According to a new study published on December 12, organic farming is worse for the environment than conventional food production due to the massive quantities of land required to sustain the practice.
In a study published by Nature, Swedish researchers found that the organic farming of peas impacted the environment and climate by a 50% larger margin than forming non-organic varieties of peas while organic wheat production had a 70% larger impact.
This is because organic cropland requires more land to produce the same amount of food. Though organic food is touted as being healthier for your body, the environmental impact has led to higher levels of carbon dioxide emissions while promoting deforestation throughout the globe.
“The greater land-use in organic farming leads indirectly to higher carbon dioxide emissions, thanks to deforestation,” claims co-author of the study Stefan Wirsenius. “The world’s food production is governed by international trade, so how we farm in Sweden influences deforestation in the tropics. If we use more land for the same amount of food, we contribute indirectly to bigger deforestation elsewhere in the world.”
Deforestation is already occurring at unsustainable rates. Back in 1999, nearly 14 million trees were cut down in order to produce 10 billion paper bags. At a grand scale, organic farming has simply become impossible without clearing more land for production.
This also means that larger quantities of water are needed to sustain such expansive land use, thus depleting our supplies of freshwater. Though an underground water storage tank can last for more than 20 years, finding reliable sources of water to replenish these wells are becoming increasingly difficult to mine.
Along with these studies of organic peas and wheat, however, the organic animal farming industry is just as unsustainable. Past research in 2017 has shown that the organic cattle and chicken industries have treated their animals more ethically, but more land is required to sustain grass-fed options. On top of that, the carbon dioxide emissions aren’t mitigated through these options.
This is increasingly difficult news to hear for those who promote organic farming and benefit from these practices. How do we live a more ethically sound, yet sustainable life?
Eating a plant-based diet might be a good first step.
“Organic food does have several advantages compared with food produced by conventional methods,” continues Wirsenius. “For example, it is better for farm animal welfare. But when it comes to the climate impact, our study shows that organic food is a much worse alternative, in general.”