Evidence is Lacking for Nutrition-Related Health Effects of Organic Food

Terry D. Etherton

Proponents of organic foods have touted many health, nutrition and safety benefits associated with the consumption of these foods.  However, credible science does not support the health, nutrition or safety claims made by the organic food industry (see Science Behind Reported Benefits of Organic Milk).  As might be expected, this has been vigorously disputed by advocates of organic food.  This is not a surprise given that deceptive use of marketing and health claims has been a core component of some campaigns to grow market share in the organic food sector.  Thus, some consumers are purchasing organic food on the belief that they are healthier than conventionally produced food.

An important reality is that the organic food system is one food production practice. If consumers elect to purchase this food, which is typically more expensive, so be it.  However, the marketing campaigns commonly used to market organic foods are to malign science and raise questions about nutrient content, health benefits and safety of conventionally produced food.  To date, these campaigns have not been based on sound science demonstrating that there are nutrition and health benefits associated with the consumption of organic foods that extend beyond those found in conventionally produced food.  In essence, there has been an element of “smoke and mirrors” used in these marketing efforts.

A recently published systematic review provides further evidence that there is no basis for the claims that consuming organic food is associated with any health benefits.  An extensive review of the scientific literature published in the July 2010 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes that “evidence is lacking for nutrition-related health effects that result from consumption of organically produced foodstuffs”; see: Nutrition-Related Health Effects of Organic Foods – A Systematic Review.

As some context, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) is viewed by many nutritional scientists as the foremost clinical nutrition journal in the World.  My point?  It is a highly reputable journal that publishes the very best science.

The authors of the AJCN paper reviewed a total of 98,727 papers that were published in the scientific literature, world-wide, to identify quality papers that were appropriate for analysis.  Only 12 papers met the “quality standards” for inclusion in the analysis.  Some could argue that this is a not a lot of data, however, rigorous standards were used to assess publication quality.  The paucity of data is surprising given the interest from the public about the question of whether there are health benefits associated with the consumption of organic food.  This also reaffirms the reality that the health claims made by some in the organic food sector are being made in a manner that is not based on sound science.

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