Organic is only one ingredient in recipe for sustainable food future

March 10, 2017
Credit: University of British Columbia

Many people choose organic thinking it's better for humans and the planet, but a new UBC study published in Science Advances finds that might not always be the case.

"Organic is often proposed a holy grail solution to current environmental and food scarcity problems, but we found that the costs and benefits will vary heavily depending on the context," said Verena Seufert, a researcher at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES).

In their study, Seufert and her co-author Navin Ramankutty, Canada Research Chair in Global Environmental Change and Food Security at UBC, analyzed organic crop farming across 17 criteria such as yield, impact on climate change, farmer livelihood and consumer health.

It is the first study to systematically review the scientific literature on the environmental and socioeconomic performance of organic farming, not only assessing where previous studies agree and disagree, but also identifying the conditions leading to good or bad performance of organic agriculture.

Take two factors that are top of mind for many consumers: synthetic pesticide use and nutritional benefits of organic. Seufert and Ramankutty argue that in countries like Canada where pesticide regulations are stringent and diets are rich in micronutrients, the health benefits of choosing organic may be marginal.

"But in a developing country where pesticide use is not carefully regulated and people are micronutrient deficient, we think that the benefits for consumer and farm worker health may be much higher," said Ramankutty, professor at IRES and the Liu Institute for Global Issues at UBC.

Another important measure of the sustainability of farming systems is the yield of a crop. To date, most studies have compared the costs and benefits of organic and conventional farms of the same size, which does not account for differences in yield.

Previous research has shown that on average, the yield of an organic crop is 19 to 25 per cent lower than under conventional management, and Seufert and Ramankutty find that many of the environmental benefits of organic agriculture diminish once lower yields are accounted for.

"While an organic farm may be better for things like biodiversity, farmers will need more land to grow the same amount of food," said Seufert. "And land conversion for agriculture is the leading contributor to habitat loss and ."

While their findings suggest that organic alone cannot create a sustainable food future, they conclude that it still has an important role to play. Organic is one way that consumers have control over and knowledge of how their food is produced since it is the only farming system regulated in law.

"We need to stop thinking of organic and conventional agriculture as two ends of the spectrum. Instead, consumers should demand better practices for both so that we can achieve the world's needs in a sustainable way," said Seufert.

Explore further: Shedding light on debate over organic vs. conventional agriculture: Study calls for combining best of both approaches

More information: "Many shades of gray—The context-dependent performance of organic agriculture," Science Advances (2017). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1602638

www.thinglink.com/scene/891393453231964160

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humy
2.8 / 5 (8) Mar 11, 2017
The organic food philosophy is irrational and is a religion nothing to do with real science.
You and I are made of 100% chemicals and the food we eat, 'organic' or not, is made of 100% chemicals.
All food is entirely made of molecules and every molecule has a chemical formula therefore is a chemical therefore all food is made 100% of chemicals.

There is no rational distinction between 'natural' and 'unnatural' chemicals since all chemicals found in nature can be synthesized in the lab.

Many chemicals found in nature are among the most toxic chemicals known and have even sometimes been used in warfare and many manufactured chemicals are less toxic than soap.
etc etc. -need I go on?

I say this as a person with real environmental concerns but assert the organic food philosophy is harmful pseudoscientific nonsense that would just get in the way of doing anything good about pollution, global warming, etc.
antialias_physorg
3.5 / 5 (6) Mar 11, 2017
There is no rational distinction between 'natural' and 'unnatural' chemicals since all chemicals found in nature

Not really.

Many chemicals found in nature are among the most toxic chemicals known

And that's the point in organic. Humans are evolved to tolerate a certain mix of chemicals (those taht occur at certain concentrations naturally in anture). When we start dumping chemicals into our system at concentrations that aren't found like that in nature (be it sugars, color additives or whatever) then our bodies aren't equipped to handle this. the results are adverse effects (from inflammation reaction sto obesity to allergies...and in extreme cases: death)

The 'organic philosophy' is to give our bodies what it's adapted to handle. Nothing more, nothing less. Instaed if stuffing it with things that are "probably not bad for us - but who knows?" That's an approach that has rarely turned out to be beneficial.

humy
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 11, 2017
Not really.

So what is the rational distinction between "natural" and "unnatural" chemicals that have identical chemical formula? Is H2O made in a lab "unnatural" and, if so, why is it more harmful than "natural" H2O as a result?

Many chemicals found in nature are among the most toxic chemicals known

... Humans are evolved to tolerate a certain mix of chemicals (those taht occur at certain concentrations naturally in nanture).
...
The 'organic philosophy' is to give our bodies what it's adapted to handle. Nothing more, nothing less.


Rubbish; we are NOT adapted to handle many of the toxic chemicals in nature at naturally found concentrations found in nature.
Examples of that are from the bite of the most deadly snakes and spiders, especially the rare ones because we couldn't have evolved any special resistance to the bite.

So if that is the 'organic philosophy', it is a load of crap.
humy
3 / 5 (2) Mar 11, 2017
and what about the non-toxic manufactured chemicals that we didn't specifically evolve to deal with but are non-toxic nevertheless? Why should we reject such chemicals? Whether we specifically evolve to deal with it is not relevant; how toxic thus how harmful they are is all that is relevant here.

If you were bitten by a deadly snake and you had a choice of either taking a synthetic antidote that would save you or not taking it and dying, would you choose the latter arguing that because humans may have evolved to deal with a certain amount of snake poison but humans didn't specifically evolve to take any synthetic antidote, the 'organic philosophy' says synthetic antidote is "unnatural" and snake poison is "natural" and we may have adapted to some of that "natural" poison and "natural" is "good" and "unnatural" is "bad" so it is better to choose the latter i.e. to die because "natural" is "good"?

Rabies is also "natural" and a cure for it may be "unnatural" thus "good".
humy
5 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2017
one flaw in the 'organic philosophy' is assuming "natural" equates with "good" and "unnatural" equates with "bad"; this is evidently and obviously false and one only has to point to one example of something that is "natural" and "bad" (rabies will do) and one example of something that is "unnatural" and "good" (biosynthetic insulin will do) to logically prove it.
SiaoX
5 / 5 (3) Mar 11, 2017
I'm not big fan of GMO food and terra-forming experiments in the name of better future of human civilization - but IMO the belief that only organic agriculture is sustainable is just biased in the opposite way. Each harvest removes minerals from soil, which must be replenished with fertilizers soon or later - in organic agriculture or without it. The common weakness of these ideologies is, they neglect subtle impacts, which dissolve in mainstream until they become significant once their scale grows. For example the idea of "self-sustainable" urban planting the spiruline and farming tilapias in plastic vessels at rooftops may look well until we calculate, how much plastic, water and human time would be consumed in this way, if it would really replace the normal food production. The growth of human civilization has no simple answers and straightforward solutions and the balance of attitudes should be primary approach here.
cantdrive85
3 / 5 (2) Mar 11, 2017
but IMO the belief that only organic agriculture is sustainable is just biased in the opposite way. Each harvest removes minerals from soil, which must be replenished with fertilizers soon or later - in organic agriculture or without it.

IMO you are just ignorant. Crop rotation solves these issues. The myopic claims shown by humy and Siao see the issue from a childlike POV. Where they can't see the problems beyond the reach of short timescales and their inability to understand what "sustainability" actually means.
SiaoX
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 11, 2017
Crop rotation solves these issues
But how it adds the minerals and nitrogen into the soil? The crop rotation did work in medieval times, when the yield of corn was about five tons per hectare area. Under such a situation the dissolving of minerals from soil and the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen with roots of plants had been fast enough for to compensate the mineral lost from soil with harvest. But today's yields are ten times higher! We would need ten times larger area or soil due to lower yield and this factor should be multiply by three or four for to involve the necessary crop rotation. Could we really afford the agriculture production at thirty-times larger area of soil? How much of water we would need for its irrigation? How much more of gasoline or diesel oil we would need for its harvesting? The "renewable" ideologies are mostly ideologies of people, who just cannot calculate.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2017
The "renewable" ideologies are mostly ideologies of people, who just cannot calculate.

As I said, myopic childlike POV where timescales of individual harvests are of the only concern. Sustainability is about generational timescales and practices that don't ruin the soil. Organic yields are more as bountiful given the proper relation to the big picture. Also, your claims of 30 times more area is just complete nonsense. I'd expect more from you Zephyr.
SiaoX
5 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2017
I just explained you, that the extensive agriculture is actually the least environmentally friendly one. It's like the burning the trees for fuel - a seemingly sustainable approach at paper, but an ecological disaster in fact. IMO the intensification trend cannot be already reversed due to population explosion and what we need under current situation isn't the organic agriculture - but actually even more intensive one. I mean such an intensive, it would allow us less or more complete recycling of minerals, mostly phosphorus from crops. Today not only the phosphorus from food isn't recycled, but large amount of phosphorus gets washed out to the rivers and the sea, where it becomes source of another environmental problems. The hydroponic-like agriculture in closed water circle would spare us the problems with washing out minerals and pesticides from soil.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (2) Mar 11, 2017
IMO the intensification trend cannot be already reversed due to population explosion and what we need under current situation isn't the organic agriculture - but actually even more intensive one.

Herein lies another falsehood, to suggest factory farming will save us. The nutritional value of such food is nonexistent not to mention the unknown long term degradation of the physiology of the organisms ingesting such useless food. And as you point out the obvious side effects of such factory farming and its related environmental impacts. I don't disagree that alternatives to traditional organic farming such as hydroponics and aquaponics are likely necessary but those to should be approached using sustainable practices similar to organic farming. Besides, the increase nutritional value of organic products should lead to less overall consumption as less needs to be ingested to achieve the same results.
SiaoX
5 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2017
The recycling based approach doesn't exclude the organic approach to agriculture - on the contrary: the recycling can pay off in less area demanding agriculture. The hydroponic agriculture has already a quite a tradition at the densely crowded Asian countries, where it gets combined with fish farming by now. In less warmer/humid countries it suggests usage of greenhouse farming instead. The less productive areas of soil could be utilized with forests more ecologically. It worth to note, that the Europe (our country in particular) has largest woodland area during last century - this is also positive aspect of intensive agriculture.
humy
5 / 5 (2) Mar 11, 2017
Crop rotation solves these issues.

cantdrive85

No it doesn't. You obviously have complete ignorance of the nutrient cycle.
Google the scientific websites on the science of the nutrient cycle and come back to us.
With or without crop rotation, each and every crop takes some nutrient out of the soil so crop rotation simply doesn't magically make that issue go away.
Legumes can put some fixed nitrogen back into the soil but that is true with or without crop rotation and no crop, including legumes, replenishes other types of nutrients, such as potassium.

Where they can't see the problems beyond the reach of short timescales and their inability to understand what "sustainability" actually means.

Yes, why can't you understand that?
"sustainability" means just that and thus doesn't equate with implementing irrational ideology based on false beliefs (such as you crop rotation belief) or biased beliefs about farming.

humy
5 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2017
IMO the intensification trend cannot be already reversed due to population explosion and what we need under current situation isn't the organic agriculture - but actually even more intensive one.

Herein lies another falsehood, to suggest factory farming will save us.

cantdrive85

Straw man; He said nothing about "factory farming". I also acknowledge the need for more intensive farming but I am AGAINST factory farming and there is NO contradiction in having more intensive farming WITHOUT factory farming. Not all farming is about meat production you know.


The nutritional value of such food is nonexistent

RUBBISH. OF COURSE there is nutrients in factory farm food. I can think of several good reasons to reject factory farming; the main one simply being cruelty to animals, so I don't why you feel the need to make falsehoods up to reinforce perfectly good reasons based on facts which thus don't need reinforcing with lies.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2017
No it doesn't. You obviously have complete ignorance of the nutrient cycle.

Your ignorance of soil biodiversity is obviously your issue.
"sustainability" means just that and thus doesn't equate with implementing irrational ideology based on false beliefs (such as you crop rotation belief) or biased beliefs about farming.

Look up the Rodale institute. Over three decades of research show yields for conventional and organic to be equal, and during drought organic far exceeds the yields of conventional farming.
Straw man; He said nothing about "factory farming". Not all farming is about meat production you know.

Your own strawman, factory farming is not only about livestock. Factory farming seeks to eliminate biodiversity for the sake of the crop, it's that childlike/profit driven POV.
OF COURSE there is nutrients in factory farm food

but just a fraction of organically grown foods.
SiaoX
5 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2017
Over three decades of research show yields for conventional and organic to be equal
They're not but even when they get close, it requires to have soil of high quality (volcanic origin and/or freshly deforrested) and/or equal amount of fertilizers. These fertilizers must be organic at the case of organic farming, i.e. the manure and similar stuffs and we simply have not enough of them, despite that manure and compost would undoubtedly improve the structure of soil and so on. The soil is not perpetuum mobile regarding the minerals: soon or later they will get depleted and the low intensity of organic farming just makes this limit less apparent.
humy
5 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2017
during drought organic far exceeds the yields of conventional farming.

don't know if you just made that up or is occasionally true but, in either case,we can counter drought by irrigation which organic farms do, thus rendering it irrelevant.
Factory farming seeks to eliminate biodiversity for the sake of the crop

I am totally against factory farming but the above assertion is true for most kinds of farming, including organic. Even organic farming involves weeding out wild flowering plants via hoeing etc to reduce/eliminate the wild plant competition with the crop.
OF COURSE there is nutrients in factory farm food

but just a fraction of organically grown foods.

here is no need to lie.. For example, a factory farmed egg has about the same protein content as a free range egg and there really is only small nutrient differences between them; BUT this is all missing the point; factory farming is still cruel;
rrrander
2 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2017
Why can't these envirokooks just admit they want 4/5ths of the Earth's population to be wiped out? Why all the nonsense about the benefit of sustainability?
derphys
not rated yet Mar 11, 2017
Incredible the trolls posting against organic food and too late, they will change their mind when dying with illness due to pesticides strong endocrine disruptors even, at allowed very low level, like some farmers in the family of my wife, with cancers !!
humy
1 / 5 (1) Mar 12, 2017
Incredible the trolls posting against organic food and too late, they will change their mind when dying with illness due to pesticides strong endocrine disruptors even, at allowed very low level, like some farmers in the family of my wife, with cancers !!

Most modern pesticides are pretty selective and safe and many are about as toxic to us humans as soap.
It is actually pretty rare these days for pesticides to actually cause a cancer case. Vastly more likely smoking to be the cause of a cancer case and most cancers are still caused by smoking, NOT pesticides. Personally I think smoking should be banned, but not pesticides which prevent pests devastating our crops and spread malaria and make people starving to death or die of malaria.
Undoubtedly, pesticides have saved far more human lives than it destroyed.
In contrast, tobacco has destroyed far more human lives; you are shooting at the wrong target.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Mar 12, 2017
Rubbish; we are NOT adapted to handle many of the toxic chemicals in nature at naturally found concentrations found in nature.

I meant in foods. The article is about foods. Not snake bites. It's not a good idea to add stuff to our foods (like pesticides) that we aren't adapted to and then pretend like it won't affect us negatively.

and what about the non-toxic manufactured chemicals that we didn't specifically evolve to deal with but are non-toxic nevertheless? Why should we reject such chemicals?

If we can show that they are non toxic (to us AND the environment...e.g. stuff like pesticides and fertiliziers does create runoff which has some serious consequences on the water quality and other life around). We are not the only things in the environment - but we depend on a lot more than just the apple from the tree. What good is it if the apple is healthy but producing it kills the food chain/poisons the water?
cantdrive85
3 / 5 (2) Mar 12, 2017
It is actually pretty rare these days for pesticides to actually cause a cancer case.

There is that myopia again. Never noticed the explosion in immune disorders? It's not only about cancer.
humy
not rated yet Mar 12, 2017
It is actually pretty rare these days for pesticides to actually cause a cancer case.

There is that myopia again. Never noticed the explosion in immune disorders? .

What about it?
There is NO evidence that links it to modern pesticides and no more reason to think it is linked than to think antibiotics is linked to immune disorders.
Ever heard of the hygiene hypothesis?

humy
5 / 5 (1) Mar 12, 2017
cantdrive85

read about the hygiene hypothesis and learn something new;

https://en.wikipe...pothesis

There is at least some EVIDENCE for this being the cause. In contrast, there is NO evidence that modern pesticides are the cause of the big increase in immune disorders.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Mar 12, 2017
It is actually pretty rare these days for pesticides to actually cause a cancer case.

In humans. maybe. But the pesticides we use aren't part of the natural food chain. They accumulate in the environment because no organism feeds on them and breaks them down (which is the whole pointof a pesticide).

The ideal should be to have a sustainable kind of agriculture, where water, soil quality and crop yield are in balance - and no amount of waste (like pesticides) accumulates over time. Anything that accumulates (or depletes) means that the practice is not sustainable,

And if we don't do the whole sutainable shtick then we're in the same pickle as with fossil fuels: It works for a while but eventually you run out of the resource or you poison the environment to a point where th system breaks down. we should learn from the mistake we made that causes climate change and apply this knowledge to all other sectors as well.
humy
not rated yet Mar 12, 2017
It is actually pretty rare these days for pesticides to actually cause a cancer case.

In humans. maybe. But ....They accumulate in the environment because no organism feeds on them and breaks them down (which is the whole point of a pesticide).

antialias_physorg

This is simply not true.
Most modern ones are biodegradable or spontaneously degrade and break down and do so bit by bit after they have done their job.
You need to get up-to-date with your knowledge modern science of pesticides like I have (I am a qualified expert in the field)
So the vast majority of them do not 'accumulate' in the environment; DDT being one of the rare exceptions (there are a few others) but DDT is rightly banned and the other exceptions I think should also be banned but not most pesticides.
Caliban
not rated yet Mar 12, 2017
While only a fool would claim that organic is ALWAYS best, again- only a fool would claim that it isn't ALMOST always the best mode for agricultural production.

The reason why this is so, is quite simple: Organic principles can be adapted to any mode of agricultural production, thereby making remaking them into less resource intensive, more sustainable moded of agriculture.

I think that this research is probably aimed more at softening us up to the idea of hyper efficient, ultra-chemical-dependent corporate monoculture as inevitable, since we won't do anything to curb human reproduction and AGW is a Leftwing myth.

How do I know that AGW is a myth?

Because goddam Scott Pruitt said so, that's how.

Apparently, he also told @humy that pesticides do not accumulate in the environment or bio-accumulate in living organisms.

Caliban
not rated yet Mar 12, 2017
Therefore, @humy:

As a "qualified expert" in the field of environmental accumulation(or -more properly- the lack thereof) of all those lovely chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, you shouldn't have any difficulty at all providing citations for all the relevant research that's been done which supports your lunatic assertion, now, should you?

We'll be waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting...

humy
not rated yet Mar 12, 2017
Therefore, @humy:

As a "qualified expert" in the field of environmental accumulation(or -more properly- the lack thereof) of all those lovely chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, you shouldn't have any difficulty at all providing citations for all the relevant research that's been done which supports your lunatic assertion, now, should you?



You mean you want me to show the citations for ALL of the science done on it? What? All the BILLIONS of pages of science of it? That would take about a millions of years. Can you show all the citations for ALL of the science done on, say, chemistry?
I tell you what; I will do the impossible and show the BILLIONS of pages of ALL of the science done on it if you do the impossible and show all the citations of the BILLIONS of pages for ALL of the science done on chemistry.

We'll be waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting...

Or we can just accept my expert knowledge over your ignorant opinion.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Mar 13, 2017
Most modern ones are biodegradable or spontaneously degrade and break down and do so bit by bit after they have done their job.


You might want to look up 'Roundup' (Mosanto) and glyphosate. The stuff accumulates in our food and water. It doesn't 'spontaneously' break up as neatly as all that. (all the while it is a powerfull evolutionary agent wich causes resistant weeds to form - necessitating ever higher concentrations or other, more aggressive, herbicides).

Whether glyphosate is the cause of cancer isn't clear. But having higher and higher concentrations in our food and water surely isn't beneficial.

Farmers also don't use modern pesticides. They use the ones that are cheapest and legal to use. I'd rather we wouldn't use any. Makes much more sense from a sustainable POV.
humy
1 / 5 (1) Mar 13, 2017
Most modern ones are biodegradable or spontaneously degrade and break down and do so bit by bit after they have done their job.


You might want to look up 'Roundup' (Mosanto) and glyphosate. The stuff accumulates in our food and water. .

No it doesn't; either you LIE here or are simply mistaken. And the active ingredient of roundup (glyphosate) has about the same toxicity to humans as common table salt and, contrary to the common lies propagated by certain non-scientists that call themselves 'environmentalists' when they don't care about the environment and have a political agenda, even that rapidly breaks down in soil.
I am aware of the STUPID propaganda hate campaign against Mosanto and the MANY non-science websites that tell lies about them and the 'terrible' effects of glyphosate. But the actual SCIENCE says the exact opposite about the effects of glyphosate. You need to learn about science and accept scientific facts as the facts like I have.
TrollBane
not rated yet Mar 14, 2017
As for the plastics and such that is needed in vertical farming, etc., that's where recycling and re-use come in.
yep
5 / 5 (2) Mar 14, 2017
http://www.fao.or...opOfPage
In my opinion...
To argue against organic food saying there is equivalency is a myopic view. Just tasting the difference between conventionally grown and organicaly grown without getting into the entire range of enviormental factors and benifits relating to sustainability and nutrition, ought to be enough to make one realize continuing to support the petrochemical prison industrial complex is not conducive to a healthy life or future.
EyeNStein
5 / 5 (2) Mar 14, 2017
Organic doesn't equate to medieval techniques. The soil and water tests are definitely synthetic chemistry based. It's what you do with the results that makes it organic or synthetic.
'Organic' certified sources of nitrate and phosphate are available if that's what the tests say you need. Some of those are semi-synthetic but all are tested to stringently exclude harmful minerals like arsenic or heavy metals which can appear in rock based or some fish/animal based products.

In my organic/aquaponic case, synthetic toxin pest control isn't an option as it would poison the fish that feed my crops. But again there are natural solutions.
Caliban
not rated yet Mar 14, 2017
.

Or we can just accept my expert knowledge over your ignorant opinion.


Except that you obviously don't possess any expert knowlege in that regard. If you did, you would already have ready access to the RELEVANT research --as in, you know--, like meta-studies and stuff.

So, it's real simple, humy, post the goods or brand yourself an idiot troll.

Though at this point, it will be hard to convince any one here that you don't wear the trollspots.

Just to sweeten the offer, I promise to apologise to you and everyone else here on Porg if'n you do turn out to be a real, expert, expert.

No chicanery, please.

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