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Health Benefits Of Organic

Organic food is renowned for its array of health and environmental benefits. According to the 2023 Australian Organic Market Report, growing domestic demand for organic is underpinned by strong consumer sentiment, with “chemical-free” being one of the top perceived health benefits of organic food by Australian shoppers[1].

The combination of fertile, carbon-rich soil and an absence of chemical fertilisers and synthetic pesticides appears to be a winning combination for yielding healthy and flavourful produce.

Research is increasingly supporting the notion that the food we eat influences the composition and function of the human gut microbiome, and in turn, overall human health. Organic farming and produce have multiple health benefits for agricultural workers and consumers alike. Organic systems rely on soil that is rich in organic matter and microbial life; this produces robust plants that have minimal requirements for other inputs and are nutritious for you and your family.

The advantages of organic go well beyond taste and sustainability.

Nutrient density and benefits

Research has shown that certified organic foods can be more nutritionally dense than their non-organic counterparts, delivering more essential nutrients per calorie consumed. Organic foods have also been shown to contain reduced heavy metals and pesticides[2][3], with increased antioxidant activity, carotenoids, phenolics, and flavonoids as compared to non-organic foods. Organics have also been noted to contain more polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, micronutrients, protein, and other non-essential amino acids[4].

Below are some of the benefits of the nutritional density described, noting that this is by no means an exhaustive list:

  • Organic polyphenols and antioxidants are linked to the prevention of cardiovascular diseases[5][6], cancer[7], and osteoporosis[8].
  • Carotenoids are important for beneficial bacterial colonisation[9][10].
  • Flavonoids inhibit the growth of various pathogens while promoting beneficial genera Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus[11][12].
  • Antioxidant activity removes potentially damaging oxidising agents[13].
  • Phenolics may positively alter microbiome composition through prebiotic and antimicrobial effects against pathogens[14].
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids positively affect microbiota composition in instances of inflammatory bowel disease[15].

Minimal inputs

Chemical Pesticides

A 2016 survey in the USA found that 86 per cent of 1,800 organic farmers questioned switched to organic because of health concerns for themselves and their family[16]; and for good reason!

Many of the pesticides detected in non-organic foods are toxic, carcinogenic[17], neurotoxic, or confirmed endocrine-disrupting chemicals[18][19] and can negatively affect human health even at very low concentrations[20].

The toxicity of a given pesticide depends on a host of factors, including the dose and duration of exposure, the synergistic interactions with other chemicals, and route of exposure (inhalation, skin, ingestion, etc.). Pesticides, like heavy metals, can bioaccumulate (increase in concentration)[21].

Children possess a unique susceptibility to toxic chemicals because they typically drink more liquids, breathe more air, and consume more food per pound of body weight than adults. This also makes them more vulnerable to environmental toxins such as pesticides, potentially causing severe long-lasting damage[22][23]. Pesticide exposure during pregnancy has well documented harmful in-utero effects including pre-term birth[24], neurodevelopmental delays, male reproductive developmental and genital problems[25][26], developmental neurotoxicity, and ASD (autism spectrum disorder)[27].

Glyphosate, a commonly used herbicide, has been shown to decrease sperm quantity and quality in rats[28] and humans[29], potentially induce transgenerational inheritance of disease and mutations[30], and is a suspected carcinogen[31]. More information regarding the potentially dangerous effects of pesticides on human health can be found in Table 1 below.

Synthetic Fertilisers

Synthetic fertilisers are commonly referred to as NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) fertilisers, which refers to the concentration of each macro-nutrient. In addition to the negative potential impacts of synthetic fertilisers leaching into the environment, they can also destroy the soil microbiome with multiple ramifications[32]

Mineral nitrogen fertiliser is associated with a reduction in crop resilience, lowering concentrations of nutritionally desirable phenolics and other beneficial natural resistance-related phytochemicals and antioxidants in crops[33]. This in turn increases insect and disease susceptibility of plants, exacerbating the need for pesticide intervention[34]. Plants that grow in overly synthetic-fertilised soil have been shown to be deficient in iron, zinc, carotene, vitamin C, copper, and protein[35].

All phosphorus fertilisers contain Cd as a contaminant and levels may vary from trace amounts to as much as 300mg Cd per kg of dry product[36]. Cadmium and heavy metals indirectly affect rhizosphere chemistry, soil microbial activity, soil pH, zinc concentration, and plant growth[37]. Heavy metals can cause perturbations of the gut microbiota[38] which can contribute to the progression of various metabolic diseases[39].

Organic systems have high nutrient use efficiency and crop rotations to increase soil fertility through natural means. Organic cereals, for one, were shown to have higher antioxidants and lower cadmium concentrations[40], with significant decreases in cadmium also found in wheat, potatoes, onion, lettuce, and cabbage within organic compared to non-organic systems[41].

Antibiotics and Growth Regulators

Over 700,000 people die annually from antibiotic resistant bacteria[42]. This transfer of resistance is largely attributed to antibiotic residues in non-organic meat and milk[43]. Currently, over 75% of the world’s antibiotics are used for non-organic livestock production[44]. In addition to the risks of antibiotic resistance, hormone growth promoters (HGPs) are used to make animals grow faster and mature earlier. HGPs within livestock have been linked to increased cancer rates[45]. A study on Chlormequat Chloride, a common non-organic growth regulator and suspected endocrine disruptor, was also linked to reduced fertility in animals including breeding sows[46].

Use of antibiotics is not permitted within organic systems.


To date, there have been no long-term epidemiological studies investigating the potential impacts of GMO food on human health. However, there are many animal studies linking GMOs with innumerable negative effects on organs, the reproductive system, induced blood, hormonal and immunological alterations, toxicity in multiple organs, as well as increased tumours and mortality[47][48]. Many studies show signs of toxicity in the liver and kidney, the major detoxifying organs. These organs are often the first to show evidence of chronic disease[49]; however, these effects are commonly disregarded as biologically insignificant when they don’t cause animal mortality. Further, most animal feeding studies on GMOs are short to medium-term in length, too brief to show long-term (chronic) effects such as organ failure, cancer, or reproductive problems. For more, have a read of our article on GMOs and Agriculture.

Certified organic food consumption reduces dietary exposure to pesticides and their associated health risks.

Minimal Inputs

Synthetic preservatives and food additives are restricted or prohibited in organic food. As various food additives and chemicals are linked to symptoms including allergic reactions, rashes, headaches, asthma, neurodevelopment problems, and hyperactivity in children[50][51][52][53], organic food provides a safer alternative for those concerned about their general health.

Why Organic?

Multiple meta-analyses of organic versus non-organic crop production have concluded that organic food consumption reduces dietary exposure to pesticides and its associated health risks[54][55][56].

Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) are the highest amount of an agricultural or veterinary chemical residue that is legally allowed in a food product. Within Australia, MRLs are overseen by Food Standards Australia (FSANZ). Certified organic product MRLs are 10% or less of that allowed within FSANZ. This means that almost all the 900+ chemicals approved for use in non-organic agriculture in Australia are not allowed for use within certified organic production systems. These include, but are not limited to, antibiotics and synthetic pesticides including herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, growth regulators, organophosphates, and pyrethroids. These chemicals, especially broad-spectrum products, may have a myriad of potential side effects when consumed through non-organic food.


Selecting organic foods means you can minimise your risk of exposure to toxic pesticides and veterinary medicines in your food. Organic produce may be more nutrient dense and help contribute to a more balanced and healthier lifestyle. Remember to look for an organic certification mark such as the Australian Certified Organic Bud logo to ensure you are purchasing legitimately organic food.

For further reading, please see a selection of the peer-reviewed articles below.

Table 1. Associated peer reviewed research findings of human exposure to common agricultural pesticides

Organic Diets Significantly Lower Children’s Exposure to Organophosphorus Pesticides2006An organic diet provides a dramatic and immediate protective effect against exposures to organophosphorus pesticides commonly used in agricultural production. Children were most likely exposed to these pesticides exclusively through their diet.See link  
Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic2015Consumption of high pesticide residue fruits and vegetables was associated with poorer semen quality—i.e., 49% lower total sperm count and 32% lower morphologically normal spermSee link
Association Between Pesticide Residue Intake from Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables and Pregnancy Outcomes Among Women Undergoing Infertility Treatment with Assisted Reproductive Technology2018The study found that greater consumption of high–pesticide residue fruits and vegetables was associated with lower probabilities of pregnancy and live birth following treatment with Assisted Reproductive Technology.See link
Autism Spectrum Disorder and Prenatal or Early Life Exposure to Pesticides: A Short Review2021The study found a significant association between maternal exposure to pesticides (i.e., pyrethroid and organophosphates) during pregnancy and the risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) onset –e.g., 60% increased risk of ASD during gestation (higher with exposure in 3rd trimester)See Link
Widely Used Pesticide in Food Production Damages Children’s Brains.2019During pregnancy, even low levels of exposure to pesticides such as chlorpyrifos (an APVMA registered insecticide) can impair learning, change brain function, and alter thyroid levels of offspring into adulthood. See Link
Prenatal exposure to the organophosphate pesticide chlorpyrifos and childhood tremor.2015Prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos (an APVMA registered insecticide) increased the likelihood of mild to moderate tremors in school-aged children, which could have adverse effects on daily motor tasks. This may indicate chlorpyrifos’ effects on nervous system function.See Link
Agricultural pesticide use and adverse birth outcomes in the San Joaquin Valley of California.2017Agricultural pesticide exposure increased adverse birth outcomes by 5–9% among those exposed to very high quantities of pesticides. Exposure to the highest levels of pesticides led to increased probabilities of preterm birth and low birth weight.See Link
Impaired Reproductive Development in Sons of Women Occupationally Exposed to Pesticides during Pregnancy.2008Boys of pesticide-exposed mothers showed decreased penile length, testicular volume, serum concentrations of testosterone, and inhibin B. Pesticide exposure during pregnancy causes adverse effects on the reproductive development of male infants.See Link
Prenatal environmental risk factors for genital malformations in a population of 1442 French male newborns: a nested case–control study2011Prenatal contamination by pesticides may be a risk factor for newborn male external genital malformations and abnormalities.See Link
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and urinary metabolites of organophosphate pesticides in U.S. Children 8-15 Years2010Children with the highest levels of organophosphate pesticides by-products had the highest incidences of ADHD. There was a 35% increase in the odds of developing ADHD with every tenfold increase in urinary concentration of the pesticide residue.See Link
Pesticides, cognitive functions and dementia: A review2020Pesticide exposure has been associated with cognitive dysfunction, dementia, and Alzheimer’s diseaseSee link
Occupational exposure to pesticides as a potential risk factor for epilepsy2023Supports previous findings on the association between epilepsy and pesticide exposure; farmers who lived in rural areas with high pesticide use and farmers who did not use proper PPE had significantly higher risk of having epilepsy.See link
Neurochemical and Behavioral Dysfunctions in Pesticide Exposed Farm Workers: A Clinical Outcome2018Pesticide-induced behavioural changes — linked to depression, impulsivity, and mood disturbances following pesticide exposure in humansSee link
A pesticide and iPSC dopaminergic neuron screen identifies and classifies Parkinson-relevant pesticides2023Increased risk for Parkinson’s Disease – study found 10 pesticides were directly toxic to dopamine neurons in the brain, and that co-exposures lead to greater toxicity than any single pesticide.See link
Pesticides: formulants, distribution pathways and effects on human health – a review2021The consumption of foods grown in pesticide-contaminated soil increases the concentration of toxins in the organs and causes chronic diseases such as neurotoxicity, cancer, necrosis, asthma, reproductive disorder, cardiac disease, and diabetesSee link
Role of organophosphorous pesticides and acetylcholine in breast carcinogenesis2021Breast cancer is associated with organophosphorus pesticides (malathion and parathion) which impacts cancerous cellular growth and proliferationSee link
Organochlorine Pesticides and Risk of Endometriosis: Findings from a Population-Based Case–Control Study2013Higher exposure to two organochlorine pesticides (beta-hexachlorocyclohexane and mirex) were associated with an increased risk of endometriosis in womenSee link
Toxic Effects of Glyphosate on the Nervous System: A Systematic Review2022A series of studies have already shown that glyphosate and its commercial formulations can produce detrimental effects on the human nervous system. A few of the most concerning worded examples include, but are not limited to, crossing and affecting the blood–brain barrier; and causing various types of short- or long-term disturbances in the nervous systemSee link
Exposure to multiple pesticides and neurobehavioral outcomes among smallholder farmers in Uganda2021First occupational study reporting a link between glyphosate exposure and a neuro-behavioural outcome: glyphosate exposure was associated with impaired visual memory in Ugandan smallholder farmers.See link

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