Is organic meat safer than conventional?
According to consumers of organic foods (not to mention producers and marketers), a principle reason to consume organic meat is that it is safer than conventional alternatives. According to this argument, conventional farming practices are inherently less safe than organic practices, and the resulting product is more likely to have dangerous health effects in humans. As part of our multi-part investigation of organic foods, we took a close look at whether organic meat is, in fact, safer than conventional meat.
Studies reviewed. We reviewed 18 studies published in the past 15 years which directly compared the safety of organic and conventional meat. Many examined the prevalence of contaminants in poultry and cattle; several also examined whether organic food was less resistant to antibiotics (which has safety implications because antibiotic-resistant food can help create “superbugs” that affect human health).
What we found. We rated half of the studies “Maybe”, indicating that their findings provided mixed or ambiguous evidence for this question. Many of these studies found that organic meat was higher in certain contaminants, such as salmonella or enterococcus, but also had lower antibiotic resistance. Among the three highest-quality studies — all systematic reviews — two found ambiguous results and one found evidence that organic meat was safer. We detected conflicts of interests in three studies; of these, one found in favor of the organics, one found no evidence to support organics, and one reported mixed results.
The final word. The claim that the research base definitively proves that organic meat is safer than conventional alternatives is overbaked. There is some evidence to suggest that organics have some safety advantages over conventional meat, particularly in resistance to antibiotics, but these advantages may be balanced by the increased likelihood of organic meat to contain harmful contaminants. We assigned this claim a a Fizz Factor of 5: A toss-up.
TOP 5 STUDIES (VIEW ALL 18 STUDIES)
Click on a title to view full details or link to the original study.
|Study Title||Author and Year||Study Finding||Overall Quality||Evidence Level||Influence||Conflicts of Interest|
|Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review||Crystal Smith-Spangler (2012)||Maybe||●||●||◕||●|
|Chemical safety of conventionally and organically produced foodstuffs: A tentative comparison under Belgian conditions||Luc Pussemier (2006)||Yes||◐||●||◔||●|
|Comparison of the prevalence of bacterial enteropathogens, potentially zoonotic bacteria and bacterial resistance to antimicrobials in organic and conventional poultry, swine and beef production: a systematic review and meta-analysis||I. Young (2009)||Maybe||◐||●||◐||●|
|Prevalence and Antimicrobial Resistance of Campylobacter spp. and Salmonella Serovars in Organic Chickens from Maryland Retail Stores||Shenghui Cui (2005)||Maybe||◔||○||●||●|
|Lower Prevalence of Antibiotic-resistant Enterococci On U.S. Conventional Poultry Farms That Transitioned to Organic Practices||Amy Rebecca Sapkota (2011)||Yes||○||○||◐||◕|