British Journal of Nutrition

  • British Journal of Nutrition / Volume 115 / Issue 06 / March 2016, pp 994-1011
  • Copyright © The Authors 2016 This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
  • DOI: (About DOI), Published online: 16 February 2016

Full Papers

Human and Clinical Nutrition

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

Dominika Średnicka-Tobera1a7, Marcin Barańskia1, Chris Seala2 id1, Roy Sandersona3, Charles Benbrooka4, Håvard Steinshamna5, Joanna Gromadzka-Ostrowskaa6, Ewa Rembiałkowskaa7, Krystyna Skwarło-Sońtaa8, Mick Eyrea1, Giulio Cozzia9, Mette Krogh Larsena10, Teresa Jordona1, Urs Nigglia11, Tomasz Sakowskia12, Philip C. Caldera13, Graham C. Burdgea13, Smaragda Sotirakia14, Alexandros Stefanakisa14, Halil Yolcua1a15, Sokratis Stergiadisa1a16, Eleni Chatzidimitrioua1, Gillian Butlera1, Gavin Stewarta1 and Carlo Leiferta1 c1

a1 Nafferton Ecological Farming Group (NEFG), School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Newcastle University, Nafferton Farm, Stocksfield, Northumberland NE43 7XD, UK

a2 School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Human Nutrition Research Centre, Newcastle University, Agriculture Building, Kings Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK

a3 School of Biology, Newcastle University, Ridley Building, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK

a4 Benbrook Consulting Services, 90063 Troy Road, Enterprise, OR 97828, USA

a5 Food and Agriculture Division – Grassland and Forage, Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO), Gunnars veg 6, N-6630 Tingvoll, Norway

a6 Department of Dietetics, Faculty of Human Nutrition and Consumer Sciences, Warsaw University of Life Sciences, Nowoursynowska 159c, 02-776 Warsaw, Poland

a7 Department 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

a8 Department of Animal Physiology, Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw, Miecznikowa 1, 02-096 Warsaw, Poland

a9 Department of Animal Medicine, Production and Health, University of Padua, Viale dell’ Università 19, 35020 Legnaro, Italy

a10 Department of Food Science – Food Chemistry & Technology, Aarhus University, Blichers Allé 20, Building F20/8845, 8830 Tjele, Denmark

a11 Research Institute for Organic Agriculture (FiBL), Ackerstrasse 113, CH-5070 Frick, Switzerland

a12 Institute of Genetics and Animal Breeding, Polish Academy of Science, Jastrzębiec, Postępu 36, 05-552 Magdalenka, Poland

a13 Human Development and Health Academic Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK

a14 National Agricultural Research Foundation (NAGREF), Veterinary Research Institute of Thessaloniki, 57001 Thermi, Thessaloniki, Greece

a15 Kelkit Aydin Vocational Training School, Gumushane University, 29600 Kelkit, Gumushane, Turkey

a16 Food Production and Quality Division, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, Centre for Dairy Research, University of Reading, PO Box 237, Earley Gate, Reading RG6 6AR, UK



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.

(Received January 12 2015)

(Revised November 13 2015)

(Accepted November 18 2015)

Key words

  • Organic foods;
  • Animal products;
  • Meat;
  • Iron;
  • Meat fat composition;
  • n-3 PUFA;
  • n-6 PUFA


  • ALA: α-linolenic acid;
  • DMI:DM intake;
  • DPA:docosapentaenoic acid;
  • EU:European Union;
  • FA:fatty acids;
  • LA:linoleic acid;
  • MPD:mean percentage difference;
  • SMD:standardised mean difference;
  • UM:unweighted meta-analysis;
  • VLC:very long-chain FA;
  • WM:weighted meta-analysis


c1 Corresponding author: Professor C. Leifert, fax +44 1661 831 006, email