Is organic food really better for the environment?

Producing enough food to provide adequate nutrition for the growing global population without wrecking the planet in the process is one of the greatest challenges of our times. The global population is forecast to reach almost 10bn people by 2050 and already more than 811m people go to bed hungry.

Organic farming is seen as pone potential solution. The EU Farm to Fork strategy places farming at the heart of its ambition to transition towards a more sustainable food system and includes a target to hit 25% organic farmland in the region by 2030. The EU Organic Action Plan also sets out a strategy to boost demand for organic, marking what the Commission described as ‘ a new era for the transformation of our food and farming systems towards organic and agroecology’.

Organic agriculture – which, among other practices, doesn’t use chemical inputs that are harmful to wild insect populations – might be good news for biodiversity, However, concerns over lower yields – and therefore the need to have more landmass under cultivation – have sparked debate over whether organic can deliver environmental gains while also producing enough to feed the world.

Researchers have now set out to answer the question of whether organic farming is always the best use of land.

In a recent study, published in Ecology Letters, a team from Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, the University of Liverpool, University of Göttingen, Wageningen University, Centre for Ecological Research, and China Agricultural University, developed a method to help farmers and policymakers decide if switching from conventional to organic farming will increase biodiversity while maintaining productivity. It claims to be the first international meta-analysis that quantifies the trade-off between yield and biodiversity within the same land areas.

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