A multi-criteria epidemiological study, led as part of the BioNutriNet project, cross-referenced the level of organic foods with different indicators of sustainability. Its results show that the food diet of people who consume large amounts of organic products is, taken as a whole, nutritionally more healthy, largely more beneficial to the environment, and reduces exposure to synthetic pesticides, while being more expensive. A large part of the benefits (less greenhouse gas emissions, less soil use), is linked to the increased consumption of plants in their diet, while the strong presence of organic products in the diet allows for a lesser exposure to chemical contaminants. These results were published April 15 in the review American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The research led by INRA, the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, and its partners, is based on more than 29,000 adult participants. The project brought together nutritionists, economists, toxicologists, agronomists and environmental specialists. Precise data relating to the consumption of organic and conventional products were collected in 2014 with a semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire based on 264 food items and a level of consumption of organic products in each category. Information on lifestyle, the place of purchase of organic products, and the body mass index of participants were also collected.
The results of the study demonstrated that the largest consumers of organic products have particular food habits, characterized by a larger portion of plants in their food and less red meat and dairy products. Due to this, the diet of organic consumers is nutritionally healthier and provides more nutrients. The cost of a highly organic food diet is more expensive, however, at €8.80 per day instead of €7.00 for conventional food products.
Additionally, the environmental impact of large organic consumers is less than for conventional agriculture in terms of greenhouse gas emissions: 3.17 kg CO2/day for the heaviest consumers of organic products versus 5.07 kg CO2/day for those that consumed the least. Similar effects were found in terms of energy consumption and the use of agricultural soils necessary for producing the food consumed. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and soil use were primarily linked to the higher amount of plants in the diet, while the decreased use of energy was linked to the organic nature of the products.
Exposure to synthetic pesticides through food was, according to molecules tested, between -23% and -100% for the biggest consumers of organic products. This reduction in exposure to chemical contaminants (-40% on average) comes from the organic method of production itself.