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Is organic farming the future Hummer of the eco movement?

onyxruby (118189) writes | about a year and a half ago

5

onyxruby writes "Organic farming has caught on as a popular means of claiming to be eco friendly. With a relatively low personal cost (just pay twice as much at the checkout) and claimed health benefits it has become a popular option for those who can afford it. However is this simple green washing?

Researchers at Stanford University reviewed 200 studies and found health benefits to largely be anecdotal. Chensheng Lu with Standford University was asked to pick if one was healthier than the other, "Right now I think it's all based on anecdotal evidence".

With a world population that has already hit 7 billion people, finding cropland to feed the worlds masses is no small matter. Organic yields are substantially lower than conventional yields and the only way to obtain additional farmland it to take wildlands. According to Dr. Steve Savage who did the first comprehensive study of organic farming for the USDA in 2008 simply converting the United States alone to organic standards would require substantial additional cropland.

a switch to organic agriculture would require a 43 percent increase over current U.S. cropland, according to Savage. As he puts it, "On a land-area basis, this additional area would be 97% the physical size of Spain or 71% the size of Texas

The first comprehensive studies of organic farming coming back saying that the health benefits are anecdotal and the loss of yield substantial. I'm inclined to call organic farming the Hummer of the Eco movement, to be held in contempt as exposed as simple green washing. I think in years to come it will be looked at no differently than ethanol from corn. Can anyone make a good argument against this?"
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5 comments

Qualification of the Stanford researchers (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about a year and a half ago | (#41219753)

I am very familiar with farming, and I know what kind of feedstock they use to feed the farm animals in farm factories

For example:

Do you know anything about Bone and Meat Meal?

Google it if you don't

They feed farm animals - from chickens to sheep to cows - all kinds of "proteins", even that from ground up animal carcasses - to fatten the animals for slaughter

Have you heard of "Mad Cow Disease"?

Google it if you don't

Do you know how "Mad Cow Disease" spread?

You guess it, the Bone and Meat Meals that they feed the animals

And right now, as we speak, the global trade of Bone and Meat Meal business amounts to tens of Billions - and most importantly, they feed ALL ANIMALS that stuffs - and who knows?

Maybe someone already got infected with Mad Cow Disease by consuming chicken meat that was fattened with Bone and Meat Meal, which contains carcasses of diseased mad cow

Re:Qualification of the Stanford researchers (1)

onyxruby (118189) | about a year and a half ago | (#41221295)

I actually know very little about farming and nothing about Bone and Meat meal. I can't say that I'm a fan of the practice you describe, or that I know better one way or another. I'm on only my second year ever of planting gardens, and both years I made my gardens 'organic' to avoid my own use of pesticides.

I have been following organic foods more this year after watching with interest how some things did well in my 'organic' garden and some things were completely killed by bugs. In order to bring context to the possible issue of green washing (I still had ethanol on my mind from another article a few days before) I followed on the yield issue to see if that was also relevant. I knew the yields were lower for organic crops, I just didn't realize how much lower. I found a good a news article and study and linked those with for the story submission to bring context.

For personal gardens I still think organic is best, for commercial scale farming it looks like it isn't scalable for what is essentially a luxury. At least with the vegetarian argument that cows take more land than vegetables you can make the counter-point that cows often use land that doesn't work well for crops. My point is that organic farming (vs gardens) isn't sustainable at scale and is a luxury that I see as green washing.

I know only a little about the subject, I'm not trolling, the question is quite sincere.

Organic is not just about health (1)

scotjam (1876182) | about a year and a half ago | (#41219937)

While Taco Cowboy's arguments about the horrible stuff they feed animals are important to note, it's also important to note that non-organic agriculture involves using fertilizers and pesticides that pollute the environment, killing the organisms that naturally regenerate the fertility of the soil, as well as processes that lead to desertification, algal bloom and other disruptions to natural ecosystems.

So in fact many well-informed people who eat organic food, do so to preserve the environment, and consider non-organic agriculture to be the "Hummer" of the farming world.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_agriculture [wikipedia.org]

Re:Organic is not just about health (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | about a year and a half ago | (#41220533)

Isn't that just the flip-side of the claim that due to the low-density of organic agriculture, it requries much more deforestation (aka destruction of the environment) in order to produce equal amounts of food? Seems like a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.

I recall reading how universities in brazil are genetically engineering plants from africa in to grow on land that is otherwise inhospitable because they've run out of farmland - its either cut down the amazon or grow gm-crops on "bandlands" (which are part of their own ecosystem too, just one that doesn't seem to be quite as important in the big scheme of things as rainforest is).

Re:Organic is not just about health (1)

onyxruby (118189) | about a year and a half ago | (#41221457)

I believe these people to be well intentioned, however I believe their efforts and money are being misplaced and would be better spent in other directions. I am making the argument that organic foods produced at scale are not sustainable. I think the loss of bio-diversity from additional land loss is enough to counter the damage from pesticides - it's a lesser of two evils situation.

Organic farming isn't really green because it significantly more land for the same yield. I have already provide my citation for that.

The problem is that in order to get the farmland for this you have to take wild-lands. This is already a significant issue with the Amazon rain forest being the hardest hit area at a significant scale already. I found one site from Cornell that did a study that found that this amounts to 491.8 x 10^5 ha/year [umich.edu] . While logging is often done when it can be, farmland if often the primary motivating factor.

Deforestation also has a Carbon impact:

By our calculations, if the Brazilian Amazon had suffered no deforestation our atmosphere would contain 0.397 Pg C/year + (26 years (18.9 x 10^5ha/year (1.65 pgC/year /648.5 x 10^5 ha))) = 1.65Pg less carbon per year.

Where do people think additional farmland is going to come from? They aren't making new farmland and we aren't in the habit of tearing down cities to plant rows of corn the last I checked.

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