Know your organic food_1

Demand is booming for organic food. From 2013 to 2018, sales increased nearly 53 percent to almost $48 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association. That sounds like good news for the environment, but is it really? The first thing to bear in mind is that agriculture, in general, is responsible for a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. Some organic farming practices, like crop rotation and the use of cover crops, additional plants that can help control erosion and pests, help keep nitrous oxide emissions in check. That’s because they promote healthy soil, and healthy soil releases less nitrous oxide....
Demand is booming for organic food. From 2013 to 2018, sales increased nearly 53 percent to almost $48 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association. That sounds like good news for the environment, but is it really?

The first thing to bear in mind is that agriculture, in general, is responsible for a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.

Some organic farming practices, like crop rotation and the use of cover crops, additional plants that can help control erosion and pests, help keep nitrous oxide emissions in check. That’s because they promote healthy soil, and healthy soil releases less nitrous oxide.

Other practices, though, like tilling the soil to get rid of weeds (instead of spraying chemicals), have the opposite effect. Tilling encourages nitrous oxide emissions. Moreover, because it typically produces less food per acre, organic farming tends to need more land, workers and organic fertilizer to stay competitive. That larger scale means larger greenhouse gas emissions.

“Large organic retailers rely on cheap organic foods and, in order to produce organics cheaply, you oftentimes operate under the same model as industrial agriculture where you try to reduce costs, and for that you need more inputs, which contributes to more greenhouse gas emissions,” said Julius McGee, an assistant professor of sociology at Portland State University.

Regardless of whether they have an organic certificate, Dr. McGee said, small farmers tend to have a lower carbon footprint because they “engage in a deeper relationship with the farm and the land.”

Not everybody agrees. Rodale Institute, a nonprofit group that promotes organic farming, argues that some of these studies fail to properly measure how much planet-warming carbon dioxide the soil can absorb when it is cultivated using sustainable methods. Rodale estimates that organic farmland can potentially sequester more carbon than is currently emitted.

The bottom line: Over all, organic food is probably better for the planet, even if the emissions picture is complex. If you can afford to buy organic, try to go small and local.

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