A new study attempts to answer a question that scientists and consumers have been pondering for years: Can organic food reduce the risk of developing cancer?

Organic food started as a niche product only a few decades ago but is now present in most grocery stores across the United States.

In brief, for regulators to class food as organic, farmers and manufacturers must produce it without using synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, or pesticides.

Many consumers assume that it is more healthful to eat organic food than nonorganic food.

It may seem sensible to assume that consuming fewer pesticides is beneficial. However, scientists have so far found it challenging to discover ways to prove health benefits that they can associate with organic food.

Researchers know that certain pesticides are potentially carcinogenic at higher levels of exposure, but they have yet to understand clearly the impact of long-term, low-level exposure.

We all face exposure to a cocktail of chemicals throughout our lives — in food, the water we drink, and the air that we breathe — and this exposure makes their impact on our health even more difficult to dissect.

Because organic food contains significantly fewer pesticides than nonorganic food, proponents have long suggested that it might have associated health benefits.