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Demand for organic foods is partially driven by consumers' perceptions that they are more nutritious. However, scientific opinion is divided on whether there are significant nutritional differences between organic and non-organic foods, and two recent reviews have concluded that there are no differences. In the present study, we carried out meta-analyses based on 343 peer-reviewed publications that indicate statistically significant and meaningful differences in composition between organic and non-organic crops/crop-based foods. Most importantly, the concentrations of a range of antioxidants such as polyphenolics were found to be substantially higher in organic crops/crop-based foods, with those of phenolic acids, flavanones, stilbenes, flavones, flavonols and anthocyanins being an estimated 19 (95 % CI 5, 33) %, 69 (95 % CI 13, 125) %, 28 (95 % CI 12, 44) %, 26 (95 % CI 3, 48) %, 50 (95 % CI 28, 72) % and 51 (95 % CI 17, 86) % higher, respectively. Many of these compounds have previously been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including CVD and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers, in dietary intervention and epidemiological studies. Additionally, the frequency of occurrence of pesticide residues was found to be four times higher in conventional crops, which also contained significantly higher concentrations of the toxic metal Cd. Significant differences were also detected for some other (e.g. minerals and vitamins) compounds. There is evidence that higher antioxidant concentrations and lower Cd concentrations are linked to specific agronomic practices (e.g. non-use of mineral N and P fertilisers, respectively) prescribed in organic farming systems. In conclusion, organic crops, on average, have higher concentrations of antioxidants, lower concentrations of Cd and a lower incidence of pesticide residues than the non-organic comparators across regions and production seasons.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence
of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature
review and meta-analyses
Marcin Baran
´ski
1
, Dominika S
´rednicka-Tober
1
, Nikolaos Volakakis
1
, Chris Seal
2
, Roy Sanderson
3
,
Gavin B. Stewart
1
, Charles Benbrook
4
, Bruno Biavati
5
, Emilia Markellou
6
, Charilaos Giotis
7
,
Joanna Gromadzka-Ostrowska
8
, Ewa Rembiałkowska
8
, Krystyna Skwarło-Son
´ta
9
, Raija Tahvonen
10
,
Dagmar Janovska
´
11
, Urs Niggli
12
, Philippe Nicot
13
and Carlo Leifert
1
*
1
School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Newcastle University, Nafferton Farm, Stocksfield, Northumberland,
NE43 7XD, UK
2
Human Nutrition Research Centre, School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Newcastle University, Agriculture
Building, Kings Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK
3
School of Biology, Newcastle University, Ridley Building, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK
4
Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA
5
Department of Agricultural Sciences, School of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, University of Bologna, Viale Fanin 42,
40127 Bologna, Italy
6
Department of Pesticide Control and Phytopharmacy, Benaki Phytopathological Institute, GR 14561 Kifissia, Athens, Greece
7
Department of Organic Farming and Food Technology, Technological Educational Institute of Ionian Islands,
Iosif Momferatou & Ilia Miniati PC 28100, Argostoli, Cephalonia, Greece
8
Faculty of Human Nutrition and Consumer Sciences, Warsaw University of Life Sciences, Nowoursynowska 159c,
02-776 Warsaw, Poland
9
Department of Animal Physiology, Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw, Miecznikowa 1, 02-096 Warsaw, Poland
10
Biotechnology and Food Research, MTT Agrifood Research Finland, FI-31600 Jokioinen, Finland
11
Department of Gene Bank, Crop Research Institute (CRI), Drnovska
´507/73, 161 06 Praha 6 Ruzyne
ˇ, Czech Republic
12
Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), Ackerstrasse 113, CH-5070 Frick, Switzerland
13
INRA, UR407 Pathologie ve
´ge
´tale, 67 alle
´e des che
ˆnes, F-84143 Montfavet Cedex, France
(Submitted 11 September 2013 – Final revision received 2 May 2014 – Accepted 6 May 2014 – First published online 15 July 2014)
Abstract
Demand for organic foods is partially driven by consumers’ perceptions that they are more nutritious. However, scientific opinion is divided
on whether there are significant nutritional differences between organic and non-organic foods, and two recent reviews have
concluded that there are no differences. In the present study, we carried out meta-analyses based on 343 peer-reviewed publications that
indicate statistically significant and meaningful differences in composition between organic and non-organic crops/crop-based foods. Most
importantly, the concentrations of a range of antioxidants such as polyphenolics were found to be substantially higher in organic crops/
crop-based foods, with those of phenolic acids, flavanones, stilbenes, flavones, flavonols and anthocyanins being an estimated 19 (95 % CI
5, 33) %, 69 (95 % CI 13, 125) %, 28 (95 % CI 12, 44) %, 26 (95 % CI 3, 48) %, 50 (95 % CI 28, 72) % and 51 (95 % CI 17, 86) % higher, respectively.
Many of these compounds have previously been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including CVD and neurodegenerative
diseases and certain cancers, in dietary intervention and epidemiological studies. Additionally, the frequency of occurrence of pesticide resi-
dues was found to be four times higher in conventional crops, which also contained significantly higher concentrations of the toxic metal Cd.
Significant differences were also detected for some other (e.g. minerals and vitamins) compounds. There is evidence that higher antioxidant
concentrations and lower Cd concentrations are linked to specific agronomic practices (e.g. non-use of mineral N and P fertilisers, respectively)
prescribed in organic farming systems. In conclusion, organic crops, on average, have higher concentrations of antioxidants, lower concen-
trations of Cd and a lower incidence of pesticide residues than the non-organic comparators across regions and production seasons.
Key words: Organic foods: Conventional foods: Composition differences: Antioxidants/(poly)phenolics
*Corresponding author: Professor C. Leifert, fax þ44 1661 831 006, email carlo.leifert@newcastle.ac.uk
Abbreviations: BS, basket study; CF, comparison of matched farms; EX, controlled field experiment; GRADE, Grading of Recommendations, Assessment,
Development and Evaluation; MPD, mean percentage difference; MRL, maximum residue level; SMD, standardised mean difference.
British Journal of Nutrition (2014), 112, 794–811 doi:10.1017/S0007114514001366
qThe Authors 2014. The online version of this article is published within an Open Access environment subject to the conditions of the
Creative Commons Attribution licence http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
British Journal of Nutrition
Increased public concerns about the negative environmental
and health impacts of agrochemicals (pesticides, growth
regulators and mineral fertilisers) used in crop production
have been major drivers for the increase in consumer
demand for organic foods over the last 20 years
(1 – 3)
.
Organic crop production standards prohibit the use of
synthetic chemical crop protection products and certain min-
eral fertilisers (all N, KCl and superphosphate) to reduce
environmental impacts (nitrate (NO2
3) leaching and P run-off
and pesticide contamination of groundwater) and the risk of
pesticide residues being present in crop plants
(4)
. Instead,
they prescribe regular inputs of organic fertilisers (e.g.
manure and composts), use of legume crops in rotation (to
increase soil N levels), and application of preventative and
non-chemical crop protection methods (e.g. the use of crop
rotation, more resistant/tolerant varieties, mechanical and
flame weeding, and biological disease and pest control pro-
ducts). However, organic standards permit the use of certain
plant or microbial extract and/or mineral (e.g. Cu- and
S-based) crop protection products
(5,6)
.
As a result, organic and conventional crop production may
differ significantly in crop rotation designs and fertilisation
and crop protection protocols as well as in the type of crop
varieties used
(6 – 10)
. Apart from minimising the risk of
agrochemical residues being present in crops, the agronomic
protocols used in organic farming systems may also affect min-
eral uptake patterns and metabolic processes in crop plants.
Recent studies have shown that the switch from mineral to
organic fertilisers results in significant differences in gene
and protein expression patterns and, as a result, in secondary
metabolite profiles; for example, approximately 10 % of
proteins have been found to be either up- or down-regulated
in response to contrasting fertiliser inputs in potato and
wheat
(10 – 15)
. Also, a switch from pesticide-based conventional
to organic crop protection protocols has been shown to have
a significant, but more limited effect than fertilisation
regimens, and there were some statistically significant inter-
actions between fertilisation and crop protection protocols
with respect to gene and protein expression pattern
(10 – 15)
.
Over the last 20 years, a large number of scientific studies
have compared the concentrations of nutritionally relevant
minerals (e.g. Fe, Zn, Cu and Se), toxic metals (e.g. Cd and
Pb), pesticide residues, macronutrients (e.g. proteins, fats and
carbohydrates) and secondary metabolites (e.g. antioxidants,
(poly)phenolics and vitamins) in crops from organic and con-
ventional production systems (see the online supplementary
material for a list of publications).
There is particular interest in antioxidant activity/concen-
trations, as there is strong scientific evidence for health
benefits associated with increased consumption of crops rich
in (poly)phenolics and other plant secondary metabolites
with antioxidant activity (e.g. carotenoids and vitamins C
and E)
(16 – 18)
. Most importantly, a substantial number of
human dietary intervention studies have reported an increased
dietary intake of antioxidant/(poly)phenolic-rich foods to
protect against chronic diseases, including CVD, certain
cancers (e.g. prostate cancer) and neurodegenerative diseases;
a detailed description of the evidence has been given in recent
reviews by Del Rio et al.
(16)
and Wahlqvist
(17)
. Also, these plant
secondary metabolites are increasingly being recognised to con-
tribute significantly to the health benefits associated with
increased fruit, vegetable and whole grain consumption
(16 – 18)
.
Several systematic literature reviews have recently analysed
the available published information, using both qualitative
and quantitative methods, with the aim of identifying the
potential effects of organic and conventional production pro-
tocols on the nutritional quality of crops
(19 – 21)
. However,
these systematic reviews (1) used different methodologies
(e.g. weighted and unweighted meta-analyses) and inclusion
criteria, (2) did not cover most of the large amount of
information published in the last 4 5 years, (3) provided no
structured assessment of the strength of the evidence pre-
sented, and (4) came to contrasting conclusions. As a result,
there is still considerable controversy as to whether the use
of organic production standards results in significant and
consistent changes in the concentrations of potentially
health-promoting (e.g. antioxidants, (poly)phenolics, vitamins
and certain minerals) and potentially harmful (e.g. Cd and Pb)
compounds in crops and crop-based foods
(7,19 – 22)
. However,
there is increasing evidence and more widespread acceptance
that the consumption of organic foods is likely to reduce
exposure to pesticide residues
(21,23,24)
.
There are major research synthesis challenges to assessing
differences in crop composition resulting from farming prac-
tices. Most importantly, the studies available for meta-analyses
(1) have used different experimental designs (e.g. replicated
field experiments, farm surveys and retail surveys) and (2)
have been carried out in countries/regions with contrasting
agronomic and pedo-climatic background conditions (see the
online supplementary material for a list of publications). This
heterogeneity is likely to increase the amount of published
data required to detect and understand variation in composition
parameters resulting from the use of contrasting crop pro-
duction methods. An additional problem is that many studies
do not report measures of variation, which reduces the within-
study power of unweighted analyses and the between-study
power of weighted analyses. Weighted meta-analyses are
widely regarded as the most appropriate statistical approach
for comparing data sets from studies with variable experimental
designs
(25,26)
. However, some studies have used unweighted
analytical methods
(19)
to avoid the loss of information associated
with conducting weighted meta-analyses on a subset of the
available information.
Therefore, the main objectives of the present study were to
(1) carry out a systematic literature review of studies focused
on quantifying composition differences between organic and
conventional crops, (2) conduct weighted and unweighted
meta-analyses of the published data, (3) carry out sensitivity
analyses focused on identifying to what extent meta-analysis
results are affected by the inclusion criteria (e.g. using mean
or individual data reported for different crop varieties or
experimental years) and meta-analysis method (e.g. weighted
v. unweighted), and (4) discuss meta-analysis results in the
context of the current knowledge about the nutritional
Nutritional composition of organic crop foods 795
British Journal of Nutrition
impacts of compounds for which significant composition
differences were detected.
The present study specifically focused on plant secondary
metabolites (especially antioxidants/(poly)phenolics and vita-
mins), potentially harmful synthetic chemical pesticides, toxic
metals (including Cd, As and Pb), NO2
3, nitrite (NO2
2), macro-
nutrients (including proteins, amino acids, carbohydrates and
reducing sugars) and minerals (including all plant macro- and
micronutrients). Metabolites produced by micro-organisms on
plants (e.g. mycotoxins) were not the subject of the present
systematic literature review and meta-analyses.
Materials and methods
Literature search: inclusion criteria and search strategy
The literature search strategy and meta-analysis protocols used
were based on those previously published by Brandt et al.
(27)
,
and flow diagrams of the protocols used are shown in Figs. 1
and 2. Relevant publications were identified through an initial
search of the literature with Web of Knowledge using the fol-
lowing search terms: (1) organic* or ecologic* or biodynamic*;
(2) conventional* or integrated; (3) names of ninety-eight
relevant crops and foods (see online supplementary Table
S1 for a full list). Publications in all languages, published in
peer-reviewed journals, and reporting data on both desirable
and undesirable composition parameters were considered
relevant for inclusion in the meta-analyses. The search was
restricted to the period between January 1992 (the year
when legally binding organic farming regulations were first
introduced in the European Union) and December 2011 (the
year when the project ended) and provided 17 333 references.
An additional 208 publications (published between 1977 and
2011) were found by (1) studying lists of references or (2)
directly contacting the authors of the published papers and
reviews identified in the initial literature search. The abstracts
of all publications were then examined to determine whether
they contained original data obtained by comparing compo-
sition parameters in organic and conventional plant foods.
This led to the identification of 448 suitable publications. Of
these, 105 papers were subsequently rejected, because read-
ing of the full papers indicated that they did not report suitable
data sets or contained the same data as other studies.
Data sets were deemed suitable if the mean concentrations
of at least one mineral, macronutrient, secondary metabolite
or NO2
3/NO2
2or the frequency of occurrence of pesticide resi-
dues in organic and conventional crops or crop-based foods
were reported. Only four non-peer-reviewed papers with suit-
able data sets were identified but subsequently rejected, as the
small number minimised any potential bias
(28)
from using peer
review as a ‘quality’ selection criterion.
As a result, 343 peer-reviewed publications reporting crop
composition data were selected for data extraction, of which
Initial search* (n 17 541)
Web of Knowledge database (years 1992–2011) (n 17 333)
Lists of references and direct contact with the authors (years 1977–2011) (n 208)
Excluded (n 17 093)
Publications did not contain original data
obtained by comparing composition
parameters in organic and conventional
plant foods
Suitable publications reviewed† (n 448)
Excluded (n 105)
Publications did not report suitable data
sets or contained the same data as
other studies
Papers did meet the inclusion criteria (n 343)
Standard unweighted meta-analysis
Not all papers did provide information
about the number of replicates and SD or
SE (n 343)
Standard weighted meta-analysis
Papers did provide information about
the number of replicates and SD or SE
(n 156)
CF (n 116) CF (n 61)
BS (n 55) BS (n 34)
EX (n 154) EX (n 54)
Mixed studies (n 18) Mixed studies (n 7)
Fig. 1. Summary of the search and selection protocols used to identify papers included in the meta-analyses. * Review carried out by one reviewer; †Data
extraction carried out by two reviewers. CF, comparison of matched farms; BS, basket studies; EX, controlled field experiments.
M. Baran
´ski et al.796
British Journal of Nutrition
156 references fulfilled the criteria for inclusion in the standard
weighted meta-analysis and 343 fulfilled the criteria for
inclusion in the standard unweighted meta-analysis. This rep-
resents a significantly greater evidence base than the three
previous systematic reviews/meta-analyses of comparative
crop composition data
(19 – 21)
. All publications included in
these previous reviews (including studies published before
1992) were also used in the standard weighted meta-analysis
carried out in the present study, except for a small number
of papers that were found to report the same data as other
publications that had already been included.
Data were extracted from three types of comparative
studies: (1) comparisons of matched farms (CF), farm surveys
in which samples were collected from organic and conven-
tional farms in the same country or region; (2) basket studies
(BS), retail product surveys in which organic and conventional
products were collected in retail outlets; (3) controlled field
experiments (EX) in which samples were collected from
experimental plots managed according to organic or conven-
tional farming standards/protocols. Data from all the three
types of studies were deemed relevant for the meta-analyses
if the authors stated that (1) organic farms included in farm
surveys were using organic farming methods, (2) organic
products collected in retail surveys were labelled as organic,
and (3) organic plots used in EX were managed according
to organic farming standards.
Several studies compared more than one organic or conven-
tional system or treatment. For example, additional conven-
tional systems/treatments were described as ‘integrated,’ ‘low
input,’ ‘low fertility’ or ‘extensive’, and an additional organic
system/treatment included in some studies was described as
‘biodynamic’. Also, in some publications, organic or conven-
tional systems with contrasting rotation designs (e.g. with or
without cover crops) or fertilisation regimens (different types
and levels of N inputs) were compared. In such cases, only
the organic and conventional (non-organic) system identified
Meta-analysis of pesticide residues by Smith-Spangler et al. (2012)(21)
Nine papers included
One data point per study (n 9, crops and years averaged)
RD as an effect size measurement
1. Number of contaminated samples corrected
in the data set from the paper by Porretta (1994)*
2. The two pesticides described by Hoogenboom et al. (2008)*
as permitted were considered as contaminants
Modified meta-analysis of pesticide residues
Nine papers included
One data point per study (n 9, crops and years averaged)
RD as an effect size measurement
1. Results from one paper added (Ferreira et al., 2010)*
Modified meta-analysis of pesticide residues
Ten papers included
One data point per study (n 9, crops and years averaged)
RD as an effect size measurement
1. Increase in the number of data points (each crop and year
separately); data set from the paper by Poulsen & Andersen
(2003)* includes only commodities for which contamination
levels are known for both systems (organic and conventional)
at the same time
2. OR as an effect size measurement
Meta-analysis of pesticide residues in the present study
Ten papers included
Each crop and year in each study as a separate data point
OR as an effect size measurement
Fig. 2. Meta-analysis strategy used for the identification of data sets in the literature review. * References are summarised in Table S2 (available online). RD, risk
difference.
Nutritional composition of organic crop foods 797
British Journal of Nutrition
by the authors as closest to the typical, contemporary organic/
conventional farming system was used in the meta-analyses,
as recommended by Brandt et al.
(20)
. Full references of the
publications and a summary of descriptions of the studies
included in the meta-analyses are given in Tables S2 and S4
(available online).
The database generated and used for the meta-analyses will
be made freely available on the Newcastle University website
(http://research.ncl.ac.uk/nefg/QOF) for use and scrutiny by
others.
Data and information extraction and validation
Information and data were extracted from all the selected
publications (see above) and compiled in a Microsoft Access
database. A list of the information extracted from the publi-
cations and recorded in the database is given in Table S4
(available online).
Data reported as numerical values in the text or tables were
copied directly into the database. Only data published in
graphical form were enlarged, printed, measured (using a
ruler) and then entered into the database as described
previously
(20)
.
Where data for multiple time points were reported, two
approaches were used, depending on whether the analysed
crop tissue was likely to be used as food/feed. For crops
that are continuously harvested (e.g. tomato and cucumber),
analytical data for mature/ripe products (e.g. fruits) collected
at multiple time points during the season were averaged
before being used in the standard meta-analyses; if analytical
data for immature/unripe products were reported, they were
not included in the mean. For crops (e.g. grape and cereals)
in which products (e.g. fruits and grain) are harvested/
analysed at different maturity stages, only analytical results
for the mature product (that would have been used as food/
feed) were used. In both the standard weighted and standard
unweighted analyses, composition data reported for different
cultivars/varieties and/or years/growing seasons in the
same publication were averaged before being used in the
meta-analyses.
Publications were assessed for eligibility and data were
independently extracted from them by two reviewers. Data
extracted by the two reviewers were then compared. Discre-
pancies were detected for approximately 2 % of the data
extracted, and in these cases, data extraction was repeated
to correct mistakes. A list of the publications included in the
meta-analyses is given in Table S2 (available online).
Study characteristics, summaries of the methods used for
sensitivity analyses and ancillary information are given in
Tables S2– S10 (available online). These include information
on (1) the number of papers from different countries and
publication years used in the meta-analyses (see online
supplementary Figs. S1 and S2); (2) study type, location and
crop/products assessed in different studies (see online sup-
plementary Table S3); (3) the type of material/data extracted
from the papers (see online supplementary Table S4); (4)
data-handling methods/inclusion criteria and meta-analysis
methods used in the sensitivity analyses (see online
supplementary Table S5); (5) composition parameters
included in the meta-analyses (see online supplementary
Table S6); and (6) composition parameters for which meta-
analyses were not possible (n,3; see online supplementary
Table S7).
Table S8 (available online) summarises basic statistics on the
number of studies, individual comparisons, organic and con-
ventional sample sizes, and comparisons showing statistically
or numerically higher concentrations in organic or conven-
tional crops for the composition parameters included in
Figs. 3 and 4. Tables S9 and S10 (available online) summarise
the numerical values for the mean percentage differences
(MPD) and 95 % CI calculated using the data included in
the standard unweighted and weighted meta-analyses of
composition parameters shown in Figs. 3 and 4, respectively
(where MPD are shown as symbols).
Meta-analyses
A total of eight different meta-analyses were undertaken. The
protocols used for the standard weighted and unweighted
meta-analyses were based on the methodologies described
by Palupi et al.
(29)
and Brandt et al.
(20)
, respectively. In
Fig. 3, the results obtained using standard random-effects
meta-analysis weighted by inverse variance and a common
random-effects variance component and unweighted meta-
analysis of difference in means are shown. In addition, six
sensitivity analyses were undertaken. Sensitivity analyses
included (1) using data reported for each cultivar or variety
of crops separately and/or (2) treating data reported for differ-
ent years in the same publication as separate events in the
weighted or unweighted meta-analyses (see online sup-
plementary Table S5). The results of the sensitivity analyses
are available on the Newcastle University website (http://
research.ncl.ac.uk/nefg/QOF).
Effect sizes for all the weighted meta-analyses were based
on standardised mean differences (SMD) as recommended
for studies in which data obtained by measuring the same par-
ameters on different scales are included in meta-analyses
(25,26)
.
Both weighted and unweighted meta-analyses were carried
out using the R statistical programming environment
(30)
.
Weighted meta-analyses, with the SMD as the basic response
variable, were conducted using standard methods and the
open-source ‘metafor’ statistical package
(31 – 34)
. A detailed
description of the methods and calculations used is given
in the ‘Additional Methods Description’ section in the online
supplementary material.
A positive SMD value indicates that the mean concentrations
of the observed compound are greater in the organic food
samples, while a negative SMD indicates that the mean con-
centrations are higher in the conventional food samples. The
statistical significance of a reported effect size (i.e. SMD
tot
)
and CI were estimated based on standard methods
(35)
using
‘metafor’
(31)
. The influence of potential moderators, such as
crop/food type (fruits, vegetables, cereals, oil seeds and
pulses, herbs and spices, and crop-based compound foods),
was additionally tested using mixed-effect models
(36)
and
subgroup analyses.
M. Baran
´ski et al.798
British Journal of Nutrition
We carried out tests of homogeneity (Qstatistics and I
2
statistics) on all the summary effect sizes. Homogeneity
was indicated if I
2
was less than 25 % and the Pvalue for
the Qstatistics was greater than 0·010. Funnel plots, Egger
tests of funnel plot asymmetry and fail-safe number tests
were used to assess publication bias
(37)
(see online
supplementary Table S13 for further information).
For the unweighted meta-analysis, the ratio of organic
means:conventional means (
XO=
XC) expressed as a percen-
tage was ln-transformed, and the values were used to
determine whether the arithmetic average of the ln-transformed
ratios was significantly greater than ln(100), using resam-
pling
(38)
. The reported Pvalues were derived from Fisher’s
one-sample randomisation test
(39)
, and a P,0·05 was con-
sidered statistically significant. For all composition parameters
for which a statistically significant difference between organic
and conventional food samples was detected in the standard
weighted analysis (analysis 1), forest plots were constructed
to show SMD and corresponding 95 % CI for individual studies
and types of foods (see Fig. 4 and online supplementary Figs.
S5S41). In addition, the results of the standard unweighted
analyses are shown in Figs. 3 and 4.
Table S12 (available online) summarises the results of the
standard weighted and unweighted meta-analyses for all the
composition parameters for which no analyses detected
significant differences between organic and conventional
products.
MPD were calculated for all parameters for which significant
effects were detected by the standard unweighted and/or
weighted meta-analysis protocols. This was done to facilitate
value judgements regarding the biological importance of
the relative effect magnitudes. A detailed description of the
MPD†
% higher in CONV % higher in ORG
–100 –75 –50 –25 0 25 50 75 100
Unweighted meta-analysis Weighted meta-analysis
nnLn ratio‡ P*P*Heterogeneity§
Antioxidant activity
FRAP
ORAC
TEAC
Phenolic compounds
Flavonoids (total)
Phenolic acids (total)
Phenolic acids||¶
Chlorogenic acid
Flavanones||¶
Stilbenes
Flavones and flavonols||
Flavones||
Flavonols||¶
Quercetin
Rutin
Kaempferol
Anthocyanins (total)
Anthocyanins||
Carotenoids (total)
Carotenoids||¶
7·89±14·20
212·31±104·65
Xanthophylls¶
Lutein
L-Ascorbic acid
Vitamin E
Carbohydrates (total)
Carbohydrates||¶
Sugars (reducing)
Protein (total)
Amino acids||¶
DM¶
Fibre
N
Nitrate¶
Nitrite
Cd
160
14
8
22
129
20
9
153
24
75
8
194
27
168
23
12
14
20
53
15
163
66
21
65
25
60
111
20
87
332
129
19
88
79
15
62
4·74
4·73
4·76
4·80
4·74
4·54
4·85
4·72
4·84
4·73
5·42
4·78
4·72
4·81
4·79
4·93
4·90
4·82
4·79
4·78
4·71
4·78
4·74
4·73
4·56
4·71
4·68
4·78
4·53
4·58
4·63
4·54
4·55
4·33
4·17
4·25
<0·001
0·013
0·011
<0·001
<0·001
0·282
0·008
0·002
0·009
0·100
0·005
<0·001
0·063
<0·001
0·028
0·013
0·006
<0·001
0·004
0·005
<0·001
<0·001
0·019
0·005
0·300
0·003
0·001
0·034
<0·001
0·001
0·001
0·010
0·001
0·001
<0·001
<0·001
66
5
4
7
58
8
3
89
14
54
4
134
23
111
17
9
13
10
22
4
82
33
13
30
15
16
53
3
26
117
24
15
35
29
7
25
0·001
0·436
0·176
0·030
0·051
0·039
0·012
0·015
0·103
0·027
0·008
<0·001
0·001
<0·001
0·341
0·127
0·023
0·002
0·001
0·271
0·126
0·018
0·203
0·018
0·046
0·037
0·049
0·360
0·007
<0·001
0·191
0·017
0·015
0·429
0·419
0·008
Yes (96%)
Yes (90%)
Yes (95%)
Yes (26%)
Yes (93%)
Yes (89%)
Yes (86%)
Yes (97%)
Yes (98%)
Yes (100 %)
No (1 %)
Yes (97%)
Yes (85%)
Yes (98%)
Yes (95%)
Yes (96%)
Yes (94%)
Yes (82%)
Yes (99%)
Yes (100 %)
Yes (98%)
Yes (97%)
Yes (90%)
Yes (76 %)
No (0 %)
Yes (98%)
Yes (93%)
No (0 %)
Yes (99%)
Yes (91%)
Yes (99%)
Yes (42%)
Yes (97%)
Yes (99%)
No (0 %)
Yes (98%)
–5·0 –2·5 0·0 2·5 5·0
SMD
Parameters
Fig. 3. Results of the standard unweighted and weighted meta-analyses for antioxidant activity, plant secondary metabolites with antioxidant activity, macronutri-
ents, nitrogen compounds and cadmium (data reported for all crops and crop-based foods included in the same analysis). MPD, mean percentage difference;
CONV, conventional food samples; ORG, organic food samples; n, number of data points included in the meta-analyses; FRAP, ferric reducing antioxidant poten-
tial; ORAC, oxygen radical absorbance capacity; TEAC, Trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity; SMD, standardised mean difference. Values are standardised
mean differences, with 95 % confidence intervals represented by horizontal bars. * Pvalue ,0·05 indicates a significant difference between ORG and CONV.
† Numerical values for MPD and standard errors are given in Table S9 (available online). ‡ Ln ratio ¼Ln(ORG/CONV £100 %). § Heterogeneity and the I
2
statistic.
kData reported for different compounds within the same chemical group were included in the same meta-analyses. {Outlying data points (where the MPD between
ORG and CONV was more than fifty times greater than the mean value including the outliers) were removed. , MPD calculated using data included in the
standard unweighted meta-analysis; , MPD calculated using data included in the standard weighted meta-analysis; , SMD.
Nutritional composition of organic crop foods 799
British Journal of Nutrition
calculations is given in the ‘Additional Methods Description’
section in the online supplementary material.
We also calculated MPD using only data pairs included in the
weighted meta-analyses to estimate the impact of excluding
data for which no measures of variance were reported on
the magnitude of difference. As the MPD can be expressed
as ‘% higher’ in conventional or organic crops, they provide
estimates for the magnitude of composition differences that
are easier to correlate with existing information on the poten-
tial health impacts of changing dietary intake levels for
% higher in CONV
–100 –75 –50 –25
MPD†
0
% higher in ORG Unweighted meta-analysis
25 50 75 100 nLn ratio§ P*
Antioxidant activity
Fruits 93 4·79 <0·001
Vegetables 58 4·65 0·166
Other 54·89 0·030
Phenolic compounds (total)
Fruits 58 4·74 0·006
Vegetables 61 4·69 0·003
Cereals 6 4·93 0·079
Phenolic acids||¶
Fruits 83 4·72 0·038
Vegetables 48 4·75 0·018
Cereals 21 4·63 0·266
Flavanones||¶
Fruits 59 4·68 0·257
Vegetables 16 4·90 0·017
Flavones and flavonols||
Fruits
5·82±8·05
–5·41±2·66
–288
–151
87 4·69 0·108
Vegetables 98 4·85 <0·0 01
Cereals 9 4·83 0·002
Carotenoids||¶
Fruits 36 4·97 <0·001
Vegetables 101 4·64 0·149
Cereals 14 4·63 0·165
Compound food 12 4·65 0·410
Xanthophylls¶
Fruits 20 5·04 <0·001
Vegetables 26 4·73 0·056
Cereals 14 4·63 0·162
Compound food 6 4·48 0·171
Carbohydrates (total)
Fruits 24 4·63 0·189
Vegetables 31 4·76 0·008
Cereals 44·79 0·319
Protein (total)
Fruits 7 4·57 0·344
Vegetables 34 4·61 0·426
Cereals 43 4·45 <0·001
Amino acids||¶
Fruits 38 4·61 0·478
Vegetables 152 4·61 0·234
Cereals 121 4·54 <0·001
Compound food 21 4·52 <0·001
N
Fruits 19 4·57 0·214
Vegetables 42 4·52 0·001
Cereals 14 4·48 0·001
Herbs and spices 12 4·69 0·005
Cd
Fruits 43·78 0·066
Vegetables 34 4·36 0·045
Cereals 17 4·13 <0·001
Weighted meta-analysis
nP*
39 0·019
25 0·061
30 0·008
25 0·638
47 0·106
30 0·200
12 0·189
40 0·086
14 0·156
47 0·272
78 <0·001
<0·001
<0·001
90·004
19 <0·001
39 0·523
14 0·467
10 0·938
9<0·001
5
5
14
6
6
8
15
18
18
18
63
7
20
7
––
––
10
8
0·394
0·436
0·615
0·484
0·391
0·793
0·907
0·295
0·002
0·071
0·523
0·011
0·719
0·002
–5·0 –2·5 0·0 2·5 5·0
SMD
Products‡
Fig. 4. Results of the standard unweighted and weighted meta-analyses for different crop types/products for antioxidant activity, plant secondary metabolites with
antioxidant activity, macronutrients, nitrogen and cadmium. MPD, mean percentage difference; CONV, conventional food samples; ORG, organic food samples;
n, number of data points included in the meta-analyses; SMD, standardised mean difference. Values are standardised mean differences, with 95 % confidence
intervals represented by horizontal bars. * Pvalue ,0·05 indicates a significant difference between ORG and CONV. † Numerical values for MPD and standard
errors are given in Table S10 (available online). ‡ For parameters for which n#3 for specific crops/products, results obtained in the weighted meta-analyses
are not shown. § Ln ratio ¼Ln(ORG/CONV £100 %). kData reported for different compounds within the same chemical group were included in the same meta-
analyses. {Outlying data points (where the MPD between ORG and CONV was more than fifty times greater than the mean value including the outliers)
were removed. , MPD calculated using data included in the standard unweighted meta-analysis; , MPD calculated using data included in the standard weighted
meta-analysis; , SMD.
M. Baran
´ski et al.800
British Journal of Nutrition
individual or groups of compounds than the SMD values. The
95 % CI for MPD were estimated using a standard method
(35)
.
For some composition parameters, individual effect sizes
were more than fifty times greater than the pooled effect.
This applied to one effect size each for phenolic acids, flava-
nones, flavones, flavonols, carbohydrates, DM and NO2
3; four
effect sizes for carotenoids and xanthophylls; eight effect sizes
for amino acids; and forty-one effect sizes for volatile com-
pounds. Such large differences can be considered biologically
implausible, and these ‘outlier’ data pairs were therefore
omitted from the final standard meta-analyses as shown in
Figs. 3 and 4 and Tables S10 and S11 (available online).
Data reported for the frequency of occurrence of detectable
pesticide residues (percentage of samples with detectable
pesticide residues) in organic and conventional crops were
compared using a weighted meta-analysis protocol based on
the ln-transformed OR
(40)
. The formula used to calculate OR
is given in the ‘Additional Methods Description’ section in
the online supplementary material.
An overall assessment of the strength of evidence was made
using an adaptation of the GRADE (Grading of Recommen-
dations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation) system
(41)
.
Results
Analyses were based on data from publications reporting
results from EX (154 papers), CF (116 papers), and BS (fifty-
five papers) or results from more than one type of study
(EX, CF and/or BS; eighteen papers) (see online supplemen-
tary Table S3).
Approximately 70 % of all the studies included in the meta-
analyses were carried out in Europe, mainly in Italy, Spain,
Poland, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Turkey,
Denmark, Finland and Germany, with most of the remaining
studies being carried out in the USA, Brazil, Canada and
Japan (see online supplementary Table S3 and Fig. S2).
Among the papers included in the meta-analyses, 174 reported
comparison data for vegetables and a smaller number
reported data for fruits and cereals (112 and sixty-one, respect-
ively), while only thirty-seven reported data for other crops/
crop-based food products (e.g. oil seeds and pulses, herbs
and spices, and compound foods) (see online supplementary
Table S3). Publications reported data for 907 different
composition parameters, of which 182 were included in the
meta-analyses (see online supplementary Tables S6 and S7).
Antioxidant activity
A large number of comparisons were available for antioxidant
activity in organic and conventional crops (160 for the
unweighted meta-analysis and sixty-six for the weighted
meta-analysis), but the authors used a wide range of different
methodologies. Both weighted and unweighted meta-analyses
detected a significantly higher antioxidant activity in organic
crops (Fig. 3) and the MPD was 17 (95 % CI 3, 32) % (Fig. 3).
When data reported for fruits and vegetables were analysed
separately, a significant difference was detected for fruits,
while only a trend towards a significant difference (P¼0·06)
was observed for vegetables (Fig. 4), although there was no
evidence of an interaction.
When data available for specific antioxidant activity assays
were analysed, similar results were obtained for the Trolox
equivalent antioxidant capacity assay with both the standard
weighted and unweighted meta-analyses and for the ferric
reducing antioxidant power and oxygen radical absorbance
capacity assays with only the standard unweighted meta-
analysis (Fig. 3).
Antioxidants/(poly)phenolics
The concentrations of secondary metabolites with antioxidant
activity, including a wide range of nutritionally desirable
(poly)phenolics, were also studied in a relatively large
number of studies (see online supplementary Table S8).
For (poly)phenolics, the standard weighted meta-analysis
detected significantly and substantially higher concentrations
of total flavonoids, total phenolic acids, phenolic acids
(where data reported for all individual phenolic acid
compounds were included in the same analysis), flavanones,
stilbenes, flavones, flavonols, kaempferol, total anthocyanins
and anthocyanins in organic crops and/or processed foods
made from organic crops. The unweighted meta-analysis
yielded similar results, except for (1) total flavonoids, for
which no significant difference was detected, and (2) flava-
nones and flavones, for which only trends towards higher
concentrations in organic crops were detected (Fig. 3). The
unweighted meta-analysis also detected significantly higher
concentrations of chlorogenic acid (5-O-caffeoylquinic acid)
in organic crops (Fig. 3). The MPD for most of the compounds
were between 18 and 69 % for most of the above-mentioned
antioxidant compounds (Fig. 3). Inclusion of data for which
no measures of variance were reported in the calculation of
MPD yielded similar values for phenolic compounds, phenolic
acids, chlorogenic acid, flavones, quercetin, kaempferol and
anthocyanins; higher values for phenolic acids (total),
stilbenes and quercetin-3-rutinoside; and lower values for
flavonoids, flavanones and flavonols (see Fig. 4 and online
supplementary Table S9).
When data reported for phenolic compounds, phenolic
acids and flavanones in fruits, vegetables, cereals and/or pro-
cessed crop-based foods were analysed separately, significant
differences were detected only for the concentrations of
phenolic compounds and phenolic acids in fruits and a
trend towards a significant difference (P¼0·09) was detected
for the concentrations of flavanones in fruits (Fig. 4), although
there was no evidence of an interaction. In contrast, when
differences in the concentrations of flavones and flavonols
were analysed separately for fruits, vegetables and cereals,
significant differences were detected for vegetables and cer-
eals, but not for fruits, with evidence of interactions (Fig. 4).
For all other antioxidant/(poly)phenolic compounds, separate
analyses for different crop types were not possible due to the
unavailability of sufficient data.
Smaller, but statistically significant and biologically mean-
ingful composition differences were also detected for a small
number of carotenoids and vitamins. Both unweighted and
Nutritional composition of organic crop foods 801
British Journal of Nutrition
weighted meta-analyses detected significantly higher concen-
trations of xanthophylls and L-ascorbic acid and significantly
lower concentrations of vitamin E in organic crops. Higher
concentrations of total carotenoids, carotenoids (where data
reported for all individual phenolic acid compounds were
included in the same analysis) and lutein were also detected
by the unweighted meta-analysis (Fig. 3). The MPD were 17
(95 % CI 0, 34) % for total carotenoids, 15 (95 % CI 23, 32) %
for carotenoids (where data reported for all individual caro-
tenoid compounds were included in the same analysis), 12
(95 % CI 24, 28) % for xanthophylls, 5 (95 % CI 23, 13) %
for lutein, 6 (95 % CI 23, 15) % for vitamin C and 215 (95 %
CI 249, 19) % for vitamin E. Inclusion of data for which no
measures of variance were reported in the calculation of
MPD resulted in slightly higher values (see Fig. 4 and online
supplementary Table S9).
When data reported for total carotenoids and xanthophylls
in fruits, vegetables, cereals and processed crop-based com-
pound foods were analysed separately, significantly higher
concentrations in organic samples were detected only for
fruits (Fig. 4), with evidence of interactions being detected
for carotenoids, but not for xanthophylls.
The meta-analyses did not detect significant differences for
a range of other secondary metabolites with antioxidant
activity. These included some individual carotenoids (a-caro-
tene, lycopene, b-cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin), vitamins
(a-tocopherol, g-tocopherol, vitamin B and vitamin B
1
),
some specific phenolic acids (total hydroxycinnamic acids,
caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid, ferulic acid, sinapic
acid, 5-O-caffeoylquinic acid, ellagic acid, gallic acid and
salicylic acid), some specific flavones and flavonols (apigenin,
luteolin, myricetin 3-O-glucoside, quercetin 3-O-galactoside,
quercetin-3-O-glucoside and quercetin-3-O-malonyl glucoside)
and some specific flavanones (naringenin and naringenin
(R-enantiomer)).
Macronutrients, fibre and DM content
Both unweighted and weighted meta-analyses detected
significantly higher concentrations of total carbohydrates and
significantly lower concentrations of proteins, amino acids
and fibre in organic crops/crop-based compound foods
(Fig. 3). The unweighted meta-analysis also detected signifi-
cantly higher concentrations of reducing sugars and DM in
organic crops (Fig. 4). The MPD were 25 (95 % CI 5, 45) %
for total carbohydrates, 11 (95 % CI 2, 20) % for carbohydrates
(where data reported for all individual phenolic acid com-
pounds were included in the same analysis), 7 (95 % CI 4,
11) % for reducing sugars, 215 (95 % CI 227, 23) % for pro-
teins, 211 (95 % CI 214, 28) % for amino acids, 2 (95 % CI
21, 6) % for DM and 28 (95 % CI 214, 22) % for fibre.
Inclusion of data for which no measures of variance were
reported in the calculation of MPD resulted in similar values
for carbohydrates, proteins, DM and fibre; higher values
for reducing sugars; and lower values for carbohydrates
(total) and amino acids (see Fig. 4 and online supplementary
Table S9).
When data reported for proteins and amino acids in
vegetables, cereals and/or processed crop-based foods were
analysed separately, significant differences were detected
for cereals and processed crop-based foods, but not for
vegetables (Fig. 4), although there was no evidence of an
interaction. Also, when data reported for carbohydrates in
vegetables, fruits and cereals were analysed separately, no
significant effects could be detected in their concentrations
(Fig. 4).
Toxic metals, nitrogen, nitrate, nitrite and pesticides
Both weighted and unweighted meta-analyses detected
significantly lower concentrations of the toxic metal Cd and
total N in organic crops, while lower concentrations of NO2
3
and NO2
2in organic crops were detected only by the
unweighted meta-analysis (Fig. 3). The MPD were 248
(95 % CI 2112, 16) % for Cd, 210 (95 % CI 215, 24) % for
N, 230 (95 % CI 2144, 84) % for NO2
3and 287 (95 % CI
2225, 52) % for NO2
2(Fig. 3).
Inclusion of data for which no measures of variance were
reported in the calculation of MPD resulted in similar values
for N, NO2
3,NO
2
2and Cd (see Fig. 4 and online supplemen-
tary Table S9).
When data reported for N and Cd concentrations in fruits,
vegetables and cereals were analysed separately, significant
differences were detected for cereals, but not for vegetables
and/or fruits (Fig. 4), although there was no evidence of an
interaction.
For the toxic metals As and Pb, no significant differences
could be detected in their concentrations between organic
and conventional crops in the meta-analyses (see online
supplementary Table S12).
The standard meta-analyses showed that the frequency of
occurrence of detectable pesticide residues was four times
higher in conventional crops (46 (95 % CI 38, 55) %) than in
organic crops (11 (95 % CI 7, 14) %) (Fig. 5). Significantly
higher frequencies of occurrence of pesticide residues in
conventional crops were also detected when data reported
for fruits, vegetables and processed crop-based foods were
analysed separately (Fig. 5). Conventional fruits had a higher
frequency (75 (95 % CI 65, 85) %) of occurrence of pesticide
residues than vegetables (32 (95 % CI 22, 43)%) and
crop-based compound foods (45 (95 % CI 25, 65) %), while
contamination rates were very similar in the different organic
crop types. This resulted in significant differences in the OR
for different crop types (Fig. 5).
Other minerals
For most of the minerals (including many plant marco- and
micronutrients), the meta-analyses could not detect significant
composition differences between organic and conventional
crops (see online supplementary Table S12). However, for a
small number of minerals, differences in composition were
identified by both weighted and unweighted meta-analyses,
which detected significantly lower concentrations of Cr and
Sr (259 (95 % CI 2147, 30) % and 226 (95 % CI 245,
M. Baran
´ski et al.802
British Journal of Nutrition
26) %, respectively), but significantly higher concentrations of
Mo and Rb (65 (95 % CI 26, 105) % and 82 (95 % CI 6, 157) %,
respectively) in organic crops. Also, lower concentrations of
Mn (28 (95 % CI 213, 23) %) and higher concentrations of
Ga and Mg in organic crops (57 (95 % CI 2122, 8) % and 4
(95 % CI 25, 13) %, respectively) were detected only by the
weighted meta-analysis, while slightly higher concentrations
of Zn (5 (95 % CI 26, 15) %) in organic crops were only
detected by the unweighted meta-analysis (see online sup-
plementary Table S11). As differences for Zn and Mg were
relatively small and as there is limited information about
potential health impacts associated with changing intake
levels of either mineral (Cr, Ga, Mo, Sr and Mo), more detailed
results are provided only in the online supplementary material.
Effects of crop type/species/variety, study type and
other sources of variation
Heterogeneity was extremely high (I
2
.75 %) for most of the
composition parameters, with I
2
ranging from 76 % for
ascorbic acid to 100 % for carotenoids and DM (Fig. 3). The
only exceptions were vitamin E, reducing sugars, fibre and
NO2
2, for which the small number of studies and/or high
within-study variability limited the ability to distinguish
heterogeneity between the effects.
Strong or moderate funnel plot asymmetry consistent with a
publication bias was detected for approximately half of the
parameters. However, it is not possible to definitively attribute
discrepancies between large precise studies and small
imprecise studies to publication bias, which remains strongly
suspected rather than detected where asymmetry is severe
(see Table 1 and online supplementary Table S13).
When meta-analysis results obtained from different study
types (BS, CF and EX) were compared, similar results were
obtained for most of the composition parameters included in
Fig. 3 (see online supplementary Figs. S3 and S4). However,
there was considerable variation between results obtained
for different crop types, crop species, and/or studies carried
out in countries with contrasting pedo-climatic and agronomic
background conditions (see Fig. 4 and online supplementary
Figs. S5S41).
Non-weighted MPD were calculated to aid in the biological
interpretation of effect size magnitude where either the
weighted or unweighted meta-analysis had identified statisti-
cally significant results. For many parameters, MPD based
on all the available data produced values very similar to
those calculated using only data for which measures of
variance were reported ( ¼those used for the weighted
meta-analysis; Fig. 3). However, for other parameters (flavo-
noids, total phenolic acids, flavanones, rutin, L-ascorbic acid,
reducing sugars and Cd), inclusion criteria had a large effect
on the MPD.
Also, when the calculated MPD were superimposed onto
SMD (with 95 % CI) results at an appropriate scale (2100 to
þ100 for MPD and 25toþ5 for SMD), a reasonable match
was observed, with MPD for most of the compounds being
present within the 95 % CI for SMD (Fig. 3). However, for
some parameters (Trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity,
total phenolic acids, stilbenes, rutin, total carotenoids,
L-ascorbic acid, vitamin E, reducing sugars, proteins, NO2
3,
NO2
2and Cd), MPD were outside the 95 % CI of SMD, and
therefore these should be seen as less reliable.
For the composition parameters included in Fig. 3, sensi-
tivity analyses, which were based on different inclusion
criteria and data-handling methods, yielded results broadly
similar to those yielded by the standard weighted and
unweighted meta-analyses.
The overall assessment of the strength of evidence using
an adapted GRADE
(41)
approach highlighted uncertainties in
the evidence base, but the overall strength of evidence was
moderate or high for the majority of parameters for which
significant differences were detected (see Table 1 and online
supplementary Table S13).
Discussion
The results of meta-analyses of the extensive data set of
343 peer-reviewed publications indicated that organic crops
and processed crop-based foods have a higher antioxidant
activity and contain higher concentrations of a wide range of
nutritionally desirable antioxidants/(poly)phenolics, but lower
concentrations of the potentially harmful, toxic metal Cd. For
plant secondary metabolites, this confirms the results of the
meta-analyses carried out by Brandt et al.
(20)
, which indicated
that there are significant composition differences between
organic and conventional crops for a range of nutritionally
relevant compounds. However, it contradicts the results of the
systematic reviews/meta-analyses by Dangour et al.
(19)
and
Smith-Spangler et al.
(21)
, which indicated that there are no
significant composition differences between organic and con-
ventional crops. The main reason for the inability of previous
studies to detect composition differences was probably the
–6·0 –4·5 –3·0 –1·5
OR
0·0 1·5 3·0 4·5 6·0 Products†
All
Fruits
Vegetables
Compound foods‡
n
66
22
36
6
P*
<0·001
<0·001
<0·001
<0·001
Mean
10·55
11·45
10·25
12·59
Percentage of positive samples
ORG CONV
95 % CI Mean 95 % CI
6·74, 14·36 46·35 37·96, 54·75
4·92, 17·99 74·60 64·65, 84·55
4·77, 15·73 31·95 21·72, 42·18
1·52, 23·65 44·64 24·81, 64·48
Fig. 5. Results of the standard weighted meta-analysis comparing ln OR for the frequency of occurrence of pesticide residues (percentage of positive samples) in
organic and conventional crops. A mixed-effect model with crop/product group as a moderator was used. OR, ln OR for each product group ( ); ORG, organic
food samples; CONV, conventional food samples; n, number of data points included in the meta-analyses. Values are odds ratios, with 95 % confidence intervals
represented by horizont al bars. * Pvalue ,0·05 indicates a significant difference between ORG and CONV. † Crops/product groups for which n#3 were removed
from the plots. ‡ Compound foods.
Nutritional composition of organic crop foods 803
British Journal of Nutrition
highly limited number of studies/data sets available or included
in analyses by these authors, which would have decreased the
statistical power of the meta-analyses.
In addition, most of the previous studies did not use
weighted meta-analyses based on SMD. This approach is rec-
ommended when combining data from studies that measure
the same parameter (e.g. the major phenolic compounds
found in different crops), but use different scales
(25,26,29)
.In
the study carried out by Dangour et al.
(19)
, published data
from (1) surveys in which the organic samples were produced
to ‘biodynamic-organic’ standards and (2) field experiments
investigating associations between organic and conventional
production protocols and crop composition were not included
in the meta-analyses. This would have further reduced the
number of data sets and sensitivity of meta-analyses and
contributed to the lack of significant composition differences
being detected. In the meta-analyses carried out in the present
study, ‘biodynamic-organic’ data sets were treated as organic,
as biodynamic standards comply with the legal European
Union organic farming standards. Data from comparative
field experiments were also included, as controlled exper-
imental studies are less affected by confounding factors (e.g.
contrasting soil and climatic and agronomic background con-
ditions between farms that supplied organic and conventional
samples) than farm and retail surveys. The reason for exclud-
ing field experiments carried out in the study of Dangour
et al.
(19)
is that in the field experiments the organic plots
were not certified according to organic farming standards.
In the meta-analyses carried out in the present study, field
experiments investigating associations between organic and
Table 1. GRADE (Grading of Recommendations, Assessments, Development and Evaluation) assessment of the strength of evidence for standard
weighted meta-analysis for parameters included in Fig. 3
(Standardised mean difference values (SMD) and 95 % confidence intervals)
Parameters SMD 95 % CI Effect magnitude* Inconsistency† Precision‡ Publication bias§ Overall reliability
Antioxidant activity 1·11 0·43, 1·79 Moderate Medium Poor None Moderate
FRAP 0·59 20·89, 2·06 Moderate Low Poor Medium Moderate
ORAC 1·92 20·86, 4·71 Large Low Poor Strong Low
TEAC 0·25 0·02, 0·48 Small Medium High Medium Good
Phenolic compounds (total) 0·52 0·00, 1·05 Small Medium Moderate None Moderate
Flavonoids (total) 1·64 0·09, 3·19 Large Medium Poor Medium Moderate
Phenolic acids (total) 0·81 0·18, 1·44 Small Low Moderate Strong Low
Phenolic acidsk0·59 0·11, 1·07 Small Medium Moderate None Moderate
Chlorogenic acid 1·58 20·32, 3·49 Large High Poor Medium Low
Flavanonesk4·76 0·54, 8·98 Large Medium Moderate None Moderate
Stilbenes 0·74 0·19, 1·28 Small Low Moderate Medium Moderate
Flavones and flavonols 1·74 1·21, 2·28 Large Medium High None Good
Flavones 0·95 0·39, 1·51 Moderate Medium Moderate None Moderate
Flavonolsk1·97 1·31, 2·64 Large Medium High None Good
Quercetin 0·55 20·58, 1·69 Small Low Poor Medium Low
Rutin 1·10 20·31, 2·50 Moderate Medium Poor None Low
Kaempferol 1·34 0·19, 2·50 Moderate Low Poor None Low
Anthocyanins (total) 1·60 0·59, 2·62 Large Low Moderate Medium Moderate
Anthocyanins 3·81 1·53, 6·09 Large Medium High Medium Moderate
Carotenoids (total) 7·98 26·22, 22·18 Large Medium Poor Strong Low
Carotenoidsk0·47 20·13, 1·07 Small Medium Poor None Low
Xanthophyllsk1·06 0·18, 1·94 Moderate Medium Poor Medium Low
Lutein 0·51 20·27, 1·29 Small Medium Poor Medium Low
Ascorbic acid 0·33 0·06, 0·60 Small Medium Moderate None Moderate
Vitamin E 20·23 20·46, 0·00 Small Low Moderate None Moderate
Carbohydrates (total) 1·54 0·10, 2·99 Large Low Poor Medium Low
Carbohydratesk0·46 0·00, 0·91 Small Medium Moderate None Moderate
Sugars (reducing) 0·21 20·23, 0·65 Small Low Moderate None Moderate
Protein (total) 23·01 25·18, 20·84 Large Medium Moderate Medium Moderate
Amino acidsk20·82 21·14, 20·50 Small Medium High Medium Moderate
DMk1·31 20·65, 3·28 Moderate Medium Poor Medium Low
Fibre 20·42 20·76, 20·07 Small Low Moderate None Moderate
N20·88 21·59, 20·17 Moderate Low Moderate Medium Low
NO2
3k20·50 21·73, 0·73 Small Medium Poor Medium Low
NO2
220·11 20·38, 0·16 Small Low High None Moderate
Cd 21·45 22·52, 20·39 Moderate Medium Moderate Medium Moderate
FRAP, ferric reducing antioxidant potential; ORAC, oxygen radical absorbance capacity; TEAC, Trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity.
* Study quality was considered low because of high risks of bias and potential for confounding. However, we considered large effects to mitigate this sensu GRADE; large
effects were defined as .20 %, moderate effects as 10– 20 % and small as ,10 %.
† Inconsistency was based on the measure of heterogeneity and the consistency of effect direction sensu GRADE.
Precision was based on the width of the pooled effect CI and the extent of overlap in the substantive interpretation of effect magnitude sensu GRADE.
§ Publication bias was assessed using visual inspection of funnel plots, Egger tests, two fail-safe number tests, and trim and fill (see online supplementary Table S13). Overall
publication bias was considered high when indicated by two or more methods, moderate when indicated by one method, and low when indicated by none of the methods.
The overall quality of evidence was then assessed across domains as in standard GRADE appraisal.
kOutlying data pairs (where the mean percentage difference between the organic and conventional food samples was over fifty times higher than the mean value including
outliers) were removed.
M. Baran
´ski et al.804
British Journal of Nutrition
conventional agronomic practices/protocols and crop compo-
sition were included, as the crop management practices rather
than the certification process were assumed to affect crop
performance and composition.
The finding of a four times higher frequency of occurrence
of pesticide residues in conventional crops confirms the
results of the study of Smith-Spangler et al.
(21)
, in which a
very similar set of studies (nine of the ten publications used
in the present study) were used for analysis.
The potential (1) nutritional benefits of higher concentrations
of antioxidant/(poly)phenolics in organic crops, (2) risks associ-
ated with potentially harmful pesticide residues, Cd, NO2
3and
NO2
2, and (3) agronomic factors responsible for composition
differences are discussed in more detail below.
Antioxidants/(poly)phenolics
Among the composition differences detected by the meta-
analyses carried out in the present study, the higher antioxidant
activity and higher concentrations of a wide range of antioxi-
dants/(poly)phenolics found in organic crops/crop-based
foods may indicate the greatest potential nutritional benefits.
Based on the differences reported, results indicate that a
switch from conventional to organic crop consumption
would result in a 20 –40 % (and for some compounds more
than 60 %) increase in crop-based antioxidant/(poly)phenolic
intake levels without a simultaneous increase in energy,
which would be in line with the dietary recommen-
dations
(16,17)
. This estimated magnitude of difference would
be equivalent to the amount of antioxidants/(poly)phenolics
present in one to two of the five portions of fruits and
vegetables recommended to be consumed daily and would
therefore be significant/meaningful in terms of human nutri-
tion, if information linking these plant secondary metabolites
to the health benefits associated with increased fruit, vegetable
and whole grain consumption is confirmed
(16 – 18)
.
However, it is important to point out that there is still a lack
of knowledge about the potential human health impacts
of increasing antioxidant/(poly)phenolic intake levels and
switching to organic food consumption. For example, there
are still gaps in the understanding of the (1) uptake, bioavail-
ability and metabolism of (poly)phenolics after ingestion
and (2) exact compounds/molecules and modes of action
responsible for health benefits
(16)
. Also, it is important to con-
sider that most of the human dietary intervention studies on
associations between antioxidant/(poly)phenolic intake and
health indicators were based on the comparison of standard
diets with diets in which the amount of specific (poly)pheno-
lic-rich foods (e.g. cocoa, red wine, tea/coffee, berries, citrus
and nuts) was high
(16,17)
.
There are, to our knowledge, only two human dietary
intervention studies in which contrasting antioxidant/(poly)
phenolic intake levels were generated by providing diets
based on conventional and organic crops; both studies
focused on assessing antioxidant status in humans and were
inconclusive with respect to the identification of potential
health impacts of organic food consumption
(21,42,43)
. However,
there are several animal dietary intervention studies that have
identified significant associations between organic feed
consumption and animal growth and physiological (including
immune and endocrine) parameters and/or biomarkers of
health when compared with conventional feed consump-
tion
(44,45)
. Among these studies, one recent factorial animal
study has gone one step further and assessed associations
between contrasting crop fertilisation and crop protection
protocols used in conventional and organic farming systems
and (1) the composition (including (poly)phenolic content)
of crops/compound feeds made from crops and (2) the
growth, physiological, immunological and hormonal par-
ameters of rats that consumed these feeds
(46)
. With respect
to composition differences, the study yielded results similar to
those of the meta-analyses carried out in the present study.
For example, rat feeds produced from organic crops had
lower concentrations of proteins and Cd, but higher concen-
trations of polyphenols and the carotenoid lutein. The study
also demonstrated that composition differences were mainly
linked to contrasting fertilisation regimens (green and animal
manures v. mineral fertiliser inputs). The consumption of
feeds made from organic crops by the rats resulted in higher
levels of body protein, body ash, leucocyte count, plasma glu-
cose, leptin, insulin-like growth factor 1, corticosterone, and
IgM, and spontaneous lymphocyte proliferation, but lower
levels of plasma IgG, testosterone and mitogen-stimulated pro-
liferation of lymphocytes
(46)
. Redundancy analysis identified
total polyphenol concentrations in feeds as the strongest driver
for the physiological/endocrinological parameters assessed in
rats. This suggests that a switch from conventional to organic
crop consumption may have impacts similar to those of an
increase in the intake of foods with high antioxidant/(poly)
phenolic contents. This hypothesis would merit further explora-
tion in animal and human dietary intervention studies.
Many of the antioxidants, including (poly)phenolics,
found in higher concentrations in organic crops are
known to be produced by plants in response to abiotic (e.g.
wounding and heat, water and nutrient stress) and biotic
(pest attacks and disease) stress and form part of the plants’
constitutive and inducible resistance mechanisms to pests
and diseases
(47 – 49)
. Therefore, higher concentrations of
(poly)phenolics in organic crops may be due to higher inci-
dence/severity of pest and disease damage, causing enhanced
(poly)phenolic production as part of the inducible plant resist-
ance response. The differences in antioxidant concentrations
between organic and conventional crops may therefore have
been due to contrasting pest and disease damage and/or
fertilisation intensity. However, there are, to our knowledge,
no sound published data/evidence for a causal link between
higher pest/disease incidence/severity and antioxidant/(poly)-
phenolic concentrations in organic crops. In contrast, there is
increasing evidence that differences in fertilisation regimens
between organic and conventional production systems (and,
in particular, the non-use of high mineral N fertiliser inputs)
are significant drivers for higher (poly)phenolic concen-
trations in organic crops
(20,49 – 52)
. For example, Sander &
Heitefuss
(50)
reported that increasing mineral N fertilisation
resulted in reduced concentrations of phenolic resistance
compounds in wheat leaves and increased severity of foliar
Nutritional composition of organic crop foods 805
British Journal of Nutrition
disease (powdery mildew). Similarly, a review by Ru¨hmann
et al.
(51)
describes the negative correlations between N fertili-
sation/supply-driven shoot growth and concentrations of
phenylpropanoids and apple scab resistance in young leaves
in apple trees
(51)
. In tomato, deficiency of both N and P was
found to be linked to flavonol accumulation in plant
tissues
(52)
. More recently, Almuayrifi
(49)
has demonstrated
that the non-use of synthetic pesticides and fungicides has
no effect on phenolic acid and flavonoid concentrations and
profiles in wheat, but that the use of standard, conventional
mineral (NPK) fertiliser regimens is associated with signifi-
cantly lower phenolic acid and flavonoid concentrations in
wheat leaves compared with organic wheat crops fertilised
with green and animal manures only. The variability in relative
differences in antioxidant/(poly)phenolic concentrations
found between studies and crops may therefore at least par-
tially be explained by variability in the fertilisation protocols
in both the organic and non-organic systems compared. The
finding in the present study that organic crops have signifi-
cantly lower N, NO2
3and NO2
2concentrations would support
the theory that differences in antioxidant/(poly)phenolic
concentrations between organic and conventional crops
are driven by contrasting N supply patterns. This view is sup-
ported by previous studies that have suggested that under
high N availability, plants allocate carbohydrates from
photosynthesis to primary metabolism and rapid growth
while producing less amounts of secondary metabolites
involved in defence
(51)
.
However, additional research is required to gain a more
detailed understanding of the relative contribution of
fertilisation and crop protection regimens and disease and
pest prevalence/severity to the expression of constitutive
and inducible resistance mechanisms in different organically
managed crop plants
(50)
.
Cadmium and pesticide residues
Cd is a highly toxic metal and one of the only three toxic metal
contaminants (the other two being Pb and Hg) for which the
European Commission has set maximum residue levels (MRL)
in foods
(53)
. Cd accumulates in the human body (especially in
the liver and kidneys) and therefore dietary Cd intake levels
should be kept as low as possible
(53)
. The on average 48 %
lower Cd concentrations found in organic crops/crop-based
foods in the meta-analyses carried out in the present study
are therefore desirable, although the exact health benefits
associated with reducing Cd intake levels via a switch to
organic food consumption are difficult to estimate. Similar to
the results of the present study, a recent literature review
by Smith-Spangler et al.
(21)
has also reported that of the
seventy-seven comparative data sets (extracted from fifteen
publications), twenty-one indicated significantly lower and
only one significantly higher Cd concentrations in organic
foods. Differences in Cd contamination levels between
organic and conventional winter wheat have recently been
shown to be mainly linked to differences in fertilisation
regimens (especially the high mineral P inputs used in con-
ventional farming systems), although contrasting rotation
designs also contributed to differences in Cd concentrations
between organic and conventional wheat
(7)
. A range of
other soil (e.g. pH) and agronomic (e.g. liming) factors are
known to affect Cd concentrations in crops
(54)
, and these
may explain the variability in results between individual com-
parative studies, crop species and crop types (see Fig. 4 and
online supplementary Figs. S4 and S22).
The present study demonstrated that the prohibition of syn-
thetic chemical pesticide use under organic farming standards
results in a more than 4-fold reduction in the number of crop
samples with detectable pesticide residues. This supports
previous studies that have concluded that organic food con-
sumption can reduce exposure to pesticide residues
(21 – 23)
.
The considerably higher frequency of occurrence of detect-
able residues in conventional fruits (75 %) than in vegetables
(32 %) may indicate higher levels of crop protection inputs
being used in fruit crops, but could also have been due to
the use of more persistent chemicals, different sprayer tech-
nologies used and/or pesticide applications being made
closer to harvest. The finding of detectable pesticide residues
in a proportion (about 11 %) of organic crop samples may
have been due to cross-contamination from neighbouring
conventional fields, the continued presence of very persistent
pesticides (e.g. organochlorine compounds) in fields or
perennial crop tissues from past conventional management,
and/or accidental or fraudulent use of prohibited pesticides
in organic farms.
Pesticide residues that are below the MRL set by the Euro-
pean Commission
(55,56)
are considered by regulators not to
pose risk to consumers or the environment, as they are signifi-
cantly lower than concentrations for which negative health or
environmental impacts can be detected in the regulatory
pesticide safety testing carried out as part of the pesticide
approval process
(55)
. However, a significant number of crop
samples included in the regulatory European Food Safety
Authority pesticide residue monitoring in Europe are still
found to contain pesticide residues above the MRL
(57)
. For
example, in recent European Food Safety Authority surveys,
pesticide residues above the MRL have been found in 6·2 %
of spinach, 3·8 % of oat, 3·4 % of peach, 3·0 % of orange,
2·9 % of strawberry and lettuce, 2·8 % of table grape and
2·7 % of apple samples analysed
(57)
. There is still scientific
controversy about the safety of some currently permitted
pesticides (e.g. organophosphorus compounds) even at levels
below the MRL and complex mixtures of pesticides, as additive/
synergistic effects of pesticide mixtures have been documented
and safety testing of pesticide mixtures is currently not required
as part of the regulatory pesticideapproval process
(58 – 60)
.Similar
to Cd, the lower risk of exposure to pesticide residues can be
considered desirable, but potential health benefits associated
with reducing pesticide exposure via a switch to organic food
consumption are impossible to estimate.
It should be pointed out that (1) there are only eleven
studies in which the frequencies of occurrence of pesticide
residues were compared, (2) eight of these studies focused
on only one crop species, (3) no comparative studies for
cereals, oilseeds and pulses were identified in the literature
review, and (4) the data available did not allow scientifically
M. Baran
´ski et al.806
British Journal of Nutrition
robust comparisons of the concentrations of pesticides. There-
fore, it is important to carry out further studies to improve our
understanding of differences in the frequency of occurrence
and concentrations of pesticide residues between organic
and conventional crops.
Proteins, amino acids, nitrogen and nitrate/nitrite
The concentrations of proteins, amino acids and N (which are
known to be positively correlated in plants) were found to be
lower in organic crops, and this is consistent with the results of
previous studies that have linked lower protein concentrations
to lower N inputs and N availability in organic crop pro-
duction systems
(61,62)
. The nutritional significance/relevance
of slightly lower protein and amino acid concentrations in
organic crops to human health is likely to be low, as European
and North American diets typically provide sufficient or even
excessive amounts of proteins and essential amino acids.
Also, while some studies concluded that protein content in
most European and North American diets is too high and
that this contributes to the increasing incidence of diabetes
and obesity
(63)
, other studies reported that increasing protein
intake levels may be a strategy to prevent obesity
(64)
. There-
fore, the lower protein and amino acid concentrations found
in organic foods are unlikely to have a significant nutritional
or health impact.
The higher NO2
3and NO2
2concentrations in conventional
crops are also thought to be linked to high mineral N
inputs, as both NO2
3and NO2
2are known to accumulate in
plants under high-mineral N input regimens
(65)
. The higher
NO2
2concentrations in conventional crops/crop-based foods
are nutritionally undesirable, as they have been described to
be risk factors for stomach cancer and methaemoglobinaemia
in humans
(65)
. However, while increasing dietary NO2
2intake
levels is widely considered to be potentially harmful for
human health, there is still controversy about the potential
health impacts of crop-based dietary NO2
3intake
(65 – 67)
.
Effects of crop type/species/variety, study type and
other sources of variation
One of the main challenges to interpreting comparisons of
organic and inorganic food production systems is the high het-
erogeneity arising from combinations of (1) crops, crop types
and/or crop-based foods, (2) countries, and/or (3) pedo-
climatic and agronomic background conditions. As has been
mentioned in previous reviews
(19 – 21)
, pooling diverse infor-
mation was necessary, because for most of the composition
parameters, the number of published studies available was
not sufficient to carry out separate meta-analyses for specific
countries/regions and crop types and species. Consequently,
heterogeneity was extremely high (I
2
.75 %) for most of
the composition parameters for which significant differences
were detected.
For many composition parameters, the method of synthesis
did not have large effects on results, in terms of both statistical
significance and the magnitude of relative difference between
organic and conventional crops. This indicates that there is
now a sufficiently large body of published information to
identify differences that are relatively consistent across study
types, crops, and pedo-climatic and agronomic environments.
Therefore, for these parameters, future studies should focus
on increasing our understanding of the underlying agronomic,
pedo-climatic and crop genetic factors responsible for compo-
sition differences between organic and conventional crops.
For other composition parameters (e.g. ferric reducing anti-
oxidant power, oxygen radical absorbance capacity, Trolox
equivalent antioxidant capacity, and levels of flavonoids, stil-
benes, total carotenoids, L-ascorbic acid, proteins, NO2
2and
Cd), differences in methods had a large impact in terms of
both significant effects being detected and/or estimates of
the magnitude of difference based on MPD and SMD. For
these compounds, additional high-quality studies (that report
measures of variance) are required to increase the power of
weighted meta-analyses.
Overall assessment of the strength of evidence for antioxi-
dant/(poly)phenolic parameters indicated high or moderate
reliability for thirteen of the nineteen parameters and moder-
ate reliability for Cd. This supports the conclusion that
future research would likely be confirmatory.
In contrast to previous literature reviews
(19 – 21)
, the larger
number of studies now available allowed separate meta-
analyses to be carried out for different crop types (e.g.
fruits, vegetables and cereals), but only for a limited number
of composition parameters. This demonstrates that there is
variation between crop types with respect to (1) whether the
production system has a significant effect and/or (2) the
magnitude of difference between organic and conventional
crops, although sample sizes remain insufficient to detect
interactions between crop types in many cases.
The present study also identified variation between studies
(1) carried out in countries with different pedo-climatic
conditions and agronomic protocols (e.g. rotation designs,
irrigated or non-irrigated crop production, and level and
type of animal manures used) and/or (2) focused on different
crop species. This is not surprising as both genetic and
environmental/agronomic factors are known to affect the con-
centrations of N, NO2
3,NO
2
2, proteins, sugars, antioxidants/
(poly)phenolics, Cd and pesticides in crops
(7,9 – 12,20,47 – 52,62)
.
However, due to the lack of detailed information on agro-
nomic and pedo-climatic background conditions in most of
the available literature, it is currently not possible to quantify
the relative contribution of genetic and environmental/
agronomic sources of variation.
The unweighted MPD were calculated to provide an
estimate of the magnitude of difference that is meaningful
when considering nutritional/health impacts of changes in
crop composition. However, care should be taken when
interpreting MPD values, as they do not take variability in
the precision of individual studies into account
(25)
and provide
less precise estimates of effect than weighted estimates.
However, there is now evidence from a large number of
quality studies that consistently show that organic production
systems result in crops/crop-based compound foods with
higher concentrations of antioxidants/(poly)phenolics and
lower concentrations of Cd and pesticide residues compared
Nutritional composition of organic crop foods 807
British Journal of Nutrition
with conventional production systems. There is little uncer-
tainty surrounding this overall result, but further research is
required to quantify more accurately the relative impacts of
(1) crop types, species, and varieties/cultivars/hybrids and
(2) agronomic and pedo-climatic background conditions on
the relative difference between organic and conventional
crop composition.
The need for use of standardised protocols for
comparative food composition studies
The present study identified deficiencies in a large proportion
of the published studies. These included a lack of standardised
measurements and a lack of reporting (and, in particular, the
non-reporting of measures of variability and/or replication)
for many composition parameters, and there was evidence
of duplicate or selective reporting of data collected in exper-
iments, which may lead to publication bias. Particularly,
there is a lack of studies comparing pesticide residue levels
in organic and conventional crops, and there has been very
little effort taken to re-analyse and then publish available com-
parative data from food surveillance surveys (e.g. the regular
pesticide residue and food composition surveys carried out
by the European Food Safety Authority and national agencies
in Europe and elsewhere). Also, in many studies, there was a
lack of detailed information on (1) the geographical origin of
samples in retail surveys and (2) agronomic (e.g. rotation,
fertilisation, tillage and irrigation regimens), pedo-climatic
and crop genetic backgrounds (in farm surveys and
field experiments), which would allow potential sources of
variation to be investigated.
Not all studies included in the meta-analyses used certified
reference materials as a quality assurance measure for the
accuracy of estimates of concentrations of compounds in
crops. This is unlikely to have affected the estimates of relative
differences between organic and conventional crops, as the
same extraction and analytical methods were used for organic
and conventional samples in all the studies included in the
meta-analyses in the present study. However, data from
studies that did not use reference materials are less reliable
when used to estimate the concentrations of nutritionally
relevant compounds in crops and total dietary intake levels
of such compounds in crop-based foods.
Therefore, it is important to develop guidelines for studies
comparing the impacts of agronomic practices on crop/food
composition to minimise heterogeneity and/or allow agro-
nomic, environmental and crop genetic drivers to be used as
covariates in analyses.
The need for dietary intervention/cohort studies to
identify health impacts
A recent review by Smith-Spangler et al.
(21)
has analysed the
results of fourteen studies in which the effects of organic
and conventional food (both crop and livestock product) con-
sumption on clinical outcomes (e.g. allergic symptoms and
Campylobacter infections) and health markers (e.g. serum
lipid and vitamin concentrations) were studied. However,
they concluded that the currently available data do not
allow clear trends with respect to health markers and out-
comes to be identified. Therefore, there is an urgent need
for well-controlled human intervention and/or cohort studies
to identify/quantify potential human health impacts of organic
v. conventional food consumption.
Diet composition may have an effect on the relative impact
of switching from conventional to organic food consumption,
and this should be considered in the design of such studies.
For example, the relative impact of switching from conven-
tional to organic food consumption could be expected to be
smaller for diets with high amounts of (poly)phenolic-rich
foods.
Supplementary material
To view supplementary material for this article, please visit
http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0007114514001366
Acknowledgements
The authors thank Lord Peter Melchett (Policy Director of the
Soil Association, Bristol, UK, and an organic farmer), Professor
Dr Juha Helenius (Professor of Agroecology, University of
Helsinki, Finland) and Teresa Jordon (Nafferton Ecological
Farming Group office manager, Newcastle University) for criti-
cally reviewing/editing the manuscript. Lord Peter Melchett,
the Policy Director of the Soil Association, was invited to criti-
cally review the manuscript to (1) ensure that the authors had
covered all the information/publications available to the main
UK Organic Farming sector body and (2) obtain feedback on
the main results and conclusions reported in the article. Lord
Melchett did not suggest any major revisions to the manuscript.
The authors are grateful to the European Community for
funding through financial participation under the Sixth Frame-
work Programme for Research, Technological Development
and Demonstration Activities for the Integrated Project QUALI-
TYLOWINPUTFOOD, FP6-FOOD-CT-2003-506358. They are
also grateful to the Sheepdrove Trust for the ‘Meta-analyses
of data on composition of organic and conventional foods’
for providing financial and technical support. The Sheepdrove
Trust supports independent R&D underpinning the develop-
ment of organic and sustainable farming and food systems.
Financial support was provided by the Trust without con-
ditions, and the Trust had no influence on the design and
management of the research project and the preparation of
publications from the project.
The authors’ contributions are as follows: M. B. (an animal
and food scientist) designed the database, carried out many
of the meta-analyses and contributed to the writing of the
manuscript; D. S.-T. (a nutritionist) carried out a major part
of the literature search and extraction and contributed to
the writing of the manuscript; N. V. (a crop scientist) contrib-
uted to the literature search (especially for perennial and
Mediterranean crops) and the preparation of the manuscript;
C. S. (a human nutritionist) contributed to the design of the
study, the discussion of potential health impacts of compo-
sition differences and the critical review of the manuscript;
M. Baran
´ski et al.808
British Journal of Nutrition
R. S. (an environmental modeller and data analyser) helped to
design the literature search and database storage and helped
to design and provided guidance for the meta-analyses used;
G. B. S. (a research synthesis methodologist specialising in
meta-analytical approaches) contributed to and provided
advice on the additional analyses carried out in response to
referees’ recommendations; C. B. (an agronomist specialising
on organic production systems) helped with the literature
review (especially with respect to studies carried out in
North and South America) and the preparation/review of the
manuscript; B. B. (an agricultural microbiologist) contributed
to the literature search, the critical review of the manuscript
and the discussion related to the mechanisms for higher
antioxidant concentrations in organic crops; E. M. (a plant
pathologist) helped with the literature search and the critical
review of the manuscript, in particular, with respect to
interactions between antioxidant concentrations and crop
resistance; C. G. (a plant pathologist/crop agronomist)
helped with the literature search (especially with respect to
Mediterranean crops) and the critical review of the manu-
script; J. G.-O. (a human nutritionist) contributed to the
literature review and the discussion of potential health impacts
of composition differences identified in the meta-analyses;
E. R. (a human nutritionist) helped with the literature review
and the critical revision of the manuscript, especially with
respect to human intervention studies focused on the health
impacts of organic food consumption; K. S.-S. (an animal
nutritionist/physiologists) contributed to the literature review
and the critical revision of the manuscript, especially with
respect to animal dietary intervention studies focused on the
physiological and health impacts of organic feed consump-
tion; R. T. (a human nutritionist) helped with the literature
review and the critical revision of the manuscript, especially
with respect to studies carried out in Scandinavian countries;
D. J. (an agronomist specialising on organic production sys-
tems) contributed to the literature review (especially with
respect to studies carried out in Eastern and Central European
countries) and the preparation/review of the manuscript; U. N.
(head of Europe’s largest organic farming institutes) helped
with the literature review (especially with respect to studies
linking mineral nutrient supply and antioxidant concentrations
in crops) and the critical review of the manuscript; P. N.
(a plant pathologist/crop agronomist) contributed to the
interpretation of data and the critical review of the manuscript;
C. L. (an agronomist specialising on agricultural production
system design and the study of interactions between agro-
nomic practices, and food quality and safety) had primary
responsibility for the design of the study, the management
of the research project and the preparation of the manuscript.
Conflict of interest: the senior author of the paper, C. L.,
owns farm land in Germany that is managed according to con-
ventional farming standards and a smallholding in Greece that
is managed according to organic farming standards.
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Nutritional composition of organic crop foods 811
British Journal of Nutrition
... Organic foods have much lower levels of harmful herbicides and pesticides, which are neurotoxins and harmful to our health. 2,3 Crops that have been organically farmed have higher levels of vitamins and minerals, which are essential for our health, compared to crops that have been chemically fertilized. 4 Even seasonality appears to be a factor. ...
... Bw i body weight of individual i (kg). Lower-bound (optimistic) rather than upper-bound scenario was used for this work, as upper-bound is known to overestimate exposure levels [35,38,43]. ...
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