A study reported on by US World and News Report revealed a shocking assertion, that organically farmed food has a more damaging impact on the environment than that of conventional farming because of it being less productive. For those who swear by buying all organic for their love of the earth and humanity, this indeed is unsettling to hear. No doubt you have heard about the positive environmental impact and benefits of organic farming. So, how can we understand better the truth of the matter? What is organic farming, is it less productive than conventional farming and does it take up more land?
What Qualifies as Organic Farming?
Organic standards may vary slightly from country to country, but Australia can boast that it has one of the most stringent standards in the world. In fact, having the Australian Certified Organic (ACO) seal, is even harder to come by than that of the United States' USDA organic standard. To summarize, the ACO standard published in a 101-page document, that the following must be met to qualify livestock such as sheep, goats, and cattle as organic:
- Non-genetically modified and reproduction without human intervention
- Raised without the use of antibiotics, growth hormone or other synthetic chemicals
- Pastured on fields free from pesticides and herbicides
- Grass-fed outdoors
- Allowed access to sunshine and fresh air throughout their life
With organic farming, these are some of the standards that must be met to qualify as organic:
- All genetically modified materials and seeds are prohibited
- Crops must be grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides or any synthetic chemicals
- Maintenance of healthy soil through crop rotation and composting
- Water management practices that ensure low water waste and no polluted run-off
The Guardian reported in an article entitled, "Can We Feed 10 Billion People on Organic Farming Alone?", that although organic farming does produce yields 10-20% lower than that of conventional farming, organic farms are "more profitable and environmentally friendly". With lower yields from the non-use of chemicals, greater land area though is required to produce the same amount of product than on a conventional farm. Therefore, the argument raised earlier was that greater land use results in higher carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation. What are the Pros and Cons therefore of organic farming?
Pros and Cons of Organic Farming
The Pros of Organic Farming
Organically grown produce is reported to have higher levels of nutrients such as magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin C, iron and antioxidants. They also contain fewer nitrates and pesticide residue according to the National Institutes of Health.
More Efficient Water Use
Organic farms perform better in absolute water use and water use productivity according to Australia's latest agricultural census as reported by Academia.edu.
Cleaner Water Sources
Water treatment centers go to great lengths to treat the water sources that millions of persons depend on in the United States spending millions of dollars annually to render their water potable. For example, NPR reports that in Northeast Missouri, $130,000 a year is spent to remove atrazine, a herbicide used on cornfields, from the water supply.
Improved Soil Health
Organic farming maintains the extensive microbial communities found in soil. Use of natural soil additives through compost and manure release nutrients into the soil slowly and are more easily absorbed through the plants' roots.
Less Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Organic Without Boundaries states that nitrous oxide emissions have been implicated in atmospheric warming and have a 300% times greater impact than equal amounts of carbon dioxide. Since most nitrous oxide emissions come from agricultural practices, it stands to reason that the use of nitrogen fertilizers is having a catastrophic impact on the environment. Organic farming is done without the use of nitrogen additives, thereby decreasing these emissions that contribute to global warming.
Safer and Healthier Work Environment
Farm workers on conventional farms are often exposed to dangerous cancer-causing agents found in the pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on the fields. A recent high profile court case reached a $2 billion verdict in favor of a couple who claimed their cancer had been caused by exposure to a chemical herbicide that they used for decades. Farmers and field workers on organic farms have no such risk of exposure to these deadly chemicals.
Cons of Organic Farming
Higher Price Tag - Organic foods carry a heftier price that gets passed onto the consumer for a reason. It cost on average 10-30% more to grow an organic product for reasons such as product loss from disease and predators and also because lower yield eliminates discounted prices from a mass-produced product.
Lower Yields - The European Commission found that there can be as much as a 5-34% lower yield with organic farming and is dependent on contextual factors such as crop types and growing conditions.
Does it Take More Land to Farm Organically?
While it appears that it does indeed take more land to grow the equivalent amount of produce as grown on a conventional farm, organic farms today only occupy 1% of land used for agricultural purposes. As The Guardian summarized, "with organic agriculture, environmental costs tend to be lower and the benefits greater". They go on to say that compared to conventional farms, organic farms have better soil quality and soil erosion prevention techniques resulting in less soil and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The higher cost for organic products as well as an added incentive to farmers to continue using these environmentally friendly practices and preserving the integrity of the land.
Buying organic is even bigger than your health and that of your families. Organic farming and ranching mean respecting the earth, the animals and those working the land. At Cleaver's Organic, we believe in providing "families with the most flavorful and healthy meats that have been raised to the highest humane, ethical standards". Contact us for more information about the highest quality, free-range and organic grass-fed meats that we raise here in Australia and bring to your family's table in America.