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Clinical Report: Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages

November 23, 2012

Clinical Report: Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages

Source: Pediatrics

The US market for organic foods has grown from $3.5 billion in 1996 to $28.6 billion in 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association. Organic products are now sold in specialty stores and conventional supermarkets. Organic products contain numerous marketing claims and terms, only some of which are standardized and regulated.

In terms of health advantages, organic diets have been convincingly demonstrated to expose consumers to fewer pesticides associated with human disease. Organic farming has been demonstrated to have less environmental impact than conventional approaches. However, current evidence does not support any meaningful nutritional benefits or deficits from eating organic compared with conventionally grown foods, and there are no well-powered human studies that directly demonstrate health benefits or disease protection as a result of consuming an organic diet. Studies also have not demonstrated any detrimental or disease-promoting effects from an organic diet. Although organic foods regularly command a significant price premium, well-designed farming studies demonstrate that costs can be competitive and yields comparable to those of conventional farming techniques. Pediatricians should incorporate this evidence when discussing the health and environmental impact of organic foods and organic farming while continuing to encourage all patients and their families to attain optimal nutrition and dietary variety consistent with the US Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate recommendations.

This clinical report reviews the health and environmental issues related to organic food production and consumption. It defines the term “organic,” reviews organic food-labeling standards, describes organic and conventional farming practices, and explores the cost and environmental implications of organic production techniques. It examines the evidence available on nutritional quality and production contaminants in conventionally produced and organic foods. Finally, this report provides guidance for pediatricians to assist them in advising their patients regarding organic and conventionally produced food choices.

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