Is organic food healthier? What do scientific facts tell us?

Is organic food healthier?

The world’s natural and organic food and retail industry was estimated in 2015 to stand at $92 billion (deduced from Statista projection figures). The organic food industry is still a small fraction of the food industry. According to the World Bank, the food and agriculture industry is around 10% of the global GDP of $78 trillion.

Should the world shift to organic agriculture?

Farmers in the US do not find it profitable to shift to organic crops from traditional high-yielding genetically modified crops. If all crops were to be raised organically, then at the current level of farm production additional 109 million acres of other lands would be required. These were the findings of a 2014 study conducted in the US. 

Organic farms can feed 10 billion people in 2050 if people turn vegan. The shift to becoming vegan, though, is unlikely to happen. The challenge to food security in the world is huge. The problem is not just production but also access. Any policy decision to shift production from conventional to organic can seriously concern food security. The food shortages in Sri Lanka in 2022 were exasperated as there was a policy-induced nationwide shift from traditional to organic farming. 

In developing populous countries like India, farmers are switching to organic cultivation. The reasons for this shift are:

  1. Large unskilled farm-dependent population
  2. Higher farm produce price
  3. High cost of inputs like chemical fertilizers and insecticides

The situation will change as the country develops and avenues of employment rise.

Is organic food more nutritious?

The nutritional value, sensory qualities, and food safety of organically and conventionally produced foods were compared. Except for nitrate content, there is no strong evidence that organic and conventional foods differ in concentrations of various nutrients or contaminants (Bourn et al., 2002)

162 studies were analyzed, of which 137 examined nutrient quality in crops and 25 livestock products. The study concluded that conventionally produced crops had a significantly higher nitrogen content. Organic crops had a higher content of phosphorus and higher titratable acidity. The scientists also noted no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs. Small differences in nutrient content between the two could be related to differences in production methods (Dangour et al., 2009).

Organic food benefits scientific review:

A comparative study was undertaken on organically and conventionally produced foods' nutritional value, sensory qualities, and safety. The result showed that, except for nitrate content, there is no strong evidence that organic and conventional foods differ in concentrations of various nutrients or contaminants (Bourn et al., 2002). 

On the other hand, a nutritional quality comparative assessment study threw up different results. Organic crops contained significantly more vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus and fewer nitrates (Worthington, 2001).

Phenols are important to human health. The total content of this class of metabolites was studied in marionberries, strawberries, and corn cultivated on organic and conventional farms. The three most common post-harvest processing treatments — freezing, freeze-drying, and air drying- shows higher phenol in organically raised crops (Asami et al., 2003).

When compared to developing countries in the developed parts of the world, nutritional differences and issues around sustainability are determining the popularity of organic and conventional farm products.

As our understanding of compounds that help protect the human body from disease is understood, this difference between organic and conventional crops became an area of interest. Organic vegetables and fruits were more likely to contain more of these defensive compounds when compared to those produced on conventional farms (Brandt et al., 2001).

Magkos et al. 2003 show little evidence that organic and conventional foods differ in micro-nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. But they did observe a slight trend towards higher ascorbic acid content in organically grown leafy vegetables and potatoes. Some organic vegetables and cereals crops had lower protein concentrations but were of higher quality. 


The weight of current scientific evidence indicates that organic food has little nutritional advantage over conventionally grown food. However, choosing organic foods may still be beneficial as they support more sustainable farming practices and reduce pesticide exposure and other chemicals.

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