One of the key principles of organic agriculture is health and many shoppers choose organic food to avoid pesticides and because they believe it is healthier for them. But is organic better for you?
Studies show organic farming systems produce milk which is nutritionally different to milk from cows raised on non-organic dairy farms. In fact, no system of farming has milk with higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids or a healthier balance of omega-6. Research from Glasgow and Liverpool Universities found organic farm systems resulted in milk which has on average 68% higher levels of the essential fatty acid omega-3 and a healthier omega-3:6 profile than non-organic milk.
The most up-to-date research shows that organic crops are of a much higher nutritional quality than their non-organic counterparts. The peer reviewed research, a 'meta-analysis' of 343 previous studies by Newcastle University, and published in the British Journal of Nutrition, has found significant differences between organic and non-organic farming.
The research, presents strong evidence that switching to food produced using organic standards can lead to increased intake of nutritionally desirable antioxidants, without increased calories, as well as a reduced intake of potentially harmful cadmium and pesticides. The message is clear: how we farm can affect the quality of the food we eat. Organic is different.
The key findings of the study were:
- Production method affects quality: The analysis is the most extensive and reliable to date and clearly supports the view that the quality of food is influenced by the way it is produced.
- More antioxidants: Organic crops (cereals, fruit and vegetables) have significantly higher concentrations of antioxidants/(poly)phenolics compared with non-organic produced counterparts. This includes more phenolics (19% higher), flavanones (69% higher), stilbenes (28% higher), flavones (26% higher), and flavonols (50% higher). A switch to consuming organic crops would allow a 20-40% increase in antioxidant/(poly)phenolics consumption without an increase in calorie intake.
- Fewer pesticides: The frequency of occurrence of detectable pesticide residues is four times higher in non-organic crops. Non-organic fruit had the highest pesticide frequency (75%), compared to non-organic vegetables (32%) and non-organic crop based processed foods (45%). By contrast pesticide residues were found in 10% of organic crop samples. The best way to reduce your exposure to pesticides in all foods is to buy organic. Certified organic food including all fruits and vegetables will overall contain fewer pesticides. Many people don’t realise over 320 pesticides can be routinely used in non-organic farming and these are often present in non-organic food.
- Less cadmium: The analysis detected 48% lower concentrations of the toxic heavy metal cadmium in organic crops.
- Less nitrogen: Nitrogen concentrations - linked in some studies to an increased risk of certain cancers such as stomach cancer – were found to be significantly lower in organic crops.
It is clear that organic farming delivers real differences in nutrients between organic and non-organic crops. Download a summary of the research: 'Organic versus Non-organic'
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