Consumers are willing to pay more for organic foods and they often believe that organic products are safer and healthier than conventionally grown foods. But a review of current research notes that organic production of food does not necessarily make it safer.

"There are no stricter food safety standards for organic foods; organic foods are required to meet the same food safety standards as nonorganic foods," say the authors of "Food Safety and Organic Meats," an article published in the 2012 edition of the Annual Review of Food Science and Technology. The authors are Ellen Van Loo, a former University of Arkansas(UA) food science graduate student now studying at Ghent University in Belgium; Walid Alali, assistant professor at the University of Georgia Center for Food Safety, and Steven Ricke, director of the UA Center for Food Safety.

"With increasing popularity in consumption of organic, free-range and natural meat, it is becoming more urgent to address the associated impacts on food safety and to further evaluate if the consumer perception of organic meat being safer than conventionally produced meat is warranted," the authors write. The article says that despite the consumers' perception that organic products are safer, they may actually have a greater microbiological safety risk because of the animals' access to the outdoors, restrictions on therapeutic use of microbials and smaller processing facilities.

"In general, bacteria isolated from conventionally produced livestock or meats may have a higher likelihood of antimicrobial resistance compared with organically raised animals, and the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals may select for resistant bacteria," the authors say. They note that the prevention of antimicrobial resistance in livestock and poultry production will likely be increasingly important in the future and that pathogens on organic meat are generally more sensitive to antimicrobial agents.

The authors also note the need for more research comparing meat product safety in their respective production systems and the need to improve the production practices affecting organically raised animals.