Telegraph attacks organic
Bjørn Lomborg wrote in the Telegraph over the weekend that what we eat is more important than ever. Great, couldn’t agree more – but unfortunately, the agreements stopped there. He then went on to suggest, among other things, that ‘going organic would kill more than 13,000 people in the US each year’.
Of course, his wildly inaccurate criticisms of organic food and farming ignore recent and comprehensive research, including three international meta-analyses published in the British Journal of Nutrition finding significant, positive nutritional differences between organic and non-organic fruit, vegetables, pulses and cereals, and between non-organic and organic milk and other dairy products, and meat.
Bjorn Lomborg then makes the extraordinary claim that organically farmed animals do not fare better than non-organic animals. He completely ignores the fact that organic farm animals spend the majority of their lives outdoors, are kept in smaller herds or flocks, and have the freedom to express their natural behaviour. In contrast, many non-organic animals often spend their entire lives indoors, in barren environments, fed on high quantities of imported soya and maize. These systems rely on animals being routinely dosed, prophylactically, with antibiotics - a practice which is contributing to the rise in antibiotic -resistant bacteria.
His claim that organic crops yield ‘much, much less’ is another huge exaggeration, given that the yield gap is only around 20% in some countries and only for some crops. In many crops there is no difference at all. Organic farming yields more when the far lower use of non-renewable inputs (like climate damaging, manufactured fertilisers, increasingly scarce mined phosphates, and ever increasing quantities of expensive, wildlife-damaging chemical sprays) is taken into account, and often yields more in stressed conditions like droughts, and in developing countries.
Non-organic farmers have a choice of over 300 chemicals to kill weeds, insects and other pests that attack crops, and as Bjørn says, these pesticides can stay with the produce once it has left the farm.
Because of the complete absence of manufactured herbicides and the severely restricted use of pesticides, organic farms have 50% more wildlife than non-organic farms
Although it will not interest a climate change denier like Lomberg, organic and agro-ecological farming is recognised by scientists globally as the key to tackling the huge greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and food, particularly by avoiding the use of fossil fuel based manufactured fertilisers and through sequestering carbon in healthy soils. The impact of switching to organic farming could save 64 million tonnes of carbon over 20 years across all UK cultivated land - the equivalent of taking nearly a million family cars off the road. The world does not need more, cheaper food as Bjørn suggests. For many, paying a bit more for healthier, animal welfare and wildlife-friendly food is a price worth paying.