- A new study shows that organically farmed food is much worse for the environment than non-organic food.
- Since organic farming requires more land to produce food, it indirectly contributes to greater deforestation, and thus carbon dioxide emission.
The fact that how much land you are using for what purpose plays a major role in climate policy. Native vegetation and soil store a massive amount of carbon, and their losses due to agricultural expansion (plus emissions from agricultural production) contribute up to 25% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Measuring the efficiency of land-use changes in terms of greenhouse gas emissions is a very difficult task, especially when land outputs alter frequently, for example from one food to another. Therefore, scientists haven’t considered the impact of land-use and its relationship to CO2 on our environment, unit now.
In a new international study led by Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, researchers found that organic food has a higher climate impact than conventionally farmed food, and this happens because organically farmed food requires larger areas of land.
They have built a new technique for evaluating the climate impact from land-use. This technique, combined with other methods, helped them accurately compare the production of organic and non-organic food. The outcomes clearly show that organic food results in higher CO2 emissions.
As per the study, organically farmed peas in Sweden have nearly 50% greater climate impact compared to conventionally famed peas. The difference is even higher in other foodstuffs, for instance, organically produced Swedish winter wheat has 70% more climate impact.
The main culprit that makes organic food much worse for the environment is the low yield per hectare. Since fertilizers are completely avoided in organic farming, you need a larger land area to match the amount of food produced in conventional farming.
Reference: Nature | doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0757-z | Chalmers University of Technology
The study indirectly connects the greater land-use (for organic farming) to CO2 emissions. The worldwide food production is governed by international trade: if you use more land to produce the same amount of food, you indirectly contribute to greater deforestation somewhere else in the world.
In fact, dairy products and organic meat also fall under this category. They are worse (for the climate) than their non-organically farmed equivalents. However, the authors didn’t mention any solid evidence of this in their research paper.
A New Metric For Measuring Climate Impact
They used a new metric named ‘Carbon Opportunity Cost’ to measure how more use of land is contributing to greater CO2 emissions from deforestation. The metric considers how much carbon is stored in forests, which is released as CO2 due to deforestation.
This the first time someone has measured the effect of more land-use on climate, and the study shows that this effect could be several times higher than the greenhouse gas effects. It’s also important because some governments are nowadays intensely focusing on the production of organic food.
However, it doesn’t mean you should simply switch to conventionally farmed food. Obviously, organic food has several health advantages, but if you are really concerned about climate more than anything else, you can slightly change your eating habits. Just replace lamb, beef and hard cheeses with eggs, fish, chicken and vegetable proteins like beans, which have a significantly lower climate impact.