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

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

Author information

  • 11Nafferton Ecological Farming Group (NEFG),School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development,Newcastle University,Nafferton Farm,Stocksfield,Northumberland NE43 7XD,UK.
  • 22School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development,Human Nutrition Research Centre,Newcastle University,Agriculture Building,Kings Road,Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU,UK.
  • 33School of Biology,Newcastle University,Ridley Building,Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU,UK.
  • 44Benbrook Consulting Services,90063 Troy Road,Enterprise,OR 97828,USA.
  • 55Food and Agriculture Division - Grassland and Forage,Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO),Gunnars veg 6,N-6630 Tingvoll,Norway.
  • 66Department of Dietetics, Faculty of Human Nutrition and Consumer Sciences,Warsaw University of Life Sciences,Nowoursynowska 159c,02-776 Warsaw,Poland.
  • 77Department of Functional and Organic Food and Commodities, Faculty of Human Nutrition and Consumer Sciences,Warsaw University of Life Sciences,Nowoursynowska 159c,02-776 Warsaw,Poland.
  • 88Department of Animal Physiology, Faculty of Biology,University of Warsaw,Miecznikowa 1,02-096 Warsaw,Poland.
  • 99Department of Animal Medicine, Production and Health,University of Padua,Viale dell' Università 19,35020 Legnaro,Italy.
  • 1010Department of Food Science - Food Chemistry & Technology,Aarhus University,Blichers Allé 20,Building F20/8845,8830 Tjele,Denmark.
  • 1111Research Institute for Organic Agriculture (FiBL),Ackerstrasse 113,CH-5070 Frick,Switzerland.
  • 1212Institute of Genetics and Animal Breeding,Polish Academy of Science,Jastrzębiec,Postępu 36,05-552 Magdalenka,Poland.
  • 1313Human Development and Health Academic Unit, Faculty of Medicine,University of Southampton,Southampton SO16 6YD,UK.
  • 1414National Agricultural Research Foundation (NAGREF),Veterinary Research Institute of Thessaloniki,57001 Thermi,Thessaloniki,Greece.


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.


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

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