Organic food good for you, but not for planet

Organic food can result in much greater emissions as the yields per hectare are much lower, primarily because fertilisers are not used. To produce the same amount of organic food, you therefore need a much bigger area of land. Since organic meat a...

LONDON: Organic food has a bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed food, due to the greater areas of land required, according to a study. Researchers from the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden developed a new method for assessing the climate impact from land-use, and used this, along with other methods, to compare organic and conventional food production.


The results, published in the journal ‘Nature’, show that organic food can result in much greater emissions.


“Our study shows that organic peas, farmed in Sweden, have around a 50% bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed peas,” said Stefan Wirsenius, an associate professor at Chalmers.

“For some foodstuffs, there is an even bigger difference — for example, with organic Swedish winter wheat the difference is closer to 70%,” Wirsenius said.

The reason why organic food is so much worse for the climate is that the yields per hectare are much lower, primarily because fertilisers are not used. To produce the same amount of organic food, you therefore need a much bigger area of land, researchers said.

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“The greater land-use in organic farming leads indirectly to higher carbon dioxide emissions, thanks to deforestation,” said Wirsenius. “If we use more land for the same amount of food, we contribute indirectly to bigger deforestation elsewhere in the world,” he said.

Even organic meat and dairy products are — from a climate point of view — worse than their conventionally produced equivalents, researchers said.

Since organic meat and milk production uses organic feed-stock, it also requires more land than conventional production, they said. “This means that the findings on organic wheat and peas in principle also apply to meat and milk products,” Wirsenius said.
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