Key Findings of the French BioNutriNet Project on Organic Food-Based Diets: Description, Determinants, and Relationships to Health and the Environment

Adv Nutr. 2021 Oct 18;nmab105. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmab105. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Few studies have investigated the relationships between organic food consumption, dietary patterns, monetary diet cost, health, and the environment. To address these issues, a consortium of French epidemiologists, nutritionists, economists, and toxicologists launched the BioNutriNet project in 2013. In 2014, an FFQ documented the usual organic and nonorganic (conventional) food consumption of approximately 35,000 NutriNet-Santé participants. Then, individual organic and conventional food intakes were merged with price, environmental, and pesticide residue data sets, which distinguished between conventional and organic farming methods. Many studies were conducted to characterize organic consumers and their environmental impacts (i.e., greenhouse gas emissions, energy demand, and land use) and organic food consumption impacts on health. We observed that organic consumers had diets that were healthier and richer in plant-based food than nonorganic consumers. Their diets were associated with higher monetary costs, lower environmental impacts, and reduced exposure to certain pesticide residues. Regular consumption of organic food was associated with reduced risks of obesity, type 2 diabetes, postmenopausal breast cancer, and lymphoma. Although several observations have been confirmed by several studies conducted in other countries, our results should be replicated in other cultural settings and coupled with experimental studies to be able to draw causal conclusions. Finally, the main finding of the BioNutriNet project is that while organic food consumption could be associated with positive externalities on human health and the environment, organic-based diets should be accompanied by dietary shifts toward plant-based diets to allow for better planetary and human health.

Keywords: chronic diseases; cumulative energy demand; dietary greenhouse gas emissions; dietary pesticide exposure; dietary scores; monetary diet cost; observational data; organic food consumption; sustainability indicators.