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This is contrary to what would be expected if there was a strong correlation between chemical usage and incidence of cancer. The use of manure as fertilizer in organic farming may emerge as a possible health concern, if the recent food poisoning cases in Europe that were linked to organic produce become more frequent. It is clear from the findings that some authors need to present more complete data in their publications. For instance, there is evidence that some organic vegetable produce and fruit is drier than conventionally grown product.

When this factor is taken into account, it often explains a higher concentration of nutrients in the organic product. A slightly drier fruit may also have a more intense flavor due to the higher concentration of nutrients, and as a result may be preferred by the consumer.

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There is evidence that some organically grown fruits have a higher resistance to deterioration and better keeping quality, attributed to a lower moisture content. Chapter 11 explores the motivation of consumers to buy organic food, in which the psychology of organic food choice and the results of surveys are presented. One factor that drives consumers to purchase organic food is the presence of an organic label, which leads many consumers to infer qualities that are not substantiated factually.

Chapter 12 concludes that organic and conventional foods are fairly similar in terms of nutritional quality and freedom from harmful chemical residues.

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This conclusion is in agreement with conclusions reached by many other scientists and governmental food agencies worldwide. As noted in the book, a very surprising development is that an important group within the organic industry in Europe now agrees with this assessment.

Organic Sustainable Farming is the Future of Agriculture - The Future of Food

Consequently the European Ecropolis project will concentrate research on another attribute of organic food: taste. More research needs to be conducted on this issue since freshness is an important attribute for the food shopper.

This book by Professor Blair is a very valuable analysis of how organic food production affects food quality, and the conclusions and suggestions should be of great interest to all sectors of the food industry, including researchers and producers. To make a long story short: it will be impossible to feed the still growing world population according to these tendencies without making our planet inhabitable already in the nearby future.

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By contrast, the consumption of unrefined organic food products and organic-type of diets has only very gradually increased over the past decades, and is still at a comparatively low level. Organic foods are produced relying on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, avoiding agricultural inputs with unknown or adverse effects such as genetically modified seeds, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, preventive veterinary drugs, and during processing avoiding most preservatives, flavour enhancers and other additives and irradiation [ 21 ].

Therefore, organic products as such are expected to have a different — more favourable — composition and even positively affect health.


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In fact, such expectations have already started to be fulfilled [ 2 ]. Moreover, several recent studies indicate that regular consumers of organic products generally follow a diet with a different composition , namely with less ultra-processed industrial foods [ 27 ], meat products, refined cereals and sugar [ 5 , 8 , 19 , 25 ]. Such a shift in dietary composition is completely opposite to the still on-going sharp rise in the world-wide consumption of ultra-processed foods.

Dr Victor M Shorrocks CBiol MSB

In this commentary, we discuss the synergies between the effects of the shift in dietary composition that accompanies the consumption of organic products and the advantages of organic products per se. We further elaborate on the multiple contributions of the consumption of organic foods to a globally sustainable food and nutrition system, and, in particular, to attaining the Paris climate goals.

Achieving these goals would markedly limit the risks and effects of climate change. There is now wide agreement that in global terms, food consumption has a strong environmental impact, and that accurate and exact life cycle assessment of food products is an essential part of evaluating the sustainability of human behaviour, including its effect on climate change. However, the present life cycle assessment of foods and of the global food production as a whole still appears to be incomplete, i.

This may be partly due to the multitude of factors that determine the environmental sustainability of foods and the overall diet. Additional relevant factors are likely to be identified and considered in the near future. One such factor is the damage to ecosystems by the processes involved in food production, both in agriculture and in processing. An example of such a hitherto neglected phenomenon of high environmental relevance is the rapidly progressing decrease of biodiversity [ 12 ]. Since a link between intensification of conventional agricultural — especially the use of pesticides — and the decrease in biodiversity is strongly suspected, it is urgent to incorporate this aspect in environmental impact assessments.

An essential question is, whether it is still possible to stop, or even reverse, this threatening trend of on-going genetic losses; in any case, the needed efforts will for sure be laborious and cost-intensive. It is time for us to face reality and to save whatever we can before it is too late. The various stages of the conventional food production chain — use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, preventive veterinary drugs, most preservatives, additives and irradiation — strongly damage the environment. The opposite appears likely in the case of organic food production systems, which are characterised by integration of agriculture in ecological processes, by intentional enhancement of biodiversity and use of cycles adapted to local conditions [ 21 ] and, most likely, by a lower degree of processing [ 27 ].

The studies performed so far often show that the environmental impact of organic food systems is smaller than the impact of conventional food systems when expressed per area land [ 11 ]. There is still debate regarding the question whether this also applies when expressed per kg crop, as the crop yield of organic food systems is usually lower than that of conventional food systems [ 9 , 11 ] and the context might play an important role [ 17 ].

A very recent meta-analysis of a high number of life cycle assessments revealed that per unit food, organic systems require more land and cause more eutrophication [ 3 ]. The same analysis could further show that organic systems use less energy than conventional systems do, at the same time that the production of green gas emissions is similar between the two types of systems. However, it is important to note that, even in this very recent meta-analysis, not all factors relevant for an adequate life cycle assessment were taken into consideration e.

To date, it remains impossible to comprehensively compare the environmental impact of conventional and organic production systems. Most importantly, among the missing factors there are several which would most likely shift the global lifecycle assessment results in favour of organic systems. At first glance, it appears logical that the ongoing discussion on the environmental impact of these two types of food production systems is focused on farming and production per se.

However, once the food products are on the market, they will be bought by consumers, and depending on additional, more or less indirect external factors associated with their consumption, the overall environmental impact can vary widely. One of these external factors or variables is the dietary pattern.


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  • Several European surveys and cohort studies indicate that the decision to purchase organic food goes hand-in-hand with lower consumption of animal-derived products, sugar and ultra-processed foods, as well as with higher consumption of unprocessed foods, including vegetables, fruits and whole grain products. A food pattern with more vegetable food and less sweet and alcoholic beverages, processed meat and milk was also seen in France [ 8 ].

    And finally, in Norway, the use of an organic-type of diet during pregnancy was associated with higher consumption of vegetables, fruit and berries, cooking oil and whole grain products, and lower consumption of meat, white bread, cakes and sweets [ 25 ]. Different foods have very different environmental impacts see [ 3 ] and references therein. At the same time, milk, eggs, pork, poultry, and seafood have impacts 2—25 times higher than plants per kilocalorie of food produced.

    This means that dietary pattern changes leading to higher consumption of plant-derived products and lower consumption of animal-derived products will have a markedly favourable environmental impact. Therefore, the above different studies performed across Europe consistently indicate that the consumption of an organic-type of diet is clustered with an overall more sustainable dietary composition.

    There is a considerable overlap between the food pattern of the organic-type of diet and the New Nordic Diet, which constitutes one of the first top-down attempts to decrease the intake of meat and processed foods, and to increase the consumption of legumes, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, artic seafood, nuts and herbs, preferentially of organic production see [ 7 ] and references therein. Interestingly, and at least in the Dutch cohort-study, not only consumers of high amounts organic foods, but also moderate consumers of organic foods exhibited an overall dietary pattern that differed from the standard diet [ 19 ].

    This means that ca. The relevance of this type of diet — that is being freely chosen by an increasing number of European consumers — for a sustainable development of global food production must be emphasised: this bottom-up tendency might be crucial for humankind! Obvious exponents of this trend are meat products and refined sugars, fats and oils. Some hope derives from model analyses indicating that this ongoing development could be stopped if the world population would adopt a diet with characteristics from Mediterranean, pescetarian or vegetarian diets [ 23 ].

    In this case, by , the greenhouse gases derived from food production would stay at the present values despite the calculated increase of the world population. This may also apply to the New Nordic Diet, which has been shown to be associated with emissions of greenhouse gases comparable to those of the Mediterranean diet [ 26 ]. The food pattern associated with an organic-type of diet has several characteristics of the Mediterranean, the pescetarian and vegetarian diet.

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    Therefore, it may be expected that if the world adheres to the organic-type of diet, this will also have a stabilising effect on greenhouse gas emissions, unless the production of organic food would have markedly higher emissions. The present trend in Western diets to increase the consumption of meat products, refined sugars, fats and oils, ultra-processed and fast foods has led to a worldwide explosion in type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, other chronic non-communicable diseases and some types of cancer that lower global life expectancies [ 23 ].

    Because they offer alternatives to the consumption of these products, Mediterranean, pescetarian and vegetarian diets can attenuate these negative effects on human health, and similar advantages can be expected from the New Nordic Diet and from a diet according to the recent Brazilian dietary guidelines from [ 14 ].

    Of these, the New Nordic Diet has incorporated organic production as an explicit inherent part of this food pattern. In the case of the Mediterranean, pescetarian and vegetarian diets, foods may be from conventional production and their advantages for human health and environmental impact only derive from the associated food patterns. However, the similarities between these food patterns and the organic-type of diet let us expect comparable positive effects from the organic-type of diet. In addition to the health-promoting organic-type of dietary pattern, consumption of organic food might be associated with favourable impact on health.

    Firstly, there are some differences in the biochemical and chemical composition of organic and conventional foods [ 2 ]. Organic foods usually contain lower concentrations of pesticide residues and nitrate than do conventionally produced foods, whereas the levels of some minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants may be higher [ 2 ].

    Clearly, existing results from epidemiological studies do not allow conclusions about causality. Nevertheless, and often after correcting for several co-variables, studies show that consumption of organic food may have favourable impacts on some diseases and disorders. One group of such disorders includes atopic sensitization, allergies and eczemas reviewed in [ 2 ]; see also [ 16 , 22 ].

    Additional possible effects on health comprise lower prevalence of preeclampsia [ 24 ], and of hypospadias [ 1 ]. Finally, favourable effects of organic food consumption on body weight [ 18 ] and other risk factors for cardiovascular diseases have been reported [ 2 ], including on favourable plasma fatty acid composition [ 19 ]. Consumers of organic food are choosing food patterns with fewer items of animal origin as consumers of conventional do see above. By drawing public attention to the importance of a healthy, more plant-based and unrefined diet, we argue that organic food is already now contributing to improving public health in global terms as well as to reducing the environmental impact of agricultural production and food processing.

    Only rapid and fundamental changes in high-impact agriculture, energy supply and food consumption will be able to turn the tide, and prevent even more dramatic catastrophes over the next decades than envisioned today. Organic diets can be seen as a bottom-up experiment of the fundamental dietary changes which are urgently needed to save our planet. Therefore, more time and money should be invested in finding out how we can motivate a bigger proportion of the world population to adopt an organic-type of diet that is both healthy and sustainable. The evidence for health-promoting effects of organic diets is starting to accumulate.

    On the one hand, the biochemical composition of organic products is in some cases superior to that of conventional products and epidemiological studies indicate some favourable health-related effects. On the other hand, at least in Europe, data from the Netherlands, France, Germany and Norway consistently shows that the consumption of organic foods is associated with a healthier and more sustainable food pattern. Next to the traditional Mediterranean diet, the New Nordic Diet, or the diet aimed at by the recent Brazilian dietary guidelines, the organic-type of diet can already now serve as an example on how to develop a new food system and cuisine based on low processed organic food with favourable health effects and low environmental impact.