Organic food is produced according to standards and practices that strive to recycle
resources and to be ecologically sound. In 2015, $43.3 billion, or nearly 5% of U.S.
food sold was organic. Typically, organic food is produced without the use of most
pesticides, harmful fertilizers, food additives, or genetically modified ingredients.
Livestock must be fed certified organic food that contains no animal by-products,
have liberal access to pasture, and the use of antibiotics (except for illnesses) or
growth hormones is not allowed.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program is responsible for
the legal definition of organic and organic certification. If food products claim to
be “natural” or “all natural” on their label, it does not mean that they were produced
and processed organically. The term natural on a label is mainly an advertising
stratagem, and it does not mean very much.
Because organic food production restricts the use of certain chemical fertilizers,
herbicides, and pesticides, there is the perception that it may be safer, healthier, and
better for the environment. It is generally not recognized by the public that edible
plants have evolved natural pesticides as a defense against insects and other hazards,
and exposure to natural pesticides is usually much greater than the total daily
exposure to synthetic pesticide residues. Because the human body detoxifies these
natural and synthetic chemicals similarly, the scientific case for an advantage for the
health and safety of organic foods over those produced with conventional farming
methods is far from conclusive.
A 2012 meta-analysis noted that “there have been no long-term studies of health
outcomes of populations consuming predominantly organic versus conventionally
produced food controlling for socioeconomic factors; such studies would be expensive
to conduct.” A large Million Women Study in the U.K. linked self-reported
organic food intake to a 21% lower risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. However,
the study also found that organic food consumption was linked to a slightly increased
breast cancer risk, which raises questions about the meaning of the findings.
A French study reported that those eating high amounts of organic foods had a decreased risk of cancer of six cases per 1000 over a 4.5-year period. The association was restricted to the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer and lymphomas
among those reporting the highest intake of organic foods. The implications of this
study are also uncertain, in part, but those consuming the most organic foods also
were likely to have other healthier habits.
Organic foods also appear to provide little advantage with regard to taste, or nutritive
value, or freedom from harmful bacteria. Other reviews have been
more positive about possible benefits of organic foods noting that some studies have
found that there is neurotoxicity associated with pesticides in farmworker communities,
including subtle but important effects on neurological development, including
The American Cancer Society has stated that there is no evidence that eating organic
food reduces cancer risk or that the small amount of pesticide residue found on
conventional foods will increase the risk of cancer. However, it does recommend
thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables. Elena Hemler suggests that “Concerns
over pesticide risks should not discourage intake of conventional fruits and vegetables,
especially because organic produce is often expensive and inaccessible to
Although more costly than conventionally produced foodstuffs, organically produced
foods may offer some advantages if they are fresh or minimally processed.
Organic produce contains fewer pesticide residues than does conventional produce.
In keeping with the precautionary principle, that is desirable. But the value of such
a reduction in exposure to human health remains uncertain. Organically produced
foods may also be better for the environment than those produced by conventional
farming practices, and undoubtedly, they contribute to animal welfare.
This blog presents opinions and ideas and is intended to provide helpful general information. I am not engaged in rendering advice or services to the individual reader. The ideas, procedures and suggestions in that are presented are not in any way a substitute for the advice and care of the reader’s own physician or other medical professional based on the reader’s own individual conditions, symptoms or concerns. If the reader needs personal medical, health, dietary, exercise or other assistance or advice the reader should consult a physician and/or other qualified health professionals. The author specifically disclaims all responsibility for any injury, damage or loss that the reader may incur as a direct or indirect consequence of following any directions or suggestions given in this blog or participating in any programs described in this blog or in the book, The Building Blocks of Health––How to Optimize Your Health with a Lifestyle Checklist (available in print or downloaded at Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble and elsewhere). Copyright 2021 by J. Joseph Speidel.