Are organic foods healthier?

Published 8:31 am Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Question: Aren’t organic foods healthier?
Answer: Despite this popular belief, organic refers to a method of food production and is not a health claim. Consumers relate organic to “healthy” and “natural.” There is currently no scientific evidence that organic foods contain more nutrients or provide more health benefits than conventionally produced food items. Many factors can affect the nutrient content of food such as weather and soil conditions, genetic differences in plants, maturity at harvest, and how the food is handled.
Are organic foods healthier for you because they contain fewer pesticides? Contrary to what consumers believe, organic foods are not “pesticide-free” or “chemical-free.” Organic means that pesticides, if used, must be derived from natural sources, not synthetically manufactured. It is true, there are greater amounts of pesticide on conventional foods than on organic foods, but whether or not it is enough to significantly affect health is unclear. All foods must meet EPA standards for pesticide residue. Very sensitive tests to determine pesticide residues can detect small amounts, but that does not mean the food is unsafe.
Are organic foods safer than other foods, i.e., are they less contaminated with foodborne pathogens? Foodborne pathogens are everywhere, including soil and water used to produce organic foods. The same food handling recommendations should be used.
Organic foods are produced as a result of organic farming. People typically define organic by what it is not — no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, for example. Actually, organic farming is better described for what it is — proactive, ecological management strategies that maintain and enhance soil fertility, prevent soil erosion, promote and enhance biological diversity, and minimize the risk to human and animal health and natural resources.
Unlike some people would like to believe, the issue of organic versus conventional production is not as black and white as it appears. Done in the correct way it could be the better way to produce food. However, until organic farming can produce the amount of food that can be produced with conventional methods, it cannot be considered a viable option for the much of the world. For many, even in the United States, the increased cost is prohibitive.
From a health standpoint, it is not clear that organically grown food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food. The emphasis should be on eating a variety of healthy foods including more fruits and vegetables, whether organic or not.
Vickie Clark is the Director of the Carter County UT Extension Office and also serves as the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent. If you have questions or need any information related to Family and Consumer Science contact her at the UT Extension Carter County, 824 East Elk Ave., Elizabethton, call 542-1818 or email at

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