The Case for Organics: Separating Fact from Fiction


  1. Organic produce is lower in pesticide residues. This is true, but with qualifications. It is true that organic produce is lower in pesticide residues than its conventionally grown counterparts; however, organic farmers are permitted to use “approved” synthetic materials (1). In addition, pesticides don’t necessarily stay in one place. In other words, pesticides from conventional farms may drift onto and contaminate organic farms (5). The pesticide levels present in conventionally grown produce are considered safe for human consumption (1); however, certain high risk groups like pregnant women and/or young children may be less equipped to handle chronic exposure (4,10).
  2. Organic produce is more nutritious than conventional. This may be true, but here again there are qualifications. Some studies have found organic foods to be more nutritious while others have not (1,2,3). Many factors in addition to farming method may play a role in nutrient content including: sun exposure, weather, storage, processing methods etc. (4). For example, the level of certain carotenoids, such as lycopene (found in tomatoes) depends mostly on sun exposure rather than on farming method (4). Conversely certain antioxidants, like vitamin C, may be higher in organic produce (5). It is also important to know how long a farm has employed organic farming practices. The nutrient content of produce coming from a farm, which has only been using organic farming methods for a few years, may not be materially different from conventional produce (5).
  3. Organic milk and other animal foods carry a lower risk of E. coli contamination. Conventional farming practices generally include a grain-rich diet for dairy and beef cattle rather than grass (9). The ingested grain ferments in the cattle’s gut and can promote E. coli bacteria (9). Studies have shown that organically raised cattle have a lower incidence of E. coli contamination than their conventionally raised counterparts (4,9). Ground beef is the most commonly cited food source of E. Coli exposure (9), so consumers can reduce their risk by purchasing organic grass-fed ground beef. Note: not all organically raised cattle are grass fed, so look for this separately.
  4. Consuming organically raised livestock and by-products reduces exposure to potentially harmful substances. This appears to be true. Conventionally raised livestock are routinely treated with antibiotics to keep the herd/flock healthy. A recent study found that eating organically raised livestock, instead of conventional, might reduce exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria (4). In addition, eggs from organically raised chickens carry a lower risk of salmonella contamination (4). Consumers can also reduce their risk of salmonella exposure by avoiding raw or undercooked meat, chicken and eggs (11).

The Bottom Line

Consuming organically raised livestock and animal by-products does appear to be safer; however, consuming undercooked meat, chicken, eggs or unpasteurized dairy always carries risks, regardless of farming method. Furthermore, additional research is necessary to unequivocally make the case for purchasing organic produce over conventional. That being said, arguments for increasing fruit and vegetable consumption are pretty clear. Regular consumption of fruits and vegetables is important for general health and may decrease risk for various types of cancer (6,7,8). With that in mind, it is more important to focus on getting a variety of nutrient packed fruits and veggies into your daily diet, than it is to worry about whether or not they are organic. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends that you should fill at least two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, fruits whole grains or beans at each meal (8). In addition to their cancer fighting potential, plant based foods can also help you manage your weight because they are energy dense and calorie poor (8). The bottom line is to eat a mostly plant-based diet. If you would rather purchase organic produce, then there is certainly no harm in doing so; however, an organic diet is not necessary for your cancer treatment or for general health.


  1. Winter, Carl K., and Sarah F. Davis. “Organic foods.” Journal of Food Science 71.9 (2006): R117-R124.
  2. Palupi, Eny, et al. “Comparison of nutritional quality between conventional and organic dairy products: a meta‐analysis.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture (2012).
  3. Dangour, Alan D., et al. “Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 90.3 (2009): 680-685.
  4. Velimirov, Alberta, and Thomas Lindenthal. “Opinion on the publication of the Stanford University Medical School study:”Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier than Conventional Alternatives? A Systematic Review.”.” Annals of Internal Medicine 157 (2012): 348-366.
  5. Crinnion, Walter J. “Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer.” Alternative medicine review: a journal of clinical therapeutic 15.1 (2010): 4.
  6. Lee, Jung Eun, et al. “Intakes of fruit, vegetables, and carotenoids and renal cell cancer risk: a pooled analysis of 13 prospective studies.” Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention 18.6 (2009): 1730-1739.
  7. van Duijnhoven, Fränzel JB, et al. “Fruit, vegetables, and colorectal cancer risk: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 89.5 (2009): 1441-1452.
  8. The New American Plate. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessibility verified: March 7, 2013.
  9. Callaway, Todd R., et al. “Diet, Escherichia coli O157: H7, and cattle: a review after 10 years.” Current issues in molecular biology 11.2 (2009): 67.
  10. Lu, Chensheng, et al. “Organic diets significantly lower children’s dietary exposure to organophosphorus pesticides.” Environmental health perspectives 114.2 (2006): 260.
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Quick Tips for Preventing Salmonella. CDC. September 27, 2010. Available at: Accessibility verified: April 18, 2013.

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