Organic agriculture can help feed world, but only if we eat less meat and stop wasting food

November 15, 2017 by Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Agriculture could go organic worldwide if we slashed food waste and stopped using so much cropland to feed livestock, a new study finds.

The analysis, published in the journal Nature Communications, shows that it will take several strategies operating at once to feed the growing human population in a more sustainable way - and some of those strategies may require people to shift their dietary patterns, too.

The world's population is expected to hit 9.8 billion by 2050, which means an extra 2 billion or so mouths to feed. This will require increasing agricultural output by an additional 50 percent, the study authors wrote - which is made an even greater challenge as have been changing and the demand for meat has been rising. (Raising livestock leaves a large carbon and water footprint relative to growing plant-based foods.) All of this puts an additional strain on an already taxed environment.

"It is, therefore, crucial to curb the negative environmental impacts of agriculture, while ensuring that the same quantity of can be delivered," the study authors wrote.

Experts have thrown out several strategies to deal with the impending food security problem, without coming to a clear agreement on which one would be best. Among the options: improving efficiencies in producing and using resources; reducing food waste; cutting down the animal products we eat; or resorting to more .

"Organic agriculture is one concrete, but controversial, suggestion for improving the sustainability of food systems," the study authors wrote. "It refrains from using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, promotes crop rotations and focuses on soil fertility and closed nutrient cycles."

Regardless of whether organic fruits, vegetables and other crops are better for you, there's evidence showing they may be better for the environment. Since organically grown crops can't use synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, it means that less excess nitrogen acidifies the soil and ends up in waterways, or escapes into the air as a greenhouse gas. It also means no man-made pesticides, meaning fewer chemicals in the local environment and less risk to insect biodiversity - which is important because many insects are crucial players in their local ecosystems.

But those benefits are offset somewhat by what's known as the yield gap: the idea that organic crops require more land because their yields are lower than the fertilizer-fed, pesticide-protected conventional crops - potentially resulting in some extra deforestation. Still, could organic crops allow future food needs to be met with less environmental impact?

"Because of the yield gap, there are opposing voices that say it's not possible ... (and) there are proponents that say this yield gap is not really important and one could overcome it," said lead author Adrian Muller, an environmental systems scientist at the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture in Switzerland. "We just wanted to look at it from a food-systems perspective, because we think only looking at the is not enough. It is important to really look at production and consumption together and to see what organic agriculture can contribute on such a food-systems level."

To find out, Muller and colleagues developed models based on data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, looking at the effects that going organic would have under different scenarios, modulating the severity of climate change, the amount of food waste and the share of crops used to feed livestock instead of people, for example.

The researchers found that the 's needs could be fully met by all-organic agriculture - but only if food waste was cut in half and the competing feed sources for livestock were eliminated altogether. Since that would seriously scale back the amount of livestock, that might be a hard sell with today's meat-filled diets.

Muller said a more feasible solution might be one where make up about 50 percent of crops, is cut by half, and the competing feed sources are cut by half (allowing for more acreage to grow human food).

"We need to utilize all the potential strategies we have, without supporting one extreme and leaving out other approaches," he said.

Getting to that point may still be a challenge. Organic crops make up a tiny fraction of overall, nowhere near that 50 percent target. But there are some things that can be done now, Muller pointed out, such as putting an extra "nitrogen tax" on producers so that the environmental cost of excess fertilizer becomes an economic one.

"I think we are moving in the right direction," Muller said, "and as an optimist I think, yeah, somehow, it will work."

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

More information: Adrian Muller et al. Strategies for feeding the world more sustainably with organic agriculture, Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01410-w

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Chris_Reeve
Nov 15, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
physman
2.5 / 5 (2) Nov 15, 2017
@Chris_Reeve It is reckless to save the planet because people may develop a vitamin B deficiency...? As a vegetarian myself I have solved this issue in the most ingenius of ways: I take vitamin B supplements.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (3) Nov 15, 2017
"but only if we eat less meat and stop wasting food"

-and reduce pop growth. For what is the result of more resources to religionist cultures based on outgrowing and overrunning the competition, but the freedom to grow even faster?
https://photius.c...7_0.html

-ominous note: Rwanda and Burundi, which both experienced horrific ethnic cleansing and machete butchery in the 1990s, are high on the list.

Can't learn, destined to repeat.

Note also the predominance of countries presently hemorrhaging millions of refugees.

Deniers will claim that wars are the cause. But war and revolution are also symptoms of overpopulation. So are ecological ruin, human trafficing, and industrial-scale abortion.

And RELIGION is largely responsible for it all.

We don't need missionaries who preach abstinence, who preach that contraception is a sin. We need people out there preaching against religion and distributing contraceptives.
Moebius
3 / 5 (2) Nov 15, 2017
Reducing the population to a sustainable level (2 billion might still be too many to sustain) or everyone going back to pre-industrial tech are the ONLY two options that will work and neither option is doable in our current free society.

The current state of our society is that reproduction must stay free. That will not change any time soon enough to make a difference. As long as the population grows, our every effort will merely postpone (and probably make worse) the inevitable.

And you may here this here for the first time. I think it's very possible that most efforts at ameliorating our ills like global warming will end up making things worse by hiding the problems while it gets closer to the point of no return.
Chris_Reeve
Nov 15, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Chris_Reeve
Nov 15, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (2) Nov 15, 2017
@chris/hannes the idiot pseudoscience troll with literacy problems
Vitamin B deficiencies are observed. They happen all of the time. The idea that the world's climate is going to go haywire because the co2 is rising by a few hundred ppm's has not been observed
this is called a blatant false claim: http://www.auburn...ion.html

we know it's a false claim because: https://scholar.g...mp;btnG=

if that isn't enough, please note the following
http://www.nodc.n...CONTENT/

http://phys.org/n...dly.html

http://phys.org/n...ate.html

http://phys.org/n...own.html

http://phys.org/n...ing.html

http://www.chem.a.../sim/gh/

lastly, see: LACIS et al

captain obvious says: stupid troll is stupid
Chris_Reeve
Nov 15, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Nov 15, 2017
@chris/hannes the idiot pseudoscience troll with literacy problems
Your second link there is for a search on "evidence correlation CO2 warming"
very good! so you *can* read!
did you also notice that it is Google Scholar and not just random anti-science bullsh*t noise without evidence?
No?
perhaps you should read that again...
We see this pattern a lot with controversies where people try so hard to ignore the actual critics
let me explain this in small words for your mum to share with you:
because i didn't use quote marks, any and all science (studies) that includes those words is found, which includes studies that may refute the original premise (because that is how science and search engines work)

take notice: where in the "About 94,800 results (0.04 sec)" is there a refute that is validated that demonstrates your argument is valid?

post it here with links to the peer reviewed source (not your idiotic religious thunderdolts site)

BethAaron
1 / 5 (1) Nov 20, 2017
Eating animals and the history of the rise in animal agriculture, from the advent of domesticating them to the unmitigated suffering we force them to endure, has clearly manifest in the myriad if moral and spiritual deviant behaviors layered in the mosaic of human social disorder. Mass extinction and environmental collapse are the consequences of the human being, anatomically herbivore, ( see Milton Mills, Comparative Anatomy)perverting the concept of nutrition to become global profit driven animal agribusiness wherein 70+ billion "farmed animals" are born to be fattened for slaughter, the foundation of capitalist disposable economics, rapidly disposing of the ecology that sustains ALL LIFE.
Just came from Woodstock Farm Sanctuary's annual VEGAN THANKSLIVING. We fed the delightful Turkeys homemade pies and got to cuddle with them. 46 million are brutally killed for NO reason save habit and well funded marketing of a lie.
ALL nutrients begin in plants so best to eat them directly..
Captain Stumpy
not rated yet Nov 20, 2017
@BethAaron
Milton Mills, Comparative Anatomy
the problem with the conclusion of this paper is that it takes into account the authors opinion on biological structures only and absolutely ignores the microbiome

his conclusion paragraph concentrates strictly on the structural features of the GI tract - more to the point, the essay you reference doesn't conform to the scientific method and resembles creationist literature more than science:
http://www.anders...r-mills/

there is no supporting evidence in any journal, and no list of references or supporting evidence

so your above argument is based upon your belief in someone else's opinion, not on science
http://www.auburn...ion.html

it's one thing to share an opinion
another thing entirely to claim something with a pseudoscience reference

PS - morality isn't based on diet

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