A fair comparison of organic and conventional farming requires improved methods

The environmental impact of food and agriculture is intensively discussed. A com-mon method to assess these environmental impacts, including climate change, is life cycle analysis (LCA). Several studies based on this method conclude that organic agriculture is worse for the climate than conventional agriculture, due to lower yield and hence greater land use per unit of food. This gives a faulty picture, according to three researchers who have analysed a wide range of LCA studies in a recent report. They found that LCAstudies often give too narrow a view of agricultural systems and miss out on important benefits of organic agriculture. Previous studies have found that organic plantations host 30% greater biodiversity than conventional. Moreover, organic management promotes soil fertility due to crop rotation and nutrient recycling, and does not use any pesticides. These effects are not taken into account in many LCA studies, which results in an unbalanced picture of the environmental performance of different agricultural systems that may in turn result in bad political and societal decisions. 

Another problematic aspect is when hypothetical “indirect effects” are in-cluded in the studies. As an example, it is often assumed in LCA studies that the total consumption of meat will remain unchanged if there is a shift to organic production. Thus, it is not taken into consideration that consumers that are motivated to buy organic meat for ethical and environmental reasons are likely to consume less meat. More knowledge of this kind of consumer behaviour is needed. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-020-0489-6

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