Background and methodology:
Food security, nutritional quality, and food safety have posed major challenges for both industrialized and non-industrialized countries. Until recently, conventional farming methods have clearly shown limitations, such as a worldwide contamination of crops and water by pesticide residues, and reduced nutrient and flavor content that can be the result of low-cost intensive food production and/or processing.
In 2001, the French Agency for Food Safety (AFSSA) sought to perform a critical evaluation of the nutritional and sanitary quality of organic food for which an expert working group was formed. This group defined the criteria that would be included in the evaluation, and that information would come only from original publications. Selected papers would refer only to well-defined and certified organic agricultural practices, and have necessary information on design and follow-up, valid measured parameters, and appropriate sampling and statistical analyses. After more than two years of work involving about 50 experts from all specific areas including organic agriculture, a final report was issued from the AFSSA. This report published the following conclusions about organic food compared to conventional food.
The major points from the report were: (1) organically grown plant products contain more dry matter and minerals (Fe, Mg) and more anti-oxidant micronutrients such as phenols and salicylic acid; (2) products from organically raised livestock contain more polyunsaturated fatty acids; (3) data on carbohydrate, protein, and vitamin levels were insufficiently documented; (4) 94 to 100 percent of organically produced food does not contain any pesticide residues; (5) organic vegetables contain far fewer nitrates (about 50 percent less); and (6) organic cereals contain overall similar levels of mycotoxins as conventional ones. The report concluded that organic agricultural systems have been able to produce food according to high quality standards and proposed improvements in those systems that would be able to achieve sustainable food production in the near future.
Lairon, D. (2009). Nutritional quality and safety of organic food: A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development. Available on-line at: www.agronomy-journal.org.