SLU news

New report on organic food and health

Published: 05 February 2015

Is organic food healthier than conventional? Research does not provide a clear answer, according to the report that EPOK is launching.

Bild på rapportenThe report ”ORGANIC FOOD – food quality and potential health effects. A review of current knowledge, and a discussion of uncertainties” by Axel Mie and Maria Wivstad summarize existing scientific evidence and identify knowledge gaps. The ambition is also to show how diverging perceptions among the public are linked to and have their origin in existing research. At some points, namely in the discussions of statistical issues in the comparison of crop nutrient contents, of gaps in today’s risk assessment of pesticides, and of the potential relevance of epidemiological studies of pesticide effects for public health, research is presented in order to advance the scientific or public debates.

The production system affects nutrient content, but does it make organic food better for human health?
A small number of animal studies and epidemiological studies on health effects from the consumption of organic vs. conventional feed/food have been performed. These studies indicate that the production system of the food has some influence on the immune system of the consuming animal or human, the authors write. However, such effects are not easily interpreted as positive or negative for health. The chemical composition of plants is affected by the production system but the relevance for human health is unclear. When one focuses on single compounds such as vitamins, the picture is diffuse with small differences between production systems but large variations between studies.

The composition of dairy products there are differences due to different feeding regimes in these systems. Organic milk contains more of the for humans favourable Omega-3 fatty acids. But the authors point out that less is known about other animal products, and dairy fats contribute just at little to the population’s intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids, so the importance for human health is small.

Less pesticides in organic food – what does it mean?
For pesticides, organic food consumption substantially lowers pesticide exposure. According to European governmental bodies, pesticide residues in food are unlikely to have long-term effects on the health of consumers. There are however some important epidemiological studies, and uncertainties in pesticide regulation that may justify a precautionary approach for vulnerable population groups, the authors claim.

Long-term studies are needed
All the small pieces of evidence collected in this report, according to Mie and Wivstad, put the light on possibilities for new epidemiological studies on the preference for organic vs. conventional food. From animal studies, from functional knowledge of fatty acids, and from epidemiological studies of pesticide effects, it would be possible to formulate interesting research hypotheses that could be tested in long-term studies of humans, dedicated to investigating potential health effects of conventional vs. organic

The report touches agricultural, chemical, toxicological, nutritional and medical sciences. It is written with the intention that people who are not experts in these sciences can read most of it.