You Got to Be Kidding Me!

Organic Foods Not So Green Afterall

Posted in Economics, Environment, Politics by Stacy McMahon on February 19, 2007

A UK government report (link via Instapundit) says that “organic” food is not always better, and may be worse, in terms of pollution and “footprint” compared to conventional growing methods. That isn’t surprising, since the goal of scientific agriculture has always been to get higher yields per acre of land.

Ken Green, professor of environmental management at MBS, who co-wrote the report, said: “You cannot say that all organic food is better for the environment than all food grown conventionally. If you look carefully at the amount of energy required to produce these foods you get a complicated picture. In some cases, the carbon footprint for organics is larger.”

The study did not take into account factors such as the increased biodiversity created by organic farming or the improved landscape.

No, it didn’t take into account “the improved landscape”, and that’s as it should be. I don’t know when such completely subjective terms crept into scientific analysis, but you seem to hear a lot these days that something or other is statistically better or worse compared to something else, ‘but it looks nicer and that’s worth something!’. Yes, that’s worth something, but that’s for end users of the report to decide.

Anyway, examples of popular but land-hogging organic foods include:


* 122sq m of land is needed to produce a tonne of organic vine tomatoes. The figure for conventionally-grown loose tomatoes is 19sq m.

* Energy needed to grow organic tomatoes is 1.9 times that of conventional methods.

* Organic tomatoes grown in heated greenhouses in Britain generate one hundred times the amount of CO2 per kilogram produced by tomatoes in unheated greenhouses in southern Spain.


* Requires 80 per cent more land to produce per unit than conventional milk.

* Produces nearly 20 per cent more carbon dioxide and almost double the amount of other by-products that can lead to acidification of soil and pollution of water courses.


* Organic birds require 25 per cent more energy to rear and grow than conventional methods.

* The amount of CO2 generated per bird is 6.7kg for organic compared to 4.6kg for conventional battery or barn hens.

* Eutrophication, the potential for nutrient-rich by-products to pollute water courses, is measured at 86 for organic compared to 49 for conventional.

* The depletion of natural resources is measured at 99 for organic birds compared to 29 for battery or barn hens.


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