Nutrient and Contaminant Contents of Organic/Conventional Vegetables

Abstract: Purpose - The increasing demand for organic foods is explained mainly by consumers' concerns about the quality and safety of foods and their perception that organically produced foods are healthier and safer than conventional foods. Based on internationally available concentration data of organic and conventional vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, lettuce and spinach) and potatoes, the paper aims to investigate the scientific validity of nutrition claims as "no vegetable/potato has higher amounts of nutrient X than organic vegetables/potatoes" and "no vegetable/potato has lower amounts of contaminant Y than organic vegetables/potatoes". Design/methodology/approach - Detailed nutrient and contaminant databases were developed for organic and conventional vegetables separately. Non-parametric (Mann-Whitney test) methods were used to detect significant differences between both types of vegetables. A chi-square test was used to compare the incidence of pesticide residues in organic and conventional vegetables. Findings - From a nutritional and toxicological point of view, organic vegetables and potato in general are not significantly better than conventional vegetables and potatoes. For some nutrients and contaminants organic vegetables and potatoes score significantly better but for others they score significantly worse. Therefore, it becomes difficult to justify general claims indicating a surplus value of organic over conventional vegetables and potatoes. More data from controlled paired studies are needed to reconsider the use of claims for these organic plant foods in the future. Research limitations/implications - Only a limited number of studies comparing the nutrient and/or contaminant concentration of organic and conventional vegetables are available ("paired studies"). Additionally, the majority of the studies are of moderate or poor quality. The implication is that more of those paired studies are heavily needed. Another limitation of the study is the fact that most pesticide residue data originated from the USA, the EU and Australia. Originality/value - So far only few studies compared both nutrient and contaminant contents between organic and conventional plant foods. This paper covers therefore an important, not well-explored research sub area.

Reference: Hoefkens, C., et. al. (2009). A literature-based comparison of nutrient and contaminant contents between organic and conventional vegetables and potatoes. British Food Journal 111(10): 1078-1097. Available online at