Authentic Organic: Always the Best Choice

December 10th, 2017

Backed by Sound Science

[This article was previously published in the winter issue of The Cultivator, Cornucopia’s quarterly newsletter.]

by Anne Ross, JD
Farm and Food Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute

Source: Adobe Stock

An ancient Roman philosopher once said, “The greatest wealth is health.”

Choosing organically produced foods has always been, and continues to be, the best choice in nurturing the health of individuals, our communities, and the planet.

At a time when consumers are especially concerned about the integrity and origin of organically labeled food, a familiar question resurfaces: “Is authentic, organically produced food really better for me?”

For starters, numerous studies continue to establish that organically produced food has an enhanced nutritional profile.

Late last year, one of the most comprehensive reviews of existing research on organic food and production practices was published.1

The review, commissioned by the European Parliament, confirmed that animals raised under organic production methods have a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids. This is true for dairy products and meat.

Organic milk has a whopping 50% higher content of omega-3 fatty acids than its conventional counterpart. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and arthritis.

An unhealthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, characteristic of American diets, results in fatigue, depression, and poor memory.2

Infants who get insufficient amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems.3

The enhanced omega-3 content of organically raised livestock is directly related to the animal’s diet, which emphasizes grazing.

An animal’s diet clearly affects the nutritional profile of the food we ultimately consume. On an even broader scale, an animal’s diet also affects its propensity to develop disease.

Studies show that organic animal feed produces healthy animals. One of the most well-designed studies specifically compared the health condition of two groups of chickens raised on feed consisting of the same ingredients, except one group was fed conventional feed and the other certified organic.

By the second generation, the chickens fed organic feed showed a more robust immune reaction to a foreign invader than those fed conventional feed. Organic feed produced birds with stronger immune systems.4

Healthier, organic chickens aren’t fed preventative antibiotics used to curb disease, as are chickens on large, conventional factory farms.

Today, more than 70% of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in animal agriculture.

It’s widely accepted that the practice of using antibiotics to promote accelerated growth in conventional livestock has created antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Raising animals organically can reduce the incidence of disease and the use of antibiotics. The CDC reports that, in the U.S. alone, antibiotic-resistant bacteria sickens more than two million people and kills 23,000 each year.

Research also shows the health benefits of consuming organically grown plant foods. A study published in The British Journal of Nutrition analyzed the findings of 343 peer-reviewed studies comparing the composition of organic and conventional foods.5

The study confirmed that a diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables has a statistically significant, greater concentration of multiple antioxidants.

Organic produce averages 18 to 60% higher in concentrations of antioxidant compounds than conventional produce. By eating a diet of organic fruit, vegetables, and cereals, the consumer can increase antioxidant intake by an astonishing 20 to 40%.

This boost in antioxidant intake equates to eating between one and two extra portions of fruits and vegetables a day.6

Good soil health is key to infusing organic crops with these powerful, cancer-fighting antioxidants. In a recent ground–breaking study, Irish researchers determined that organic onions contained up to 20% more of the powerful antioxidant flavonol than conventionally grown onions.7

The study, which lasted six years and is the longest running study of its kind, is pivotal in demonstrating that an organic soil microbiome enhances the nutritional composition of the food we eat.

Organic production practices produce nutritionally superior foods, while protecting us from exposure to dangerous chemicals, by restricting the use of many pesticides.

Studies continue to confirm the dangerous effects of exposure to pesticides, particularly for children exposed in utero.

Well-documented consequences of prenatal exposure to pesticides in both agricultural and urban communities include compromised IQ, impaired cognitive development, and attention and behavioral problems.8

Researchers have concluded that organic diets significantly reduce an individual’s exposure to pesticide residue. An organic diet substantially lowers pesticide exposure in children in both urban and rural areas.9

Another study measuring urine output in adults concluded that those who ate organic diets for seven days showed a 90% drop in pesticides levels.10

Whether it’s enhanced nutritional content of organic foods or the reduced exposure to pesticides, antibiotics, and other drug residues, it’s clear that organics benefit human health.

Most people in the organic community have long understood the health benefits of organic food and production practices.

Sound, developing science continues to reinforce the healthful qualities of the organic system, reminding us, as consumers, why we expect a regulatory system that safeguards the authenticity of our food choices. Investment in organics is an investment in our health.

The science shows that enforcement of organic regulations is not simply imposing blind allegiance to a set of rules. Adherence to those rules has real consequences.

When large factory farms violate grazing management practices, consumers don’t get the more nutritious product they pay for and expect.

When vegetables are grown in hydroponic/container environments, using liquid fertilizers instead of rich, organically managed soil, the nutritional content could be compromised.

And, when toxic chemicals are applied to our food, adults and children suffer appalling adverse health effects.

Organic agriculture, the best, yet innately imperfect system, requires both criticism where warranted and validation where justified. Organic production practices and the regulations and enforcement practices that govern this system are no different.  As we work to improve our country’s oversight of organic production, we continue to find support in advancing science that confirms the principle we trust: authentic organic food remains the most nutritious and environmentally responsible choice.


[1] European Parliamentary Research Service, Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture; Science and Technology Options Assessment, Dec. 2016, available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2016/581922/EPRS_STU(2016)581922_EN.pdf

[2] University of Maryland Medical Center, Medical Reference Guide, Omega-3 Fatty Acids; available at: http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids; last visited Oct. 13, 2017.

[3] University of Maryland Medical Center, Medical Reference Guide, Omega-3 Fatty Acids; available at: http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids; last visited Oct. 13, 2017.

[4] Huber, M., Van de Vijver, L., Parmentier, H., Savelkoul, H., Coulier, L., Wopereis, S., . . . Hoogenboom, R. (2010). Effects of organically and conventionally produced feed on biomarkers of health in a chicken model. British Journal of Nutrition, 103(5), 663-676.

[5] Barański, M., Średnicka-Tober, D., Volakakis, N., Seal, C., Sanderson, R., Stewart, G., . . . Leifert, C. (2014). Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: A systematic literature review and meta-analyses. British Journal of Nutrition, 112(5), 794-811.

[6] Barański, M., Średnicka-Tober, D., Volakakis, N., Seal, C., Sanderson, R., Stewart, G., . . . Leifert, C. (2014). Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: A systematic literature review and meta-analyses. British Journal of Nutrition, 112(5), 794-811; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24968103.

[7] Feiyue Ren, Kim Reilly, Joseph P. Kerry, Michael Gaffney, Mohammad Hossain, and Dilip K. Rai Higher Antioxidant Activity, Total Flavonols, and Specific Quercetin Glucosides in Two Different Onion (Allium cepa L.) Varieties Grown under Organic Production: Results from a 6-Year Field Study, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2017 65 (25), 5122-5132; http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.jafc.7b01352.

[8] Bouchard MF, Chevrier J, Harley KG, et al. Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphate Pesticides and IQ in 7-Year-Old Children. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2011;119(8):1189-1195; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21507776 and

James Wetmur, Jia Chen, Chenbo Zhu, Dana Boyd Barr, Richard Canfield, Mary S. Wolff, Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphates, Paraoxonase 1, and Cognitive Development in Childhood, Environmental Health Perspect 119; 1182-1188 (2011) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51065277_Prenatal_Exposure_to_Organophosphates_Paraoxonase_1_and_Cognitive_Development_in_Childhood.

[9] Bradman A, Quirós-Alcalá L, Castorina R, Aguilar Schall R, Camacho J, Holland NT, Barr DB, Eskenazi B. 2015. Effect of organic diet intervention on pesticide exposures in young children living in low-income urban and agricultural communities; Environ Health Perspect 123:1086–1093;  https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1408660/.

[10] Liza Oates, Marc Cohen, Lesley Braun, Adrian Schembri, Rilka Taskova, Reduction in Urinary Organophosphate Pesticide Metabolites in Adults After a Week-Long Organic Diet, Environmental Research, 2014 July 2014, 105-111; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24769399.

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