Hostname: page-component-7d684dbfc8-jr2wd Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-09-28T15:49:06.529Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForArticlePurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForBookPurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForElementPurchase": false, "coreUseNewShare": true, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Nutritional quality of organic food: shades of grey or shades of green?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2007

Christine M. Williams*
Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition, School of Food Biosciences, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AP, UK
Corresponding author: Professor C. M. Williams, fax +44 1189 318703, email
Rights & Permissions [Opens in a new window]


Core share and HTML view are not possible as this article does not have html content. However, as you have access to this content, a full PDF is available via the ‘Save PDF’ action button.

Consumer concern regarding possible adverse health effects of foods produced using intensive farming methods has led to considerable interest in the health benefits of organically-produced crops and animal products. There appears to be widespread perception amongst consumers that such methods result in foods of higher nutritional quality. The present review concludes that evidence that can support or refute such perception is not available in the scientific literature. A limited number of studies have compared the nutrient compositions of organically- and conventionally-produced crops, with a very small number of studies that have compared animal products (meat, milk and dairy products) produced under the two agricultural systems. Very few compositional differences have been reported, although there are reasonably consistent findings for higher nitrate and lower vitamin C contents of conventionally-produced vegetables, particularly leafy vegetables. Data concerning possible impacts on animal and human health of diets comprising organic or conventional produce are extremely sparse. Data from controlled studies in animal models, particularly within single species, are limited or poorly designed, and findings from these studies provide conflicting conclusions. There are no reports in the literature of controlled intervention studies in human subjects. Comparison of health outcomes in populations that habitually consume organically- or conventionally-produced foods are flawed by the large number of confounding factors that might contribute to any differences reported. If consumer perceptions regarding potential health benefits of organic foods are to be supported, more research of better quality is needed than that which is currently available.

Meeting Report
Copyright © The Nutrition Society 2002


Aehnelt, E & Hahn, J (1973) Fertility of animals – a means to test organic food and feed stuff? Tierarztliche Umschau 28, 155160.Google Scholar
Aehnelt, E & Hahn, J (1978) Animal fertility: a possibility for biological quality assay of fodder and feeds. Biodynamics 25, 3647.Google Scholar
Alter, G (1978) Effect of dietary factors on fertility, vitamin C content and the histology of the ovary in female rabbits. Dissertation, Tierarztliche Hochschule, Hannover, Germany.Google Scholar
Bram, L (1974) Effect of dietary factors on fertility, vitamin C content and the histology of the ovary and adrenal gland in female rabbits. Dissertation, Tierarztliche Hochschule, Hannover, Germany.Google Scholar
Daldy, Y (1940) Food production without artificial fertilisers. Nature 145, 905906.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dost, FH & Schupan, W (1944) Experiments with vegetables produced with different fertilizers. Ernährung (Leipzig) 9, 581586.Google Scholar
Edelmuller, I (1984) Quality of food – produced organically or with conventional methods – feeding studies in rabbits. Dissertation, University of Vienna, Austria.Google Scholar
Elm Farm Research Centre (1989). Quality of Organically Produced Foods. Proceedings of International Scientific Colloquium February 1989. Newbury, Berks.: Elm Farm Research Centre.Google Scholar
Gottschewski, GHM (1975) New toxicological methods to study pesticides and herbicides. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 25, 2142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hahn, J, Aehnelt, E, Grunert, E, Schiller, H, Lengauer, E, Schulz, L-Cl, & Pohlenz, J (1971) Effect of organically and conventionally produced hay on uterus and ovary health. Deutsche Eierarztliche Wochenschrift 78, 114118.Google Scholar
House of Lords Select Committee on European Communities (1999). House of Lords Select Committee on European Communities Sixteenth Report. Organic Farming and the European Union. London: The Stationery Office.Google Scholar
Institute of Food Science and Technology (1999) Position statement: organic Scholar
Jensen, TK, Giwercman, A, Carlsen, E, Scheike, T & Skakkebaek, NE (1996) Semen quality among members of organic food associations in Zeland Denmark. Lancet 347, 1844.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Juhler, RR, Larsen, SB, Meyer, O, Jensen, ND, Spano, M, Giwercman, A & Bonde, JP (1999) Human semen quality in relation to dietary pesticide exposure and organic diet. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 37, 415423.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Klurfeld, DM (2000) Organic food: food for thought? Scholar
Lampkin, N (editor) (1990) The wider issues. In Organic Farming, pp. 557611. Ipswich, Suffolk: Farming Press.Google Scholar
McCarrison, R (1926) The effect of manurial conditions on the nutritive and vitamin values of millet and wheat. Indian Journal of Medical Research 14, 351378.Google Scholar
McSheehy, TW (1977) Nutritive value of wheat grown under organic and chemical systems of farming. Qualitas Planitarum 27, 113123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meinecke, B (1982) Effect of conventionally and organically produced feed stuff on the fertility of rabbits. Zentrablatt für Veterinarmedizin 29, 515.Google Scholar
Miller, DS & Dema, IS (1958) Nutritive value of wheat from the Rothamsted Broadbalk field. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 17, xlivxlv.Google Scholar
Neudecker, C (1987) Studies in Animals on the Effect of Conventional and Organic Potatoes and Carrots, pp. 110125. Tutzing, Germany: Akademie für Politische Bildung.Google Scholar
Reiter, H, Ertel, H, Wendt, H, Pies Prufer, J, Barth, L, Schroder, H, Catel, W, Dost, FH & Scheunert, A (1938) Nutritional studies on the effect on vegetables produced with and without fertilizers. Emährung (Leipzig) 3, 5369.Google Scholar
Rowlands, MJ & Wilkinson, B (1930) Vitamin B content of grass reeds in relation to manures. Biochemistry Journal 24, 199204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Scheunert, A, Sachne, M & Speche, R (1934) Efficacy of food produced with and without fertilizer. Biochemistry Journal 274, 372396.Google Scholar
Schupan, W (1972) Effects of the application of inorganic and organic manures on the market quality and on the biological value of agricultural produce. Qualitas Planitarum 21, 381398.Google Scholar
Schupan, W (1975) Yield maximisation versus biological value. Qualitas Planitarum 24, 281310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Scott, PP, Greaves, JP & Scott, MG (1960) Reproduction in laboratory animals as a measure of the value of some natural and processed foods. Journal of Reproduction and Fertility 1, 130138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Staiger, D (1986) Effect of conventional and organic feed stuff on fertility, health, and meat quality in rabbits. Dissertation, Rheinische Friedrich Wilhelms Universität, Bonn, Germany.Google Scholar
Tinker, PB (editor) (2001). Shades of Green: A Review of UK Farming Systems. Stoneleigh Park, War.: Royal Agricultural Society of England.Google Scholar
Velimirov, A, Plochberger, K, Huspeka, U & Schott, W (1992) The influence of biologically and conventionally cultivated food on the fertility of rats. Biological Agriculture and Horticulture 8, 325337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wendt, H (1943) Long term studies in humans on the effect of vegetables and potatoes produced with different fertilizers. Ernährung (Leipzig) 8, 281295.Google Scholar
Woese, K, Lange, D, Boess, C & Bogl, KW (1997) A comparison of organically and conventionally grown foods – results of a review of the relevant literature. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 74, 281293.3.0.CO;2-Z>CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Worthington, V (1998) Effect of agricultural methods on nutritional quality: a comparison of organic with conventional crops. Alternative Therapies 4, 5868.Google ScholarPubMed
Wright, S (1997) Europe goes organic. Food Ingredients Europe 3, 3943.Google Scholar