Composition differences between organic and conventional meat: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis

Br J Nutr. 2016 Mar 28;115(6):994-1011. doi: 10.1017/S0007114515005073. Epub 2016 Feb 16.


Demand for organic meat is partially driven by consumer perceptions that organic foods are more nutritious than non-organic foods. However, there have been no systematic reviews comparing specifically the nutrient content of organic and conventionally produced meat. In this study, we report results of a meta-analysis based on sixty-seven published studies comparing the composition of organic and non-organic meat products. For many nutritionally relevant compounds (e.g. minerals, antioxidants and most individual fatty acids (FA)), the evidence base was too weak for meaningful meta-analyses. However, significant differences in FA profiles were detected when data from all livestock species were pooled. Concentrations of SFA and MUFA were similar or slightly lower, respectively, in organic compared with conventional meat. Larger differences were detected for total PUFA and n-3 PUFA, which were an estimated 23 (95 % CI 11, 35) % and 47 (95 % CI 10, 84) % higher in organic meat, respectively. However, for these and many other composition parameters, for which meta-analyses found significant differences, heterogeneity was high, and this could be explained by differences between animal species/meat types. Evidence from controlled experimental studies indicates that the high grazing/forage-based diets prescribed under organic farming standards may be the main reason for differences in FA profiles. Further studies are required to enable meta-analyses for a wider range of parameters (e.g. antioxidant, vitamin and mineral concentrations) and to improve both precision and consistency of results for FA profiles for all species. Potential impacts of composition differences on human health are discussed.

Keywords: n-3 PUFA; n-6 PUFA; ALA α-linolenic acid; Animal products; DMI DM intake; DPA docosapentaenoic acid; EU European Union; FA fatty acids; Iron; LA linoleic acid; MPD mean percentage difference; Meat; Meat fat composition; Organic foods; SMD standardised mean difference; UM unweighted meta-analysis; VLC very long-chain FA; WM weighted meta-analysis.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry
  • Animals
  • Diet / veterinary*
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Food, Organic / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Livestock / growth & development
  • Meat / analysis*
  • Meat Products / analysis
  • Nutritive Value