Why Organic Food Is Bad For The Environment
    By News Staff | June 6th 2007 11:54 AM | 19 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Organic food is big business these days. Organic fruit and vegetables are hot items because everyone wants to feel like they are eating healthier. What hasn't been studied until now is the impact of organic business on the environment, namely in greenhouse gas emissions from transport.

    A new study, conducted by a team of student researchers in the Department of Rural Economy at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, showed that the greenhouse gas emitted when the produce is transported from great distances mitigates the environmental benefits of growing the food organically.

    “If you’re buying ‘green’, you should consider the distance the food travels. If it’s travelling further, then some of the benefits of organic crops are cancelled out by extra environmental costs,” said researcher Vicki Burtt.

    Burtt and her fellow researchers compared the cost of ‘food miles’ between organic and conventionally grown produce, and found that there was little difference in the cost to the environment.

    Food miles are defined as the distance that food travels from the field to the grocery store. The study found that the environmental cost of greenhouse gas (CO2) emitted to transport 20 tonnes of organically grown produce was comparable to that of bringing the same amount of conventional fruit and vegetables to market.

    For the study, the team collected retail price data from six grocery stores and interviewed suppliers about their shipping methods. They created comparable food baskets of both organic and conventionally-grown fruit and vegetables being transported to Edmonton stores by truck, train or ship, and found that most travels by truck. Since 1970 truck shipping has increased, replacing more energy-efficient rail and water transport.

    The researchers calculated that the annual environmental costs for a city the size of Edmonton were $135,000 to $183,000 (5,492-7,426 tons CO2) for conventional produce and $156,000 to $175,000 (6,348-7,124 tons CO2) for organic produce. Many of the organic products are traveling further than the conventional food. Two items in particular, mangoes and green peppers, were shipped much further than their conventional counterparts (4,217 and 1,476 kilometers, respectively). The mangoes were shipped from Ecuador and Peru as opposed to Mexico, and the peppers came from Mexico as opposed to Canada or the United States.

    To help reduce greenhouse gases, Burtt recommends that shoppers switch to buying locally produced food at grocery stores or farmers’ markets when possible, and that any future government policy on the environment should consider the reduction of CO2 emissions associated with food transport.

    The study also found that a large gap between total costs and the much higher price paid in the store for organic produce indicates that retailers could cover the environmental costs without further passing those costs on to the consumer.


    I believe that Switzerland and Austria are the countries with the highest percentage of organic farms (over 11%). Hence, organic food is grown all over the country and the "food miles" are minimal, in some cases being just a few kilometers from farm to shop.
    I agree with Vera too. This article is a complete bull.. Like if the conventional food doesn't need to travel..?:) Maybe not because its so full of chemicals that I wouldn't be surprised it has its own engine and can run by itself:)
    And noone is mentioning the pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers getting into the ground and water streems, poisoning our aquatic life etc.
    And how I am suppose to buy a 'local' produce.. Living in Sydney city we don't have many farms here unless they are hidden in the Opera house:)

    The E. coli running throughout Europe was caused by 'organic' food and its organic fertilizer.  Likewise, natural pesticides are still toxic.   The notion that natural fertilizers in your water or natural pesticides are okay is just clever marketing by the multi-billion dollar corporations in the organic food business.

    The fact remains, if you are having 'organic' food shipped in, you are simply being educated by advertising that it is in any way better than regular food and it is bad for the environment.    Hey,  it's your money, spend it how you want but don't tell the rest of the world they are wrong.  If you want to hang a horseshoe over your door and believe it brings you luck, that is okay by me also.   There is just as much science in that as there is in any benefit to organic food.
    Gerhard Adam
    The E. coli running throughout Europe was caused by 'organic' food and its organic fertilizer.
    I think that's getting ahead of the data, since the cause is still undetermined (as far as I know).  In fact, since this particular strain seems to be so rare and/or unusual, there's a great deal of speculation floating around regarding what's taking place.
    The preliminary genetic analysis indicates that the new strain is a mutant, the combination of two distinct groups of E. coli: enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC) and enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC). As is often the case when germs get together and start splicing, the result is not good for people

    Mundus vult decipi
    I think that's getting ahead of the data, since the cause is still undetermined (as far as I know). 
    Inspectors are only looking in organic food stores, since that is the only places contaminated foods have been found.   On the strains, it may be some hybrid and, to be fair to Spain, it could have happened after it left their greenhouses, but it wasn't found in any distribution chain for regular, much less GMO, food.  Just 'organic'.
    Exactly, the bacteria spreads with handling. Also apparently you can wash it away. So these people in Germany perhaps didn't wash their cucumbers..?

    Germany perhaps didn't wash their cucumbers..?
    They're sort of famous for that.

    Yeah, I totally agree with what Vera says. Peaceout.

    Totally misleading title.

    How so?   If someone feels like they are better off buying food that is manufactured using a process that limits 'inorganic' materials to 50 on an FDA list and that uses toxic pesticides found in nature - a psychological benefit - and imports it from hundreds of miles away, which emits greenhouse gases, then it is bad for the environment.   So called 'organic' food is a multi-billion dollar business and the piece simply cautions that locally grown is the only way in which it is actually better for both the mental well-being of the purchaser and the environment.
    Ofc it's bad to import ANYthing at all from far distances in enviroment aspect. But not organic food, it's simple market mechanics in the beginning of something, when the demand goes high enough more local producers will grow organic and since the whole point, for some people, of buying organic is that they believe that it emits less greenhouse gas they will buy the more locally produced since it doesn't reallt take much to understand and we have people like you that will probably point this out to them. Btw, calling the organic food buissness a million-billion dollar buisness and make it sound bad is ridiculous, watch the buissness on the other side of the coin if you want to see bad, there you have the extreme controlling GMO companies with Monsanto in peak. That's so much worse.

    It's always a puzzle to me how people who do not believe in capitalism regarding the current system suddenly think the miracle of capitalism will make food inexpensive enough and in enough quantify to feed people if enough people buy organic food.

    It cannot happen that way.   

    Now, I certainly agree that closer food is better than remote food but obeying that means the very health conscious people insisting on organic food will only be able to get it for 3 months per year.  If they can't get it from somewhere else, then they can't get it if they care about the environment.  Are organic food eaters willing to do that?

    There is no difference in composition and organic food uses pesticides aplenty, which means the only reason to buy it is a comfort one - and people will overpay for that, but not everyone should have to overpay for the mental placebo of a few.
    Where do you get that organic food is only accessible three months every year? It can be stored. Combined with efficient growing techniques, decrease in meat consumption, a healthier lifestyle with less excessive eating and lets not forget the waste which in some countries reaches about 20% (I only know that it's so high in Sweden, but I think it's safe to say that other western countries are probably just as bad) of all the food. If all these were meat, doesn't need to be meat fully though, a 100% organic food production is very possible and it's the only tight thing there is.

    Where do you get that organic food is only accessible three months every year? It can be stored. 
    You understand how rodents are kept out of food stores, right?   And how food is kept from spoiling?    

    If you were raised on a farm you have seen how potatoes and tomatoes and such look and smell after a short time, even in small storage.   Mass storage 'organically' is not possible.  If you don't know these things and never owned a farm, you are living in a world of ideology where trillions of dollars can be spent to reinvent food storage to match your beliefs - it is not practical.
    Hmm, admitteadly I don't know enough about this. Have to read up on storing food, interesting point. Thanks for the discussion.

    Have a good one.

    By the way, do you have some interesting amterial to read on the subject?

    Not offhand (I assume you mean like a primer) but I grew up on a farm so I learned storage - nothing is more disgusting than having to clean up tomatoes in storage.   I do my own canning of meat and vegetables, fruit, etc. so on a personal level it is easy and I know what is (and is not) in it.

    Mass storage is, of course, a headache.   You mentioned the high percentage of food wasted at the consumer level but before that we get a higher percentage lost due to spoilage and that would be even worse if organically processed food used nothing to keep it from spoiling, bugs and rodents.

    There is research in antimicrobial agents to prevent spoilage (without preservatives) but the same people likely to want it because it is natural will not want it because it is 'genetically' modified.   So basically organic food can't win for everyone until the supporters stop having an anti-science mentality.

    The issue with organic methods to make it possible to have it all year round is we create a ghetto of non-rich people - only the rich will be able to afford 'organic' food all year long if it is only locally produced so it is better to educate people that there is no difference in organic food other than how it is processed.  If you do not wash organic food the same way you would any food you are at terrific risk because a so-called organic pesticide is still dangerous.

    People getting rich selling organic food are creating a real cultural class war and that is not good, especially because it is not based on science fact.     It is better to eat any food produced close than 'organic' food shipped from anywhere.
    I see conventional potatoes come from Mexico all the time, along with many plants from other countries. I think if the demand for organic products becomes popular enough, we should have farms that will grow organic plants everywhere locally. I believe this may be a problem that can be fixed over time. I also think we should force 'no pesticides' on these organic farmers. I trust the USDA Organic program, but I am also wondering if their so called 'strict personality' is strict enough? After all, us people who choose organic want the best best for our food and environment. This is the only true con on organics part they can think of for now. It CAN be fixed.