Monday, May 29, 2017

Two Recent Articles That Show Some Of The Problems With Organics

Organic food is great business, but a bad investment by Bjorn Lomborg. Excerpts:
"Back in 2012, Stanford University’s Center for Health Policy did the largest comparison of four decades worth of research comparing organic and regular food. They expected to find evidence that organics were nutritionally superior. Their conclusion: “Despite the widespread perception that organically produced foods are more nutritious than conventional alternatives, we did not find robust evidence to support this perception.”

A brand new review this year shows the same thing: “Results of scientific studies do not show that organic products are more nutritious and safer than conventional foods.” (that is from an article that was published in the journal Cogent Food & Agriculture with some of the authors being professors of food science)."

"Yes, organic farming will mean that in one field, a farmer will use less energy, create fewer greenhouse gases and have less nitrogen leaking.

But consider the bigger picture. Organic farming is much, much less efficient than regular old farming. Our farmer needs more fields to grow the same amount of produce. Not just because going organic means less fertilizer and more bugs and pests, but also because the land needs to lie empty or be planted with legumes to rebuild fertility between crop cycles.

A big study in Europe found that to produce the same gallon of milk organically, you need 59% more land. To produce meat, you need 82% more land, and for crops, it is more than 200%. That adds up to a lot of forest and nature being turned into farms for people in Portland, Ore., or Providence, R.I., to feel better about their choices at the supermarket.

If U.S. agricultural production were entirely organic, it would mean we'd need to convert an area bigger than the size of California to farmland. It is the same as eradicating all parklands and wild lands in the lower 48 states.

Moreover, by eating something organic, you are actually responsible for about as many greenhouse gas emissions as if you had chosen a regular product. Those are the gases that cause global warming. And organic products mean more of some other bad environmental things: about 10% more nitrous oxide, ammonia and acidification, while contributing almost 50% more to nitrogen leaching.

At least going organic means that we avoid nasty pesticides, right? Wrong. Organic farming can use any so-called natural pesticide. This even includes copper sulfate, which Cornell University describes as “highly toxic to fish” even at recommended rates, and which has caused liver disease in France. Or Pyrethrin, which is “extremely toxic to fish," “highly toxic to bees”, and has been linked to an increase in leukemia among farmers.

Of course, conventional, non-organic foods carry a higher risk of pesticide contamination. Rough calculations suggest that all the pesticides used in America could cause about 20 extra cancer deaths per year. You have a similar chance each year of being mauled to death by a cow.

Compare this with the deaths from going organic. If the entire USA were fed on organic produce, it would cost $200 billion more annually. This is money we couldn’t spend on things that matter. When a nation becomes $15 million poorer, research shows that it costs one statistical life. For example, people who are worse off are less likely to pay for a doctor’s visit. What this means is that going fully organic would kill more than 13,000 people each year."

See Your organic cotton t-shirt might be worse for the environment than regular cotton by Marc Bain of qz. Excerpt:
"One major reason, as various speakers pointed out at a May 23 panel held by Cotton Inc., a research group that serves the cotton industry, is that conventional cotton varieties have a higher yield, meaning a single plant will produce more fiber than its organic counterpart. That’s because conventional cotton has been genetically engineered for that purpose. In the past 35 years, cotton yields have risen 42% (pdf), largely due to biotechnology and better irrigation techniques.

Organic cotton, by definition, comes from plants that have not been genetically modified. Because of that difference, to get the same amount of fiber from an organic crop and a conventional crop, you’ll have to plant more organic plants, which means using more land. That land, of course, has to be tended and irrigated.

It will take you about 290 gallons of water to grow enough conventional, high-yield cotton to produce a t-shirt, according to Cotton Inc. To grow the same amount of organic cotton for a t-shirt, however, requires about 660 gallons of water. The disparity is similar for a pair of jeans. (It’s worth noting that Cotton Inc., a not-for-profit group, works to help boost the industry’s demand and profitability—though it insists any claim it makes must be vetted by its legal department and the US Department of Agriculture.)

It’s common to see the claim that organic cotton actually requires less water over time, in large part because soil with more carbon from organic matter stores water better. But generally a cotton plant requires the same amount of water whether it’s organic or not, and non-organic farmers also use plenty of methods to keep their soil healthy.

The main environmental concern with water use relates to irrigation, especially in countries such as India, struggling with water scarcity. But about half of cotton crops globally—organic and conventional—get their water from rainfall, according to Cotton Inc. The most water-efficient option is that rain-fed cotton, but there’s no way to know whether the cotton in the t-shirt you’re buying was that variety, or whether it required additional water.

What’s most important, according to Dr. Jesse Daystar, director of the center for sustainability and commerce at Duke University, is efficiency. “Organic, all-natural is not always better,” he said at the Cotton Inc. event. “It’s really about maximizing your product per amount of inputs.”

The lower yields of organic crops have even been linked to higher greenhouse-gas emissions on the industrial farms producing them. And how far cotton travels before it winds up in your closet should factor into the environmental equation too. India grows the great majority (pdf) of the world’s organic cotton, and the US is probably (pdf) the biggest organic-cotton consumer. Meanwhile, Sweden’s H&M, which manufactures much of its clothing in Asia, has been labeled its top user. (Of course, conventional cotton also can be—and often is—sold far from where it was grown.)

Where organic cotton may have an advantage is in using fewer chemicals. It still uses chemicals, just naturally derived ones, which advocates say are less harmful—though there’s some evidence to suggest that certain organic pesticides can be worse for the environment than conventional ones. But particular chemicals used in conventional farming have raised serious concerns, such as glyphosate, a widely used herbicide that’s the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller brand, which the World Health Organization has deemed a “probable carcinogen” based on studies of workers who used the product. (There’s no evidence to suggest that wearing clothing made from cotton grown with the chemical is harmful.)"

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