Is organic necessarily good?


The Economist has this article discussing the latest trends in ‘green’ foods like organic farming and buying local. I am regularly reminded of the article when I hear people advocating organic farming, etc.

If you look at the whole picture, organic farming is not as good as it seems.

  • Farming is bad for the environment – that is a given.
  • We need to minimize the impact of farming, but still feed the masses.
  • Organic farming is not nearly as efficient as that assisted (even responsibly) by synthetic fertilizers, genetic modification, etc
  • Therefore, unless you want people to starve, it is better to use more intensive (non-organic) farming methods
  • The alternative is to farm more land which would have disastrous impacts on the environment

For instance, the article points out that:

Global cereal production tripled between 1950 and 2000, but the amount of land used increased by only 10%. Using traditional techniques would have required a tripling of the area under cultivation.

It’s great that people are willing to make the effort to “go green”. But you have to look at the bigger picture when evaluating the impact of your actions.

  • Len

    How can it be considered a “given” that farming is bad for the environment? Perhaps certain farming practices, under specific conditions, may be detrimental to the environment, but most certainly not “farming”.

  • http://alistairpott.com alistair

    You could argue that by altering (in most cases significantly) the environment farming is bad for it.

    There may be “certain farming practices, under specific conditions” where farming may aid some parts of the environment (still questionable), but in general farming chews up environmental resources (space, nutrients, etc).

    Converting veld to farmland is bad for the environment.

  • Len

    You assume (probably erroneously) that ‘altering’ is equivalent to ‘bad’. If that is your definition of ‘bad’ then obviously you must be correct. If however, environmentally bad is defined in terms of nett CO2, or soil nutrition or some other method, then my original criticism still stands….it is not a given. Incidentally, all humans also chew up resources (space, nutrients, etc) so are all humans also bad?

  • http://alistairpott.com alistair

    Humans are indeed bad for the environment (in general)! It all comes down to how you define what is good/bad for the environment.

    I still believe that in general (using most broader definitions of good/bad) farming is detrimental to the environment.

    Besides, this isn’t the point of the blog article. Even if farming is not necessarily bad for the environment (I still say that in general it is), organic farming is not necessarily good, and in fact in the long run is probably bad (depends on definitions of good/bad).

  • Pingback: Eating local doesn’t help the environment much | alistair.pott

  • http://witnessthis.wordpress.com Galen

    Give me a mutated tomatoe the size of a grapefruit anyday! :o )

  • http://witnessthis.wordpress.com Galen

    Give me a mutated tomatoe the size of a grapefruit anyday! :o )