Organic food in Europe deserves a critical eye

The European Commission’s new Farm To Fork strategy aims at a significant increase in organic farming in Europe. The implication that organic is better seems to have become the predominant belief in agricultural politics. However, it doesn’t hold up to the…

Organic farming benefits from special derogations in public discourse — it in fact does not face the same scrutiny as other methods of farming. And yet, organic farming presents many downsides that are not at all compatible with sustainability, by any reasonable definition of that term. For a number of reasons, including its low yields and the consequent need to bring more land into agricultural production, organic farming is particularly detrimental to biodiversity. 

Research has established that moving all current farming to organic farming would increase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 70%. Researchers analysed the hypothetical move of Welsh and English farm production to organic and found that reduced crop yields in organic farming increased the need to import food from overseas. Including the GHGs emitted growing that food abroad — a part of the equation often ignored advocates of organic agriculture — total GHGs emitted would increase between 21% in the best-case scenario to an astounding 70%, depending on how much natural habitat and forest had to be cleared to make up for the decline caused by England’s and Wales’ switch to organic production. 

For the European Union, which aims at a 25% organic production target in Europe, the impact of overseas imports would be even more considerable. While the study assumed England and Wales would import the majority of the extra food they needed from Europe, a 25% organic EU would be making up its production deficits by importing food grown in less developed countries with considerably less efficient farming methods, which would significantly increase emissions.

Farmer representatives have criticised the Farm to Fork Strategy’s ambition for a 25% organic production target, for the possibility of severe market imbalance. They have told the Commission that without increased consumer demand, incentivising organic agriculture could considerably reduce market prices for organic products, due to excessive supply. A socially sustainable food system takes into account the situation of farmers, as they are essential to the well-being of consumers. Overburdening the agricultural sector with unachievable and unsustainable targets contradicts the objectives of the European Union. Producers supply should follow consumer demand and not political plans.

Ultimately, not even some of the proponents of organic agriculture have many positive things to say about the practice. The German Research Institute for Organic Agriculture (FibL) published the results of a study conducted for the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) in March 2020. The following deficits of organic agriculture are being highlighted, including lack of protection against plant diseases in the special crops of fruit, wine, vegetables and potatoes, lack of protection against pests in individual arable crops, can lead to higher raw material consumption and higher production costs, leads to a negative attitude towards technological innovations, significantly more expensive than conventional agriculture, lowers productivity.

These factors should be taken into account during the discussion surrounding the Farm to Fork strategy. The European Commission needs to present an honest impact assessment of what the effects of the strategy will be, before it engages in political declarations that are not based in scientific facts.

This article was first published by The Conservative Online.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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