Is organic farming safer to farmers' health? A comparison between organic and traditional farming

Carla Costa, Julia Garci´a-Lesto´n, Solange Costa, Patri´cia Coelho, Susana Silva, Marta Pingarilho, Vanessa Valdiglesias, Francesca Mattei, Valentina Dall'Armi, Stefano Bonassi, Blanca Laffon, John Snawder, Joa&tild;o Paulo Teixeira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Exposure to pesticides is a major public health concern, because of the widespread distribution of these compounds and their possible long term effects. Recently, organic farming has been introduced as a consumer and environmental friendly agricultural system, although little is known about the effects on workers' health. The aim of this work was to evaluate genetic damage and immunological alterations in workers of both traditional and organic farming. Eighty-five farmers exposed to several pesticides, thirty-six organic farmers and sixty-one controls took part in the study. Biomarkers of exposure (pyrethroids, organophosphates, carbamates, and thioethers in urine and butyrylcholinesterase activity in plasma), early effect (micronuclei in lymphocytes and reticulocytes, T-cell receptor mutation assay, chromosomal aberrations, comet assay and lymphocytes subpopulations) and susceptibility (genetic polymorphisms related to metabolism - EPHX1, GSTM1, GSTT1 and GSTP1 - and DNA repair- XRCC1 and XRCC2) were evaluated. When compared to controls and organic farmers, pesticide farmers presented a significant increase of micronuclei in lymphocytes (frequency ratio, FR = 2.80) and reticulocytes (FR = 1.89), chromosomal aberrations (FR = 2.19), DNA damage assessed by comet assay (mean ratio, MR = 1.71), and a significant decrease in the proportion of B lymphocytes (MR = 0.88). Results were not consistent for organic farmers when compared to controls, with a 48% increase of micronuclei in lumphocytes frequency (p = 0.016) contrasted by the significant decreases of TCR-Mf (p = 0.001) and % T (p = 0.001). Our data confirm the increased presence of DNA damage in farmers exposed to pesticides, and show as exposure conditions may influence observed effects. These results must be interpreted with caution due to the small size of the sample and the unbalanced distribution of individuals in the three study groups.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-176
Number of pages11
JournalToxicology Letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 5 2014


  • Biomarkers
  • Genotoxicity
  • Immunotoxicity
  • Organic farming
  • Pesticides

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Medicine(all)


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