Tag Archives: Chalmers Institute of technology

Chalmers Institute of Technology study: Organic food worse for the climate?

3 Jan

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) described organic production:
What is organic production?

USDA Definition and Regulations:
The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), enacted under Title 21 of the 1990 Farm Bill, served to establish uniform national standards for the production and handling of foods labeled as “organic.” The Act authorized a new USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to set national standards for the production, handling, and processing of organically grown agricultural products. In addition, the Program oversees mandatory certification of organic production. The Act also established the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) which advises the Secretary of Agriculture in setting the standards upon which the NOP is based. Producers who meet standards set by the NOP may label their products as “USDA Certified Organic.”
1. USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) definition, April 1995
o “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.
o “‘Organic’ is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole.
o “Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water.
o “Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.”
2. CFR Regulatory Text, 7 CFR Part 205, Subpart A — Definitions. § 205.2 Terms defined“Organic production. A production system that is managed in accordance with the Act and regulations in this part to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” USDA National Organic Program. http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=ac13bb030ee7a5c5ded65732f5c8946e&mc=true&node=se7.3.205_12&rgn=div8 (link is external)
3. USDA Consumer Brochure: Organic Food Standards and Labels: The Facts“What is organic food? Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.” Consumer Brochure, USDA National Organic Program. 2007.
The final national organic standards rule was published in the Federal Register on December 21, 2000. The law was activated April 21, 2001. The rule, along with detailed fact sheets and other background information, is available on the National Organic Program’s website…. https://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/organic-productionorganic-food-information-access-tools

Jo Lewin, Associate nutritionist at BBC Good Food described some of the benefits organic food.

Lewin wrote in What does organic mean?

What the research says
With many people believing that organic foods have a higher nutrient content, are kinder to the environment and livestock and are healthier than conventionally produced foods, demand for organic produce is on the rise. However, scientists have not been wholly convinced that health claims are completely justified, as the research conducted has not shown consistent results with regards to nutrient density.
In 2009, a report published by the Food Standards Agency summarised the findings of previous studies on the comparative nutritional benefits of organic and conventional produce. It concluded that organic did not deliver significant health benefits compared to non-organic equivalents.
However, there is plenty of evidence that there are more vitamins, minerals and omega-3s in organic produce – albeit sometimes just a small difference. A systematic review showed higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants in some (though not all) organic fruit and vegetables as well as lower levels of pesticide residues and heavy metals…. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/organic

Organic production may come at a cost according to a study by Sweden’s Chalmers Institute of Technology.

Science Daily reported in Organic food worse for the climate?

Organically farmed food has a bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed food, due to the greater areas of land required. This is the finding of a new international study involving Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, published in the journal Nature.
The researchers 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 show that organic food can result in much greater emissions.
“Our study shows that organic peas, farmed in Sweden, have around a 50 percent bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed peas. For some foodstuffs, there is an even bigger difference — for example, with organic Swedish winter wheat the difference is closer to 70 percent,” says Stefan Wirsenius, an associate professor from Chalmers, and one of those responsible for the study.
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.
The ground-breaking aspect of the new study is the conclusion that this difference in land usage results in organic food causing a much larger climate impact.
“The greater land-use in organic farming leads indirectly to higher carbon dioxide emissions, thanks to deforestation,” explains 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.”
Even organic meat and dairy products are — from a climate point of view — worse than their conventionally produced equivalents, claims Stefan Wirsenius.
“Because organic meat and milk production uses organic feed-stock, it also requires more land than conventional production. This means that the findings on organic wheat and peas in principle also apply to meat and milk products. We have not done any specific calculations on meat and milk, however, and have no concrete examples of this in the article,” he explains.
A new metric: Carbon Opportunity Cost
The researchers used a new metric, which they call “Carbon Opportunity Cost,” to evaluate the effect of greater land-use contributing to higher carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation. This metric takes into account the amount of carbon that is stored in forests, and thus released as carbon dioxide as an effect of deforestation. The study is among the first in the world to make use of this metric…. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181213101308.htm

Citation:

Organic food worse for the climate?
Date: December 13, 2018
Source: Chalmers University of Technology
Summary:
Organically farmed food has a bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed food, due to the greater areas of land required, a new study finds.
Journal Reference:
Timothy D. Searchinger, Stefan Wirsenius, Tim Beringer, Patrice Dumas. Assessing the efficiency of changes in land use for mitigating climate change. Nature, 2018; 564 (7735): 249 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0757-z

Here is the press release from Chalmers Institute of Technology:

PUBLIC RELEASE: 13-DEC-2018
Organic food worse for the climate
Organically farmed food has a bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed food, due to the greater areas of land required. This is the finding of a new international study, published in the journal Nature
CHALMERS UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY
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Organically farmed food has a bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed food, due to the greater areas of land required. This is the finding of a new international study involving Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, published in the journal Nature.
The researchers 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 show that organic food can result in much greater emissions.
“Our study shows that organic peas, farmed in Sweden, have around a 50 percent bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed peas. For some foodstuffs, there is an even bigger difference – for example, with organic Swedish winter wheat the difference is closer to 70 percent,” says Stefan Wirsenius, an associate professor from Chalmers, and one of those responsible for the study.
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.
The ground-breaking aspect of the new study is the conclusion that this difference in land usage results in organic food causing a much larger climate impact.
“The greater land-use in organic farming leads indirectly to higher carbon dioxide emissions, thanks to deforestation,” explains 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.”
Even organic meat and dairy products are – from a climate point of view – worse than their conventionally produced equivalents, claims Stefan Wirsenius.
“Because organic meat and milk production uses organic feed-stock, it also requires more land than conventional production. This means that the findings on organic wheat and peas in principle also apply to meat and milk products. We have not done any specific calculations on meat and milk, however, and have no concrete examples of this in the article,” he explains.
A new metric: Carbon Opportunity Cost
The researchers used a new metric, which they call “Carbon Opportunity Cost”, to evaluate the effect of greater land-use contributing to higher carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation. This metric takes into account the amount of carbon that is stored in forests, and thus released as carbon dioxide as an effect of deforestation. The study is among the first in the world to make use of this metric.
“The fact that more land use leads to greater climate impact has not often been taken into account in earlier comparisons between organic and conventional food,” says Stefan Wirsenius. “This is a big oversight, because, as our study shows, this effect can be many times bigger than the greenhouse gas effects, which are normally included. It is also serious because today in Sweden, we have politicians whose goal is to increase production of organic food. If that goal is implemented, the climate influence from Swedish food production will probably increase a lot.”
So why have earlier studies not taken into account land-use and its relationship to carbon dioxide emissions?
“There are surely many reasons. An important explanation, I think, is simply an earlier lack of good, easily applicable methods for measuring the effect. Our new method of measurement allows us to make broad environmental comparisons, with relative ease,” says Stefan Wirsenius.
The results of the study are published in the article “Assessing the efficiency of changes in land use for mitigating climate change” in the journal Nature. The article is written by Timothy Searchinger, Princeton University, Stefan Wirsenius, Chalmers University of Technology, Tim Beringer, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, and Patrice Dumas, Cired.
More on: The consumer perspective
Stefan Wirsenius notes that the findings do not mean that conscientious consumers should simply switch to buying non-organic food. “The type of food is often much more important. For example, eating organic beans or organic chicken is much better for the climate than to eat conventionally produced beef,” he says. “Organic food does have several advantages compared with food produced by conventional methods,” he continues. “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.”
For consumers who want to contribute to the positive aspects of organic food production, without increasing their climate impact, an effective way is to focus instead on the different impacts of different types of meat and vegetables in our diet. Replacing beef and lamb, as well as hard cheeses, with vegetable proteins such as beans, has the biggest effect. Pork, chicken, fish and eggs also have a substantially lower climate impact than beef and lamb.
See also earlier press release from 24 February 2016: Better technology could take agriculture halfway towards climate targets https://www.mynewsdesk.com/uk/chalmers/pressreleases/better-technology-could-take-agriculture-halfway-towards-climate-targets-1325077
More on: The conflict between different environmental goals
In organic farming, no fertilisers are used. The goal is to use resources like energy, land and water in a long-term, sustainable way. Crops are primarily nurtured through nutrients present in the soil. The main aims are greater biological diversity and a balance between animal and plant sustainability. Only naturally derived pesticides are used.
The arguments for organic food focus on consumers’ health, animal welfare, and different aspects of environmental policy. There is good justification for these arguments, but at the same time, there is a lack of scientific evidence to show that organic food is in general healthier and more environmentally friendly than conventionally farmed food, according to the National Food Administration of Sweden and others. The variation between farms is big, with the interpretation differing depending on what environmental goals one prioritises. At the same time, current analysis methods are unable to fully capture all aspects.
The authors of the study now claim that organically farmed food is worse for the climate, due to bigger land use. For this argument they use statistics from the Swedish Board of Agriculture on the total production in Sweden, and the yields per hectare for organic versus conventional farming for the years 2013-2015.
Source (in Swedish): https://www.jordbruksverket.se/webdav/files/SJV/Amnesomraden/Statistik,%20fakta/Vegetabilieproduktion/JO14/JO14SM1801/JO14SM1801_ikortadrag.htm

HRF lists the pros and cons of organic farming:

Here Are the Pros of Organic Farming
Many people don’t actually realize that organic farming is just as much about the soil that is used to grow crops and livestock as it is about the final result that is on their dinner table. Organic methods help to keep soil nutrient-rich, allowing for continued cycles of land productivity. This is achieved through crop rotation, natural fertilization methods, and chemical-free care.
Because there are no chemicals used in the process of organic farming, the nutritional content of the foods being produced are often higher. The micro-nutrients that the combination of rich soil and a lack of chemicals provides can lead to a much better standard of health. This is because chemicals often caused produce to mature faster, thereby eliminating many of the nutrients that the natural ripening process would create.
Here Are the Cons of Organic Farming
The primary reason why people choose not to consume organic foods is the cost. Organic foods are often 20% higher in cost, if not more, and many families simply cannot afford that additional burden. The reason why costs are higher is because organic foods create a lower overall ratio of production. Most organic products are not as resistant to heat or a lack of water, meaning that a bad season will create a very low yield.
Organic foods are also not always available because they are grown in season instead of through artificial methods. Though this issue is reduced thanks to the current global transportation network of food products, some foods simply aren’t available except for a specific time during the season. This lack of demand causes people to then sometimes abandon that type of food for something else they love that is available year-round…. https://healthresearchfunding.org/organic-farming-pros-cons/

The key question regarding organic production is whether it is sustainable.

Nancy Bazilchuk wrote in the Science Nordic article, How sustainable is organic food?
Organic food is romanticized

Arne Grønlund, senior scientist at the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO), believes that the romantic view of organic food production as something natural is simply wrong.
“This perception gives the consumer a false impression. Organic food production appears to be natural, and consumers see as positive,” he says. “But what the consumer doesn’t think about is that agriculture is in no way natural. Food produced using agricultural means is not produced in harmony with nature, whether it is grown by organic or conventional methods….” http://sciencenordic.com/how-sustainable-organic-food

Whether policymakers move from the romantic to reality remains a question.

Resources:

Organic foods: Are they safer? More nutritious? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/organic-food/art-20043880

Organic Foods: What You Need to Know: The Benefits and Basics of Organic Food and How to Keep It Affordable                                               https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/organic-foods.htm

How College Students Are Being Misled About ‘Sustainable’ Agriculture https://www.nationalreview.com/2017/05/organic-farming-not-sustainable/

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