30 July 2009: Buy organic for climate reasons

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published a report saying that eating organic food has no significant health benefits. This conclusion is despite the fact that some of the research studies on which the FSA report is based show that organic foods have 50% more beta carotenes (which improve the immune system and eyesight) and 30% more flavanoids (which help keep cholesterol low). To dismiss 30 to 50% improvements as “insignificant” is bizarre. And the FSA dismisses as “too recent” a study published last year in the Journal of Science, Agricultural and Food which, based on a £12m, four-year EU-funded study, found that organic milk contains up to 60% more antioxidants and beneficial fatty acids than non-organic milk (see Fatty acid and fat-soluble antioxidant concentrations in milk from high- and low-input conventional and organic systems: seasonal variation).

Organic agriculture also has a much lower climate footprint than intensive agriculture, because it doesn’t cause emissions from the manufacture and use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides. Organically-farmed soil is also a better store for carbon (see Agriculture and forests). Reduced emissions alone mean that organic agriculture has around a 20% lower climate footprint and a Food and Agriculture Organisation report says that, with soil carbon sequestration, the climate impact is 60% lower (see Institute of Science in Society: FAO Promotes Organic). Therefore major policy change is needed to promote organic agriculture.

Only 15% of EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) money goes to organic agriculture. The other 85% of taxpayers’ money is spent in ways that drive climate destruction. Former Agriculture Commissioner Fischler (the architect of the 2003 CAP reform) has said that the next reform must focus on climate protection, grassland extensification and biodiversity. He is right, and all European institutions must do as he proposes without delay. In addition, all public subsidy should be transferred from intensive to organic agriculture.

And President Obama must honour his manifesto promises to help organic farmers with certification and to reform crop insurance to end penalisation of organic farmers. Less than a quarter of one percent of US agriculture is organic, which puts the US below most European countries and also below China (0.6%). Therefore, the emerging US-China co-operation on climate change must address agriculture, as well as energy.


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