Is Organic Food Really Better For The Environment?

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I eat a lot of organic food. In fact, about 80% of the food that goes into my body is organic. I cannot tell you how many times I get teased about eating “dirt” from many of my friends, and even my family. A friend recently quizzed me about my reasons for eating organic. I claimed that one of the reasons I opt for organic food is for environmental reasons and my friend gave me the most flabbergasted look on the planet. He flat out refused to believe that organic food is more environmentally sound than “normal” food. This set me on a quest to defend my position that organic food is better for the environment. So here are the top three environmentally based reasons I choose to eat organic food:

1)   Organic farming practices can help decrease the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. According to The Rodale Institute, each acre devoted to organic farming can remove and store around 7,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year. That means if we were to convert all 434 million acres of farmland in the U.S. to organic farmlands, it would be the equivalent to getting rid of 217 million cars, which is about 1/3 of the automobiles in the world, according to the Organic Trade Association .

2)   Organic farming uses less energy. According to the same study, organic farming practices use 30% less energy, less water, and obviously no pesticides. Think of all the energy that goes into the production and transportation of pesticides and fertilizer. Getting rid of the pesticides is not only good for the body, it’s good for the environment as well! I’ve also seen other less stringent studies concluding up to 50% less energy use with organic farming practices. Also, organic farmed produce are often more locally dispersed than conventionally farmed produce.

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3)   Organic farming helps the soil. Organic farming reduces groundwater pollution by foregoing pesticides. During conventional farming pesticides enter our water sources and then end up in our homes and our bodies. Pesticides also add to soil erosion, destroying the vitality and productivity of the soil. The USDA Agricultural Research Service conducted a study, which showed that “Organic farming can build up soil organic matter better than conventional no-till farming can” (Find it here). In the follow-up study they found more carbon and nitrogen in organic farmland than conventional farmland. They also found that over time organic farming produced 18% more corn.

If that isn’t enough reason to start eating organically, then try this: Go buy an organic orange and a regular orange from the grocery store. Peel them, then look at your hands. If your grocery store is anything like mine, you can see and feel the difference just from peeling them.  That alone was is a testament to me of what conventional farming is putting on my food and in my soil.

Don’t forget that these principles do not only apply to food, but to all products. Use organic skin care and cleaning products for the same reasons. Don’t short-change the earth for the sake of your wallet or convenience. You can still be clean and beautiful with organic products.

Comments 22

  1. Great article! Very thought-provoking! I hadn’t thought an organic orange would be so different……. another point is that supporting our local farms decreases the cost & fuel consumption to get the food to the market. Hopefully this will be the wave of the future!!

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  3. I don’t understand why it’s not a given that organic food is better for people and the environment. Do people actually believe that all those toxic chemicals in pesticides and herbicides don’t actually get into the produce itself? Do they really believe that we aren’t ingesting that stuff. That’s the 1st thing about organics:
    organics = no chemicals

  4. Helene, unfortunately I don’t think that everyone has come to the conclusion that those pesticides are doing harm to our bodies. We live in such a synthetic world already, it doesn’t seem to occur to some people a) how often pesticides are really used, and b) how toxic they really are.

  5. Some really good information here. I still battle trying to convince my wife of the benefits on buying organic foods. Funny thing is, she is sold on organic clothes and the such, but for some reason food is another story with her. I like how your article is quick and to the point, I will have to email her the link to take a read. Thanks!

    Kyle K

  6. You fail to explain that an acre of conventional farmland produces MUCH more food than an acre of organic farmland. If you measure the C02 emissions per pound of food (rather than per acre of farmland), you will find that conventional methods are much more “green”. How ironic.

    1. This is true, and if you incorporate genetic modified/engineered crops, you can yield even more, but at what cost?
      CO2 emissions aren’t really a good indicator of how ‘green’ a farming operation is since you are probably not including the amount of pesticides, synthetic fertilizer and loss to mono-crop disease and infestations. It can also depend on the labor practices of the farm, whether (and how much) farm equipment and machinery is involved in the process.
      There really is no ‘right’ answer, just choices. Personally I am more worried about synthetic chemicals and toxins in my food than a bit more CO2 which can be offset by utilizing alternative renewable energy.

  7. Being a farmer, I have to disagree with the majority of what is said here. The world is becoming vastly urbanized and losing it’s sense of where it’s food comes from. The USDA now regulates pesticide use so heavily that what’s used is easily decomposed back into the soil as harmless minerals. As for the pesticides being leeched (what’s left of them anyways) is due to a mistake on over application during irrigation. This is true for organics and non-organics alike.

    Here is an example. A farmer may have a 100 lb/N requirement for his field so he uses manure to meet that. (1 ton of manure/10 lbs of N, I think anyways, it’s been a while since I’ve done a soil fertility class.) What he also does is heavily over-apply his phosphorous, Zn, and everything else that comes from manure that will now leech during the next rainfall/irrigation. This leeched water finds itself in streams and lakes and essentially kills everything by extracting the Oxygen. This is called Eutrophication. (Happens a lot on feed lots)

    Also, if I were to take a bowl of mashed potatoes, one being organic, one being conventional, (which I’ve done) You’d get exactly a 50/50 ratio on a blind taste test. There have also been numerous studies that show that the differences of health on conventional vs. organic crops is so small you can safely say there is none.

    Plus, we’ve recently become so adept at making fertilizers we can add exactly what we want into a soil, where unless you deliberately over apply, you have little chances of leeching, run-off, etc. Organics don’t have this luxury, so they usually over-apply from application of organic residue, or they erode the soil beyond repair until it is no longer farmable.

    Essentially, in my eyes and from what I’ve learned, organics is a life-style choice. There’s nothing wrong with that, but as I’ve noted from this woman’s experiences, she’s decided to eat organic. So, here are my experiences for saying that there’s nothing wrong with conventional crops.

  8. organic farming also makes the soil more acidic and unusable for a long period of time and requires almost twice the amount of land as conventional farming therefore destroying more habitats.
    is it healthier for you? doubtful. dont be lazy, wash your fruits and veggies, the trace amounts of pesticides arent enough to kill you.

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  10. What about the carbon footprint that organic foods produce? If we want bluberries during December, we are going to pay to get those transported to us which costs a lot of MONEY and FUEL!

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  13. ZOrganic farms has both negetive and positive A-Z(not really).
    Organic Negetives to my beliefs:
    It is food from the wild and cost alot of money
    Food that is produce will rot in a few days
    It pestiside safety is not assure that all pest are dead
    Organic Positive to my beliefs:
    Its heathy youh know if its fresh or not when it rots.
    It does things in a environmentAL FRIENDLY WAY

  14. i like the article for the good points in eating organic and overall living organic.
    i’m in high school and writing a research paper about how organic agriculture is beneficial to the environment.
    and you brought some good points i can write about (not plagirize. my english teacher is all against that)
    thanks enjoyed article and your view points

  15. You do realize that organic farmers may not use synthetic pesticides but they do use natural pesticides like copper and sulfur in huge quantities that are way more toxic than the synthetics. I really have no other gripes about organics besides that people look at the pesticide situation the wrong way. It may be natural but its still harmful.

  16. Yes, organic farms still may use ‘natural’ pesticides, and I believe this is more of a case by case situation rather than a industry wide overview. Unfortunately this can be abused just like all regulations, but it is a start and I believe that organic farming, while not perfect, is still superior to most other farming practices (factory farms) which use synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer and employ damaging practices to maximize production with little thought to damaging the environment.

    Bottom line, factory farms and large corporate farming is really what is wrong with food production today. Organic farms, in my opinion, decrease the environmental abuses, but do not eliminate them.

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  19. Take a look at this article on a meta study of organic vs conventional farming:

    One extract “…we present the empirical evidence comparing organic to conventional agriculture in terms of environmental impact. Despite strong public perception of organic agriculture producing better environmental outcomes, we show that conventional agriculture often performs better on environmental measures including land use, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution of water bodies. There are, however, some contexts where organic agriculture may be considered appropriate.”

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