Organic Farming Strains Environment

Published May 1, 2007

You can cross off “saving the environment” as a reason to purchase organic foods, according to a new study conducted for the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs.

The 200-page report, completed in December 2006 and released to the media in February 2007, supports comments from British Environment Secretary David Milibrand, who in January 2007 said organic food is simply a “lifestyle choice” that may not be any more beneficial than conventionally grown foods.

No Environment Benefit

After studying 150 organic and non-organic food products, lead author Ken Green, professor of environmental management at the Manchester Business School, reported, “There is certainly insufficient evidence available to state that organic agriculture overall would have less of an environmental impact than conventional agriculture.”

The researchers found no evidence that organic farming provides any overall environmental advantages … and also found that many popular organic products strain the environment much more than food products produced through conventional methods. Organically grown vegetables were singled out as particularly stressful on natural resources.

“The new report from the Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs in the U.K. demonstrates once again that organic food is just marketing hype designed to separate consumers from more of their dollars,” said Alex Avery, director of research at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues.

“Just like so many other past organic-benefit claims–for example, that organic food is more nutritious, healthier, and safer than conventional food–when examined under the cold, harsh light of reality, the supposed eco-benefits of organic farming vanish like a phantom,” said Avery

Organic Produce Wasteful

Organically grown vine tomatoes, the report documented, require more than six times as much space to grow to maturity as do conventionally produced tomatoes.

In addition to requiring more cropland, organic tomatoes consume nearly double the energy it takes to grow conventional tomatoes. In addition, organic tomatoes, typically grown in heated greenhouses, generate 100 times as much carbon dioxide as tomatoes grown conventionally in warm climates.

Organic milk production also creates tremendous environmental strain, as it requires 80 percent more land to produce a gallon of organic milk than it takes to produce conventional milk, the study found. Organic milk production emits 20 percent more carbon dioxide and produces double the unwanted runoff of nitrogen and other “natural” byproducts that lead to water pollution and soil acidification, the report noted.

Organic Chicken Problems

It takes 25 percent more energy to raise organic chickens than to raise them conventionally, according to the study.

Organic chicken production emits nearly 50 percent more carbon dioxide and produces nearly double the soil and water pollutants as conventionally raised chickens. Moreover, organic chickens deplete 340 percent more natural resources than conventionally raised chickens, the study reported.

“Consumers should avoid being misled into shopping out of fear and propaganda,” said Avery, “and instead realize that the modern food system is not only incredibly safe–last fall’s spinach E. coli outbreak was caused by organically grown spinach on a pasture-based, 100 percent grass-fed beef ranch–it is also incredibly efficient. And that is just good for the environment.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

The new report for the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, “Environmental Impacts of Food Production and Consumption,” is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to and search for document #20893.