Organic versus non-organic: Crops

A new evaluation of nutritional difference

Groundbreaking research that highlights nutritional benefits of organic fresh produce, with important links to how the food is produced.

Resource explained

This booklet presents findings of research undertaken by Newcastle University that shows organic fresh produce is nutritionally different to non-organic. It explains that the findings, published in the British Journal of Nutrition in July 2014, concluded that organic crops are of a much higher nutritional quality than their non-organic counterparts. The peer-reviewed ‘meta-analysis’ of 343 crop-focused papers, found significant differences between crops farmed organically and non-organically.

The booklet describes the research, the differences that were highlighted between organic and non-organic, what has made this study stand out, key findings, what the evidence means for consumers, and further research that is needed.

It highlights that the research presents strong evidence that how we farm can affect the quality of the food we eat, and food produced using organic standards can lead to increased intake of nutritionally desirable antioxidants as well as a reduced intake of potentially harmful cadmium and pesticides.

Findings & recommendations

  • Production method affects quality: This analysis is the most extensive and reliable to date and provides evidence that food quality is influenced by the way it is produced.
  • More antioxidants: Organic crops (cereals, fruit and vegetables) have significantly higher concentrations of antioxidants / (poly)phenolics compared with non-organic counterparts. A switch to consuming organic crops would allow a 20-40% increase in antioxidant / (poly)phenolics consumption without an increase in calorie intake.
  • Fewer pesticides: The frequency of occurrence of detectable pesticide residues was four times higher in non-organic crops. Non-organic fruit had the highest pesticide frequency (75%), compared to non-organic vegetables (32%) and non-organic crop-based processed foods (45%). By contrast, pesticide residues were found in 10% of organic crop samples. Certified organic food including all fruits and vegetables will overall contain fewer pesticides.
  • Less cadmium: The analysis detected 48% lower concentrations of the toxic heavy metal cadmium in organic crops.
  • Less nitrogen: Nitrogen concentrations, linked in some studies to an increased risk of certain cancers, were found to be significantly lower in organic crops.
  • The ‘Finding out more’ section of the booklet directs you to where you can read the full paper and access the database that was used for the analysis.

Related articles

To top