Is Organic Farming Really Better for the Climate?

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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:

Featured image is used under a creative commons license from Wikimedia Commons. Original image by Sacramato_hr.

One comment on “Is Organic Farming Really Better for the Climate?

  1. Organic farming does not represents a single approach to farming and as industrial farms have tried to cash in on the “organic” advantage in the market place all they have done is made the term organic mean less than it once did to the consumer. Factory farming is still factory farming, whether or not one feeds organic feed and meets what are now minimalist standards for the moniker “organic.” There are many examples of large farms using conventional practices minus the pesticides and herbicides disallowed by the watered down organic standards set by the USDA still doing much harm to the environment through their tilling practices that destroy the biotic community in healthy soil which is counter to the organic principle. In addition the notion of importing massive quantities of organic matter in the form of processed animal manure from far away places to fertilize crops is also counter to the spirit of the organic movement which is to do less harm to the environment not trade one kind of unsustainable system for another.

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