SLU news

Organic farming is traceable on a molecular level

Published: 26 March 2014

Researchers can see differences between organic and conventionally produced cabbage at a molecular level. In the future, the method can be used to ensure that products sold as organic really are organically produced.

It is disputed whether organic or conventional crops differ systematically in their content of nutrients and healthiness. In a recently published study a Swedish-Danish research team in detail examined the compounds of organic and conventional cabbage. The researchers found that the production system (organic or conventional farming) leaves a clear imprint in the cabbage.

Measuring thousands of substances
The cabbage in the study came from a multiannual controlled field trial. The researchers measured the presence of about 1,600 substances in the cabbage with the so-called metabolomics – a method which attempts to map the entire contents of metabolites* in a sample. Both the weather-conditioned environment for a certain year and production system left measurable footprints.

In this work, the scientists found that the production system leaves a clear imprint in the cabbage. However, it was not investigated if the cabbage from one of the productions systems is better than the other for the health of the consumer.

Organic farming can be seen at the molecular level
The researchers were able to classify cabbage samples from one year into organic or conventional, which shows that the production system has an effect on the compounds of the cabbage also under different growing conditions. This is probably due to different availability of nutrients. The authors believe that this demonstrates the possibility of using metabolomics to ensure that products sold as organic really has been cultivated organically.

*Metabolites are small molecules involved in metabolism. Vitamins and antioxidants are examples of metabolites.