Article open access publication

Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture: a comprehensive review

Environmental Health, Springer Nature, ISSN 1476-069X

Volume 16, 1, 2017

DOI:10.1186/s12940-017-0315-4, Dimensions: pub.1092393379, PMC: PMC5658984, PMID: 29073935,



  1. (1) Karolinska Institutet, Department of Clinical Science and Education, Södersjukhuset, 11883, Stockholm, Sweden
  2. (2) Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, grid.6341.0
  3. (3) University of Southern Denmark, grid.10825.3e, SDU
  4. (4) University of Copenhagen, grid.5254.6, KU
  5. (5) Research Unit on Nutritional Epidemiology (U1153 Inserm, U1125 INRA, CNAM, Université Paris 13), Centre of Research in Epidemiology and Statistics Sorbonne Paris Cité, Bobigny, France
  6. (6) Warsaw University of Life Sciences, grid.13276.31
  7. (7) European Parliament, grid.466652.5
  8. (8) Harvard University, grid.38142.3c


This review summarises existing evidence on the impact of organic food on human health. It compares organic vs. conventional food production with respect to parameters important to human health and discusses the potential impact of organic management practices with an emphasis on EU conditions. Organic food consumption may reduce the risk of allergic disease and of overweight and obesity, but the evidence is not conclusive due to likely residual confounding, as consumers of organic food tend to have healthier lifestyles overall. However, animal experiments suggest that identically composed feed from organic or conventional production impacts in different ways on growth and development. In organic agriculture, the use of pesticides is restricted, while residues in conventional fruits and vegetables constitute the main source of human pesticide exposures. Epidemiological studies have reported adverse effects of certain pesticides on children's cognitive development at current levels of exposure, but these data have so far not been applied in formal risk assessments of individual pesticides. Differences in the composition between organic and conventional crops are limited, such as a modestly higher content of phenolic compounds in organic fruit and vegetables, and likely also a lower content of cadmium in organic cereal crops. Organic dairy products, and perhaps also meats, have a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids compared to conventional products. However, these differences are likely of marginal nutritional significance. Of greater concern is the prevalent use of antibiotics in conventional animal production as a key driver of antibiotic resistance in society; antibiotic use is less intensive in organic production. Overall, this review emphasises several documented and likely human health benefits associated with organic food production, and application of such production methods is likely to be beneficial within conventional agriculture, e.g., in integrated pest management.


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Times Cited: 64

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Relative Citation ratio (RCR): 3.95

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