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Report, 2015

ORGANIC FOOD – food quality and potential health effects

Mie, Axel; Wivstad, Maria


In this report, we try to approach the question “Is organic food healthier than conventional food?” from a scientific perspective. We can conclude that science does not provide a clear answer to this question. 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. However, such effects are not easily interpreted as positive or negative for health. The chemical composition of plants is affected by the production system; however, the relevance for human health is unclear, and 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 is definitely influenced by the organic vs. conventional husbandry systems due to different feeding regimes in these systems. From today’s knowledge of the functions of fatty acids, the composition of organic milk is more favorable for humans than the composition of conventional milk, due to a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids. However, less is known about other animal products, and dairy fats contribute little to the population’s intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids, so the importance for human health is small. 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. All the small pieces of evidence collected in this report justify more attention being paid to conducting epidemiological studies on the preference for organic vs. conventional food. From animal studies (namely on chicken health), 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 food.


Organic food, health, food quality, health effects

Published in

ISBN: 978-91-576-9274-0
Publisher: Centre for Organic Food and Farming (EPOK)

Authors' information

Mie, Axel
Karolinska Institute
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Crop Production Ecology

UKÄ Subject classification

Nutrition and Dietetics
Food Science
Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology

URI (permanent link to this page)