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Organic food no more nutritious than conventionally grown, review finds

July 29, 2009 |  9:11 am


A comprehensive review of research comparing the nutritional content of food that was organically raised with food produced with the use of synthetic pesticides has found no significant differences between the two. Conducted by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the study is the first to bring a heated debate over the value of organic food to a rigorous conclusion. It is published today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"Our review indicates there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organic over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority," said Alan Dangour of the London School's Public Health Intervention Research Unit.

Surveying 50,000 studies conducted over 50 years, the authors focused on 55 that met their standards of scientific rigor. The studies that led to the group's controversial conclusions covered a wide range of crops and livestock that are raised and marketed under organic standards. For 10 out of 13 food crops studied, the researchers found no significant differences. Where they did find differences, those were attributed to differences in fertilizer use (say, the use of nitrogen vs. phosphorus) and the ripeness level at which the crops were harvested. The authors judged the differences observed "unlikely" to "provide any health benefit" to consumers.

The study was commissioned and funded by Britain's Food Standards Agency, the governmental office that regulates food production and sales in Britain.

Estimated to have surpassed the $23-billion mark last year, sales of organic food in the United States have grown sharply in the last 20 years, fueled by consumers' concerns about pesticide exposure, damage to the environment and the nutritional value of food raised by conventional means. The study released today will likely do little to allay the first two fears. But for those who pay premiums for organic food in the belief it is richer in nutrients, the new analysis is likely to be a blow.

The authors did not address taste or freshness, an area unlikely to yield to science anytime soon.

-- Melissa Healy

Photo credit: Chris Hondros / Getty Images

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Comments (61)

For many people that have actually researched organic and choose organic foods, it is not about eating healthier food. It is about telling companies that we want them to grow our food without killing the planet in the process - growing food in a sustainable way - and every chance we can "vote with our pocketbooks" to tell companies exactly this , we buy organic food.
If we want to buy "healthy" food, we buy natural and less processed - if it happens to be organic then we've killed two birds with one stone.

I'd bet this study did not take into account the benefit that organic growing practices provides in the long run to our planet and our future generations - that would give them a different answer I'd think.

duh!! organic is not supposed to have more nutrition.... the POINT is that organic is supposed to have FEWER POISONS....

I don't buy organic because I believe it has "extra" nutrients! I buy it because of the things it DOESN"T contain!!!
Look at all the food recalls just this year.
I don't buy everything organic - just some specific items that are at a higher risk for contamination or unwanted additives than conventially grown/raised food.
And even within the "organic" community there are differences in what is acceptable or allowed by regulation. It is a very complicated issue.
For those with an interest, I really enjoyed the book "Organic Inc."
I hope people will not see this headline and misunderstand.

It seems that the study neglects to analyze whether ingesting herbicide and pesticide residue may have a negative impact on health. From this article, the study only seems to focus on nutritional benefits. Nutritional benefit should be looked at next to possible harm. Of course, conducting scientific studies on possible harm to health is vastly more complicated than weighing nutritional benefit, so it should be several years until we see a comprehensive evaluation on the subject.

Still, I choose to eat organics, mostly out of concern for the documented destruction of farm workers' health due to pesticides and herbicides, and environmental harm to plants and wildlife.

I have a friend who lives near several farms. He and his wife are both dying of cancer. The health department checked their well water and found it with high levels of farm pesticides. THAT is the cost of conventional farming in addition to the pesticide residue that you consume each time you eat conventionally grown produce.

Nutritious is the correct word. Every so often the conventional industry releases a study showing that the nutritional value is equal. I'm disappointed that with all of their genetic manipulation that they seem to have been unable to produce fortified foods on a mass scale that would test 'higher in nutrition' than organic. Where is the measurement for pesticide residue, let alone environmental impact? Sorry, agra/drug industry. I'm sticking with organic.

The benefit of organic is not higher nutrition, but no pesticides and other non-natural ingredients that might cause health problems such as cancer.

the point made by Vince in so clear and to the CORRECT reason for ORGANIC !!

This study is meaningless, and ultimately useless. To the proponents of organic food, the nutrient content was never an issue, so why even bother and waste money on such study?

The preference for organics was always about minimizing the exposure to harmful chemicals and the food tasting better. IMHO, organic food does taste better, but it also tends to perish faster. Makes you wonder what is it about non-organic food that makes it stay fresh longer? I doubt it is some healthy chemical...

The FSA has already admitted there being a lack of evidence in which to base these findings.

Did anyone think organic foods were more nutritious? I'm more concerned about the toxins used to grow our foods. It's not uncommon for new scientific information to demonstrate that chemicals which were previously considered safe at certain levels to actually be dangerous. Those chemicals are then not used or are at so called safe levels and we the public never know about it.

Thanks, but I will continue to buy organic products where I can. The fruit is higher quality, tastes better and meat tastes so much better when not pumped full of hormones.

Dear London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Thank you for conducting research in order to tell us what the galactically stupid already know. No one is debating the nutritional content vis-a-vis conventionally grown products. It's about not eating poison and growing food that is sustainable, and safe for the environment and humans; not for some company’s bottom-line.

I would like to feel sorry on behalf of all British citizens for wasting tax payer pounds but honestly can you just tell us which companies paid for your research. You can’t make enough Kool Aid to drink this garbage. Good grief, you all must be tenured. Truly cutting edge research, cutting edge…

Unbelievable. How can so much information be available yet these so-called "experts" completely fail to miss the entire issue at hand? Just when we THINK things certainly must be improving, articles such as this appear.

This is the dumbest article ever - it is not that we buy it because it is more nutritious,, it is because it does not have all the toxic chemicals in it that you get from non-organic foods. Wake Up!

Sorry - I was so miffed at the article -- what I SHOULD have said was that the experts fail to GET the point --- !!!!

From the bogus report on organic food by ABC's John Stossel to this completely "missed the point" article, conventional food companies are working hard to stop the organic food market, but it isn't working. Consumers want food that is grown without the outrageous pesticide use, insane additives and unhealthy growing practices. It has nothing to do with comparative nutritional values. The stupidity of this "study" is astounding.

I agree with George. Vince said it in the fewest words.
I wonder who got paid what by who, to come up with this vacant result. It's a good sign that Organic is threatening the commercial industry.

The real problem with organic food is that, if it really does contain less (no pesticides and such), why does it cost significantly more? Buying organic seems so much like conspicuous consumption these days, and if there really was such a concern for saving the planet versus increasing profits, there might be more of a focus on actually making organic food comparable in price to non-organics, that way it's not just just the elite that can afford to eat organic.

This is a BS article as most mainstream media is. Great job trying to convince everyone not to eat organic food. Here are some reason to eat organic.
*they are not genetically modified
*insecticides and herbicides are greatly restricted and saved as a last resort
*are often processed with fewer artificial methods, materials and conditions, such as chemical ripening, food irradiation, and genetically modified ingredients
*They may also be required to be produced using energy-saving technologies and packaged using recyclable or biodegradable materials when possible
*Organic farms do not consume or release synthetic pesticides into the environment — some of which have the potential to harm soil, water and local terrestrial and aquatic wildlife
*Organic farms are better than conventional farms at sustaining diverse ecosystems, i.e., populations of plants and insects, as well as animals
* When calculated either per unit area or per unit of yield, organic farms use less energy and produce less waste, e.g., waste such as packaging materials for chemicals

and on and on...

DOWN with Monsanto!

I prefer not to eat poison, thanks.

I give no credit to scientists in these matters.

I recall a consultation with a licensed clinical nutritionist at the University of California for my daughter.

She told my wife and I that pure fresh orange juice had no better nutritional value that soft drink. "They are both sugar, they are the same" the nutritionist said.

Sometimes, science (or a representation of it) just flies in the face of common sense and realty. Scientists are able to isolate a small slice of the process for the simple purpose of advancing an agenda, either commercial or sensationalistic.

Grow your own...

I love that there are so many posts here that clearly explain the benefit and worth of organics. It continues to motivate me that there is hope! The virtues of Blessed Unrest at it's finest! Down with Monsanto.

Hmmmm....I wonder if this article is some Monsanto or Dole conspiracy. I think very few people buy organic food thinking it has more nutrients than it's counterpart. Sounds like they are trying to confuse people with this headline into thinking that organic and conventionally grown produce are equal on all levels, and that consumers are just being tricked into buying organic. It is not until the end that they mention the pesticides and harm to the environment.

I have to agree with VA though, why do people have to pay so much more for organic food?...This does seem more profit driven than planet-conscious. Organic food needs to be made accessible to more people, not just those who are privileged (not to discount those who make sacrifices to buy healthier food).

This article was a nice try, but obviously, we are not falling for it.

Totally right! We should go just organic! Ignore the barely thriving economy of starving countries that could be fed with genetically engineered food and the fact that more people starve than die from pesticide MISUSE that causes cancer. (that's right I said it, MISUSE! you cry about the farmers getting cancer well tell them and their neighbors to read to fregin bottle before they spray)
The organic food industry and its proponents want to starve Africa. (that's my kanye west comment and i'm stickin to it!)
But that's fine!
I get it now!
I have heard the cries of the carrots! Damn the rabbits! Let them wear glasses!
What would we do without you guys and your rose colored glasses?
I don't disagree with organic foods or people eating them just the measures you people seem to want to go to in order to make them so mainstream.
oh and "Down with Monsanto" don't make me laugh
The irony of this all is that if this actually catches on (a truth that hinges on science not you buying organic) it will be the companies like monsanto that will be providing you with your organic food.

"I wonder if this article is some Monsanto or Dole conspiracy."
You know what, if you think this than you deserve to spend a lifetime with Jim Marrs.
Stop talking, start proving.



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