Food is labelled as “organic” if it’s made without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, as well as limited antibiotics [1,2,9]. Does this make it better for you, the environment, and farmers?
Is it HEALTHIER? Some studies say organic food contains more Vitamin C and Omega 3 [3,4,14], but others say there is little difference [5,14]. Organic crops use “natural” pesticides ; these are not always safer than synthetic alternatives [6,14].
Is it better for the ENVIRONMENT? On some metrics it is, but on some not . Organic crops grow less well, so it takes more land to produce the same amount of food . Given agriculture takes up 50% of the world’s habitable land , we want to grow as much as possible on the land we already use .
What about GREENHOUSE GAS emissions ? This is important because agriculture is responsible for about 25% of emissions . Here, there is no clear winner. On average, organic fruit causes less emissions than non-organic, whilst for other food either can be better .
ENERGY use is generally lower with organic methods . Although organic vegetables use more energy, organic versions of other foods use less . This is much less important than land use and emissions, however, since agriculture accounts for only 2% of global energy use .
FARMERS are affected by a mix of aspects that they have to weigh based on their needs . They can sell their produce for a higher price, and can be healthier due to not being exposed to chemicals [15,16]. This comes at the cost of more manual labour .
So, our research suggests that on average non-organic food is better for the environment because it is less land-intensive, with the exception of fruit . Some aspects of organic farming are really useful though. E.g. planting a mixture of crops in every field is better for the soil and protects from disease [18,19,20], increasing production by an average of 38% !
In the end, the best type of farming will vary between places and crops, and will involve a mixture of methods, some organic, some not [14,17,19].
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