There's considerable debate about the benefits of organic vs. non-organic foods in both scientific and popular circles. The picture may have just cleared up a little.
A major study from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom found that organic milk and meat had more nutritional value than conventional meat and milk. A second study from the same team showed organic foods have higher concentrations of antioxidants.
Organic meat and milk are raised differently compared to conventional meat and milk.
Fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are restricted in organic growing methods. Livestock feed additives and growth regulators cannot be used in organic products.
Organic systems typically rely on manure and compost for fertilizer. Organic farmers use hand weeding and biological pest control.
Conventional farmers use pesticides against insects and herbicides to control weeds.
Organic foods are often more expensive than their conventional counterparts.
"People choose organic milk and meat for three main reasons: improved animal welfare, the positive impacts of organic farming on the environment, and the perceived health benefits... outdoor-reared, grass-fed animals producing milk and meat that is consistently higher in desirable fatty acids such as the omega-3s, and lower in fatty acids that can promote heart disease and other chronic diseases," study leader Carlo Leifert, PhD, said in a press release.
Dr. Leifert is a professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University.
Dr. Leifert and team analyzed data from 196 studies on milk and 67 studies on meat, which were conducted all over the world.
The researchers found organic meat and milk contained about 50 percent more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventional meat and milk. Organic meat and milk also had lower concentrations of saturated fats linked to heart disease.
Organic milk had higher concentrations of iron, vitamin E and some carotenoids than conventional milk. However, conventional milk contained more iodine, an essential mineral.
The review also showed organic milk and dairy products reduced the risk of eczema in babies.
The other review by the same team compared organic to conventional food crops.
Researchers found organic crops are up to 60 percent higher in important antioxidants than conventional crops.
Antioxidants, according to the US National Library of Medicine, are molecules that can help protect cells from damage. Some of the better-known antioxidants include beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E.
Organic crops also contained less cadmium, a metal that can be toxic to humans.
"We have shown without doubt there are composition differences between organic and conventional food. Taken together, the three studies on crops, meat and milk suggest that a switch to organic fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products would provide significantly higher amounts of dietary antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids," Dr. Leifert concluded in the press release.
Both studies were published in the British Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Information on study funding and conflict of interest was not available at the time of publication.