EU panel concludes organic food may offer limited health, sustainability advantages

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This report reviews existing scientific evidence regarding the impact of organic food on human health from an EU perspective, with a focus on public health. … Human and animal studies directly addressing the health effects of organic food are reviewed. Furthermore, evidence linking principles and rules of organic production to human health effects is also discussed.

…[V]ery few studies have been performed that directly investigate the effect of organic food on human health. … Furthermore, it is inherently difficult to separate organic food consumption from other associated lifestyle factors that may affect human health.

…Further evaluations need to be undertaken on the extent to which the organic agro-food system, comprising production and consumption, can serve as an example of a sustainable food system with respect to health and environmental effects.

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In organic agriculture, the use of pesticides is restricted. Epidemiological studies point to the negative effects of certain insecticides on children’s cognitive development at current levels of exposure. Such risks can be minimised with organic food, especially during pregnancy and in infancy, and by introducing non-pesticidal plant protection in conventional agriculture. There are few known compositional differences between organic and conventional crops.

The prevention of animal disease and more restrictive use of antibiotics, as practiced in organic production, could minimise this risk, with potentially considerable benefits for public health.

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In the public debate, discussions regarding organic food often become polarised and simplified down to the question of which of organic or conventional food is “better”. … However, most scientists instead are aiming to understand the impact of different farm management systems on human health, animal wellbeing, food security and environmental sustainability, with the long-term goal of developing sustainable food systems, rather than deciding which of the currently existing systems is “better”.

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