Vesna Podkrajac  BA App Psychology, MPhil Psychology, MRehbCounlg (current)

Organic Food: Exposure and Health Implications

Organic Food: Exposure and Health Implications

Health Benefits Linked to Organic Food Consumption



The modern organic organisation began in Europe in the 1920s. The biggest motivations were to protect and develop the fertility of the soil and to avoid the increasing dependence on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (Lotter, 2003). Considerable knowledge of the adverse effects of concentrate use of fertilizers and pesticides first become apparent during the 1960s. The pesticide DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) was introduced in the 1940s. DDT was not expensive to produce and effective to kill pests (Brantsaeter et al., 2017). The symptoms of adverse effects of DDT on the environment and human health multiplied and become important public worry (Brantsaeter et al., 2017).


Although regulations and restrictions apply, the worldwide application of pesticides is more than two million tons per year and continusly increasing (Grube, Donaldson, Kiely & Wu, 2011). The term organic was first applied in the 1940s to describe the use of organic materials for soil fertility and comprises a holistic view of soil, crops animals and the society (Lotter, 2003). The importance of oragnic agriculture is a systematic approach without the use of synthetic pesticides (Reganold & Wachter, 2016). The increasing popularity of organic food and organic farming has motivated the requirement for orgaic certification and standards. The Internaitonal Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) was originated in 1972, and 283 organic certification bodies are now operating in 170 countries worldwide (Reganold & Wachter, 2016). All food sold as organic must be certified by approved organic control bodies according to defined criteria in their countires (CEC, 2008; Natl. Arch. Rec. Adm, 2010).


The objective of organic farming is to guarantee in no application of synthetic pesticides, although some natural substances are approved for use as pesticieds in organic agriculture (Pussemier, 2006). The pesticides authorised for the applicaiton in organic agriculture consists of extracts from plants or microorganisms with low pesticides and are examined accroding to the same regulations as other pesticides (US EPA, 2016). Exposure to pesticides in the general population is measured via residues on food. Some of the pesticides that have been approved for organic production are not without known health consequences. For instance, rotenone, an insecticide from the seeds and stems of certain plants is known to cause various diseses in animal models and I urge you also possibly in humans (Johnson, & Bobrovskaya, 2016). Currently, the applicaiton of rotenone has been prohibited in European organic agricultrue (Comm. Eur. Communities, 2008) and is registered only for restricted use in US, but may still be used in other contries. Therefore, pesticides residue exposure is clearly lower with organic foods as compared with conventional foods.


In the last three months vegetable deficit and price expansion in the UK were associated to the weather in Europe, circumscribing how important sustainable agricultural policy is to health with the changing availability of food supplies. Organic food is embraced by many consumers as part of their healthy lifestyle. Presently, the European Union accounts for 24% of the world’s organic land, with the global organic market expected to grow by 2.5 times to US $200 billion by 2020. Whether an organic diet is healthier than a non-organic diet was the debate of a recent report commissioned by the European Parliament reviewing epidemiological, animal and in vitro studies. Brantseater et al. ( 2017) reviewd 14 epidemilogic studies published between 1994 and 2015, which assessed organic food consumption with respect to diverse health outcomes. All except one reseach were observational. Seven studies included a cross-sectional design. Five studies included prospective cohorts and one study was a case-control study and one was an experimental reseach. The reseaches included the following areas of study: respiratory diseases, reproductive abnormalities in boys, preeclampsia, sperm quality, and cancer.


Although number of reseachers have compared the nutrient, antioxidant, and pesticide residue content of organic vesus conventional foods, few scientific studies in animals or humans have studied whether the consumption of organic food is associated with better or infact increased health than consuming the correponding conventinal food. Epidemiologic reseachers can demonstrate statistically significant associations between exposures and health outcomes,  but that in itself does not imply a causal relationship. The benchmark for objectively evaluating the level of causality of associations observed in epidemilogy, as formulated by Sir Bradford Hill in 1965, involves: dose-response relationship, time order, specificity, consistency on replication, predictive performance, biological plausibility, consitency, coherence (Hill, 1965). Three cross-sectional studies including 17,000 participants and the two prospective studies implicating 3,000 children in the Netherlands and Sweeden demonstrated that children and families with organic anthroposophic lifestyle had fewer allergies or fewer instances of eczema than did their respective controls (Alfven et al., 2006; Alm et al., 1999; Smith et al., 2007; Krummeling et al., 2008; Stenius et al., 2011). The results were assessed as immunoglobulin-E sensitization to food allergens measured in blood samples (Krummeling et al., 2008, & Stenius et al., 2011) and eczema occurence was measured in agreement with the parents (Krummeling et al., 2008).


Furhermore, of the studies examining allergic outcomes, the prospective study demonstrated a decreased risk of eczema in children fed only organic diary products during infancy and whose mothers consumed only organic diary products during pregnancy (Krummeling et al., 2008) can be contemplated to contribute towards the stronger claim. Brantsaeter et al. (2017) state that the studies have demonstrated that a higher content of beneficialy fatty acids in organic milk to be a possible biological explanation for this beneficial organic milk finding. Then, methodological reviews claim a scarcity of research studies investigating the potential beneficial health effects of an organic diet. The greatest of the epidemiology studies examining allergies and atopic disease, the PARSIFAL study, researched 14,000 children aged 5-13 years in five European countries. The study showed that children on a biodynamic diet in Steiner schools exhibited a lower prevalence for allergic symptoms. However, in all age groups, it was not achievable to analyse whether other healthy lifestyle factors associated to the choice for organic food accounted for these correlations. The most important advantage of an organic diet is the controlled vulnerability to synthetic pesticides with potential neurotoxic, endocrine-disrupting, or carcinogenic properties. The disclosure to pesticides during pregnancy in long-term birth cohort studies was correlated with negative effects on intelligence quotient and neuro-behavioural development. Therefore, the report advocates that organic food is very beneficial for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Furthermore, organic food production also regulates the treatment of antibiotics in farmed animals and results in lower consolidations of crop cadmium. The report incorporates policy recommendations addressing both of these issues.


The experimental reseach with a crossover design examined risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including body compositon and biochemical parameters, in 150 health males and 50 male patients with renal disease in Italy. The outcome measures were acquired in all participants at baseline, after 14 days on a conventional diets, and after 14 days on an organic Italian Mediteranean diet. The research results demonstrate that the organic diet lowered cardiovascular risk factors in both healthy individuals and patients, but the study had a number of limitations indicating the short intervetion period, small number of participants, and inadequate reporting of results (De Lorenzo et al., 2010). The available studies support consumer’s belief that organic food production and consumption results in lower pesticide exposure, are more environmentally friendly, and may be better for animal welfare. I was looking for a more concise and detailed examinations, however the studies indicated that the impact of human health of the actual low-level pesticide exposure from conventionally produced foods is still not clear. I was also disaponted that only few studies have been examined for the potential health benefits of organic food consumption in humans. Brantsaeter et al. (2017) state:

“The beneficial health effects of vegetables and fruits and other foods recommended in a balanced diet are well documented,

  but the jury is still out and not ready to conclude weather choosing the organic alternatives would provide additional benefits.”


The current diatary guidelines, which advocate more fruit, vegetables, and plant foods and less meat, are established on wide number of reseachers and their claims are valid regardless of whether the produce is organic or not. However, organic production and consumption has the greatest advantages towards imporving your health in comparision to the conventional food which has unresticted application of pesticides. In conclusion, currently, we are in need for more detailed, large, prospective, long-term researches, they are important as well as deeper examination of agricultural policies and health. Majority still depends on the ground work of robust multidisciplinary research to guide future choices for health and wellness.


Dean Podkrajac (the spouse) working in our organic bushland creating our first organic garden in Vugrisinec, Croatia, 2010.  PHOTO: Vesna Podkrajac


APA Reference

Podkrajac, V. (2017). Organic food: Exposure and health implications. Mind Body Spirit World. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from


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Alm J. S., Swartz, J., Lilja, G., Scheynius, & A., Pershagen G. (1999). Atopy in children of families with an anthroposophic lifesytle, Lancet, 335, 1485 – 1488.

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