Competing interests The authors have no conflict of interest to report. Contributor Information Axel Mie, Email: es. References 1. Burlingame B, Dernini S. Directions and solutions for policy, research and action. Edited by Burlingame B, Dernini S; Sustainable Food Systems Programme; The World of Organic Agriculture. Statistics and emerging trends. In: Off J Eur Union Edited by Willer H, Lernoud J.
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Biol Conserv. Wheeler T, von Braun J. Climate change impacts on global food security. Characteristics and consumption patterns of Australian organic consumers. J Sci Food Agric. Contribution of organic food to the diet in a large sample of French adults the NutriNet-Sante cohort study Nutrients. Typology of eaters based on conventional and organic food consumption: results from the NutriNet-Sante cohort study. Br J Nutr. Profiles of organic food consumers in a large sample of French adults: results from the Nutrinet-Sante cohort study.
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Ann Intern Med. Forman J, Silverstein J. Organic foods: health and environmental advantages and disadvantages. Consumption of a diet low in advanced glycation end products for 4 weeks improves insulin sensitivity in overweight women. Diabetes Care. Effects of organic and conventional growth systems on the content of carotenoids in carrot roots, and on intake and plasma status of carotenoids in humans.
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Whole grain intake and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. The million women study C: organic food consumption and the incidence of cancer in a large prospective study of women in the United Kingdom.
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EFSA Journal. They do not use genetically modified GM components or expose food to irradiation. Animal welfare and environmental sustainability are important issues for organic farmers. For example, eggs certified as organic are free range, rather than from caged battery hens.
Types of organic produce available in Australia include fruit and vegetables, dried legumes, grains, meat and meat products, dairy foods, eggs, honey and some processed foods. Organic farming Animals raised using organic methods are treated humanely and with respect. For example, chickens are free range and not kept in cages, and cows are not kept in feed lots. Animals are also not fed any growth-regulating drugs, steroids, hormones or antibiotics. However, the animals may be treated with vaccines to prevent disease. Organic farming is also concerned with protecting the environment and working in harmony with existing ecosystems, including conserving water, soil and energy, and using renewable resources and natural farming cycles.
Traditional farming methods are often used, such as rotating crops to prevent depleting the soil of nutrients. Pesticides and other chemicals in organic food Organic foods are not necessarily completely chemical free. They may be grown on land not previously used for organic food production and, therefore, might contain chemical residues. However, the pesticide residues in organic food are considerably lower than those found in foods produced with synthetic chemicals.
Certain naturally occurring pesticides, including pyrethrins, light oils, copper and sulphur, and biological substances such as Bacillus thuringiensis, are permitted for use in organic farming. Organic food is a growing industry The Australian organic food industry is booming. Consumer demand for organic food is growing at a rate of 20—30 per cent per year, with retail sales increasing per cent between and — It is estimated that more than six out of every ten Australian households now buy organic foods on occasion.
Reasons to buy organic food Most people buy organically-grown food products because they are concerned about pesticides, additives, antibiotics or other chemical residues. Although pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables are monitored in Australia, many people believe organic food is healthier. Organic food and nutrition content Several studies have compared the nutritional content of organic and conventionally grown plants, and most have shown no significant differences in key vitamin and mineral content.
However, although the differences are small, research has shown that some organic food has: Lower nitrate levels Higher vitamin C levels Higher levels of selenium. Organic food and ethics Organic foods promote more humane treatment of animals, as well as providing meat that is free from hormones and antibiotics. Also, some people worry about the long-term health, economic and environmental consequences of GM foods and choose organic foods in support of an industry that does not use GM techniques.
Organic food is better for the environment Organic foods promote healthier and more sustainable use of natural resources. Modern farming methods, including excessive use of chemicals, have led to a decline in soil fertility, and an increase in salinity and blue-green algae in waterways over many years. Organic farmers try to minimise damage to the environment by using physical weed control, and animal and green manure. Organic food outlets You can buy organic food from: Some supermarkets Some green grocers Health food shops Some fresh food markets The internet Certified organic retailers.
Organic food is often more expensive than conventionally-produced food. This is because organic farming generally operates on a smaller scale, production is more labour intensive and, without herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals, yields are generally smaller. Organic food certification Organic farms are only certified after they have been operating according to organic principles for three years. Before , a standard guidelines and rules did not exist for domestic and imported organic foods. Two key standards now govern the production, processing and labelling of organic food in Australia.
These standards provide an agreed set of procedures to be followed in organic food production. The standards include requirements for production, preparation, transportation, marketing and labelling of organic products in Australia. While it is mandatory for exported organic produce to be certified and meet the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce, the Australian standard for domestic and imported foods is not mandated, and certification is voluntary.
Its purpose is to assist the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ACCC — the national consumer regulatory authority to ensure that claims made about organic and biodynamic products are not false or misleading. Some of the certifying organisations have their own standards in addition to the National Standard. Biodynamic food Biodynamic farming is a type of organic farming pioneered by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, which places strong emphasis on ecological harmony and environmental sustainability.
Biodynamic food is grown with particular composts, preparations and natural activating substances. Where to get help Some supermarkets Some greengrocers Organic food retailers. More information here. Send us your feedback. Rate this website Your comments Questions Your details. Excellent Good Average Fair Poor. Next Submit Now Cancel. Please note that we cannot answer personal medical queries.
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