Organic food is often sold as being the greener alternative. By not pumping toxic chemicals into the environment, we expect that organic farms should do less harm to our wildlife, health and the climate. But new research suggests that current organic farming practises are actually worse for the environment.
A study published in Agriculture and Human Values last month found that GHG emissions were higher in US states where organic farming was more common. Julius McGee (University of Oregon) found a significant correlation between the amount of organic farmland and GHG emissions, with higher emissions in states producing more organic food. Surprisingly, population size, GDP and amount of farmland did not influence GHG emissions across the 8-year dataset. McGee’s results suggest current organic farming practises may be doing more harm than good.
“The big questions are what are we are doing when we shift from conventional to organic production, and what are the environmental consequences” – Julias McGee (University of Oregon)
The future doesn’t have to be bleak for organic farming, though – McGee suggests that the problem lies in how current organic farms are managed. He points out that as small-scale organic farms increase in size the ideals of good environmental management are diluted. With stricter practises, large-scale organic farming could become sustainable.
“This study says that the organic farming industry is in the early stages. So far we don’t see any mitigating effect on greenhouse gasses. We need to pay close attention to what processes in organic farming operations make them the sustainable alternative that we want them to be, and we are going to need to more strictly follow those” – Julias McGee (University of Oregon)
In the video below, McGee explains that we must consider the social context in which sustainable measures are put into practise to make sure they fulfil their potential: