A study published online Oct. 22 in JAMA Internal Medicine associated higher organic food consumption with a reduced risk of overall cancer. The population-based cohort study involved 68,946 French adults divided into quartiles based on organic food consumption. The study may be found here.

People provided information on their organic food consumption frequency and dietary intake for 16 products. They then were given an organic food score from 0-32. Follow-up dates were May 10, 2009, to Nov. 30, 2016.


A total of 1,340 first-incident cancer cases were identified during follow-up. Higher organic food scores were associated inversely with the overall risk of cancer (hazard ratio for quartile 4 versus quartile 1, 0.75). Adjustments were made for confounding factors (socio-demographics, lifestyles and dietary patterns).

The study found organic food consumption was associated with a decreased risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and postmenopausal breast cancer, but no association was detected for other types of cancer.

The study pointed out that although organic foods are less likely to contain pesticide residues than conventional foods, few studies have examined the association of organic food consumption with cancer risk. Organic food standards do not allow the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms and restrict the use of veterinary medicine. The study pointed to a 2018 European Food Safety Authority report finding 44% of conventionally produced food samples contained one or more quantifiable pesticide residues while 6.5% of organic samples contained the residues.

“Because of their lower exposure to pesticide residues, it can be hypothesized that higher organic food consumers may have a lower risk of developing cancer,” the study in JAMA Internal Medicine said.

Of the adults in the study, 78% were female. The analysis was based on people in the NutriNet-Santé study, which is voluntary and tends to attract females, well-educated people and those who exhibit healthier behaviors when compared to the French general population.

The French Ministry of Health, the French Institute for Health Surveillance, the National Institute for Prevention and Health Education, the National Institute for Health and Medical Research, the National Institute for Agricultural Research, and the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts supports the NutriNet-Santé study.

A grant from the French National Research Agency provided funding for Julia Baudy, Ph.D., with the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale in Paris and one of the authors in the study in the JAMA Internal Medicine.