617 views 14 commentslast update:6 Aug 2012

Going Organic is a dead-end street

Dick Ziggers
There are some who would have to you believe that to stop global warming we all need to go organic or stop eating animal products. The fact that 85% more land is needed and 25% extra energy for organic production doesn't seem to matter.

The 7th of July was a very special day as it was dedicated to "Live Earth" day. Instigated by former US vice-president and now global warming activist Al Gore, apparently more than two billion people viewed the performance of hundreds of singers and music bands on stages all over the world.
 
The basic idea was to create awareness among the general public on global warming and what you as an individual can do about it. I watched a great deal of the day and enjoyed the music.
I also watched the video clips that were broadcasted during the breaks and I was a bit amazed on how biased these were. Apparently the solution for stopping global warming is either to go organic or to stop eating animal products. According to some analysts, animals contribute more to global warming than passenger vehicles do. This because of the feed they eat and the gas and manure they produce. (Some years ago New Zealand wanted to install a "fart-tax" to reduce methane production by ruminants).
 
Organic is a dead end street
The animal industry is aware of their impact on global warming and has begun paying much more attention to the sustainability of feed production. However, going organic is not the right solution. The fact that 85% more land is needed to produce the same amount of organic as ordinary food, while 25% more energy may be needed as well, makes it an unrealistic option.
 
If you read the article "Organic farming can feed the world" it makes you believe that organic is even better than current agricultural practices. Why isn't it practised then? What the scientist do not calculate is that if we want to keep the same food supply but produce it organic, all animals have to roam outside. Just think of the land that is needed for that. Or do they all want us to become vegetarians?
 
Politics and food safety issues also hamper sustainable feed (and food) production. Feeding animal based proteins to other animals has been severely restricted in Europe; there is really no alternative to soy there. Much of the soy produced in Latin America (the main supplier) is GMO soy, but it is difficult to see how GMO's can be reconciled with sustainability. There seems to be something of a contradiction there.
 
On the other hand many consumers in the EU (and this is an increasing trend) buy products containing GMO ingredients, largely because they cost less than those that do not. In the end consumers will have to decide how far they are prepared to go regarding the matter of GMO's and not the politicians or the action groups. In the long term consumers are better off with unbiased scientific information.

14 comments

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    eric

    ? organic takes 85% more land to produce the same food as conventional? you are in outer space friend.

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    Ron Riley

    I do not think that organic is a "dead-end street", however, it is no panacea. The key is sustainability and quality. This is where the concepts of local and "organic" seem to have the advantage. In my opinion the problem with our current approach to producing food is that it is too dependent on government policy and therefore is subject to blowing in the political wind.

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    Roger

    We produce organic sheep and beef on exactly the same size pasture as our neighbours (non-organic) pasture and in the same quantity, where the 85% extra comes from I've no idea but it is not true in New Zealand

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    chris

    The market for organic products in Europe is by far bigger then the few GMO products you can find on european shelves. If people consume raw material products such as milk eggs and meat coming from animals fed with gmos, the consumers have no idea as the products don't have to be labeled as such.

    I can't see any sign of unbiased information in your article.

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    Mike Spandern

    The challenge ist to take the holistic calucaltion and not just single fragments of the supply chain.
    Oil will be empty soon and we have to considder a more effective nutrient circulation.
    To produce and consume regional and seasonal products is more effective than shipping organic grains or meats around the world.

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    shaun

    Wake up you lot, if you moved all the intensive farmed animals outside so they become organic you would need the extra 85% land area

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    Dave

    Having worked on several organic farms in the US I can say with certainty that your estimates are way off! Integrative organic farming that includes livestock in crop rotations produces healthier animals, crops, and importantly soil with far less disease and pest/weed problems - and importantly lower input costs to the grower. The reason this isn't practiced more is a simple matter of good marketing by ag chemical producers and their influence in ag education. But the tide is turning as organic popularity in many markets is surging and people become more aware of the 'downstream' effect of chemical agriculture.

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    Jim Snyder

    Been in the ag business for over 30 years Dick and have worked coast to coast. I can tell you from personal experience from working with major agri-business and organic folks too that you are way off on this article. Organic and locally produced food is the future if for no other reason than the energy crisis and high oil prices. I am also a small farmer and have switched to 100% organic as it is cheaper to farm this way and also more profitable. Makes sense to me!
    Jim

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    Dick Ziggers

    Of course I have expected the reactions as published below, but still no one has convinced me that with an organic system we can maintain the same (omnivorous) food supply that we have now. Where is the space to have all the pigs and chicken to roam around organically? And what about the extra billion people that need to be fed in the coming 25 years? I am not so way off as many say. If you have a city of 10 million people - and there are many around in this world - how will you supply them with organic food, without turning them all into vegetarians? Furthermore, when an organic system has been established it will quickly loose its extra margins, because there is no premium to be gained anymore. If organic is standard, profits disappear. As a result production needs to be upscaled and intensified.

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    dr.balaguru

    85% more land ? really shocking to me as we are convinced (slowly?) about organic farming.
    who knows ... mars /jupiter would be the target for extra land.

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    Dr. Manjunath L. M

    I do agree with you. Organic farming may be possible, but may not be viable economically. If we talk about the impact of animal agriculture on global warming, there are several ways and means to reduce the emissions of green house gases from these animals. They are all scientifically proven and it would be ideal to adopt to such proven methods to support the global warming while supporting the global demand for protein from animal sources. Demand for Milk and milk products are growing at a steady speed which can not be compensated through any other means. To produce the milk to meet the demand, we need to grow the required number of cows. Once we grow the cows, whether it feeds on grass or feed, it produces methane which can not be avoided. only thing, which we can do is to reduce the emisson rates through some methods.

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    Jim Snyder

    2 excellent articles to read that tells the real unbiased story about organic farming for building organic matter over no-till and increased profit potential of organic farming. Check out the USDA ARS website for:

    http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2007/070710.htm

    http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2006/060725.htm

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    Dr Raju

    Quantity and quality of food have varied importance in different parts of the world. Ensuring enough food supplies to the whole world with the exitsting inputs/resources would be more prudent, particularly in the days to come.
    If organically produced food has consumed similar amount of inputs, why is it sold at premium ?
    Quailty of food has to be aimed at without compromising on quantity.

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    Steve Kopperud

    As a U.S. advocate for animal agriculture, the key to maintaining our ability to feed animal protein to an ever-growing population is innovation and the embracing of technologies that allow farmers and ranchers to raise animals sustainably and humanely, while maintaining the efficiencies of production that allow producers to stay on the land. In the U.S. we're beginning to question why we, as an industry, are being asked to retreat from our technology, as though science in the barnyard is automatically bad. Activists demand we give up housing, animal medicines, and more, all in the name of organic, natural, holistic, etc. Unfortunately, the food policy debate in his country is driven by those who can afford, should they choose, to pay two or three times the price of conventionally produced meat, poultry, dairy, etc. This leaves about 90% of the American consumer out of the discussion, and these are the folks who must make day-to-day decisions on food purchasing based more on their ability to pay than on the warm, fuzzy feeling an organic shopper gets from toting their bag of inexplicably expensive foods. A quick check of reality in North America tells us we don't have the open land to grow animals extensively or to shift to plant-based diets -- two thirds of the U.S. won't support crop farming. The answer: Embrace responsible technology, produce for whatever market you wish, but do so with the understanding that price drives the food decisions for the vast majority of consumers.

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