Nowadays, it is quite difficult to find a person who has not heard about organic farming and organic food. Organic farming usually means growing crops without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, hormones, and nontherapeutic use of antibiotic agents. Organic livestock are fed with food that contains no non-organic additives and are provided access to the outdoors. Moreover, the rules of organic farming usually forbid to use irradiation, chemical food additives, and genetically modified products while producing organic food. Opinions vary upon the issue of organic products. Some people prefer to pay more in order to eat organic food; others consider organic farming to be completely useless, but the overall tendency is that the popularity of organic food is gradually rising.
According to the Stanford Organic Food Study: “Between 1997 and 2010, U.S sales of organic foods increased from $3.6 to $26.7 billion” (348). Promotion of organic food is very common in marketing. Customers are bombarded with different labels such as “100% organic”, “organic”, “made with organic ingredients”, “natural”, “free range”, “certified”, “chemical free”, “no hormones”, “no antibiotics”, and many others. The majority of consumers do not understand properly the meaning of these labels, but they buy everything that is organic for a range of reasons such as environmental issues, health benefits, animal welfare, and a widely-spread idea that organic food has more nutritional value. Organic farming is considered to be the most eco-friendly way of farming because it does not pollute the environment with different chemicals, preserves the biodiversity, and consumes less energy.
Moreover, people believe that organic food does not influence human health in a negative way as the conventionally grown food does. The critics of the concept of organic farming blame that organic farming brings lower yields and would be unable to feed the world in the future. Another drawback is that organic farming is more expensive than conventional farming. Many people’s beliefs about organic farming are not correct, which is proved by various researches. More additional research is needed to be done to make sure about some sides of organic farming, but scientists have already defined main advantages and drawbacks of organic farming. This paper will compare and contrast conventional and organic ways of farming, taking into account such criteria as the impact upon human health and the environment, yield differences, energy use, cost, and soil carbon sequestration. Taking all these aspects into account, the paper will try to define which way of farming is the safest and most effective for the environment and human health.
Health issues are one of the major reasons that encourage customers to purchase organic food. Besides, many people believe that organic food has more nutritional value than conventionally grown food. The Stanford Organic Food Study does not support the idea that organic food is more nutritious. The study discovered that only the level of phosphorus was higher in organic food than in the conventional one, but this element is not clinically significant because human organism needs a very low quantity of phosphorus to function properly. The authors of the Stanford Organic Food Study also found that organic food contained more phenols; organic milk had a higher level of fatty acids and a higher level of vaccenic acid in organic chicken, but these results were very heterogeneous. Besides, according to the Study, conventional products have a 30% higher risk of pesticide contamination, but the authors are not confident about the clinical significance of this finding. According to the Study, conventional and organic animal products are contaminated with pathogenic bacteria equally. In some cases, organic products were more contaminated with the bacteria. The authors suggest that the reason of it might be the usage of manure for fertilization in organic farming. Besides, the Stanford Organic Food Study found that conventional animal products such as chicken and pork were contaminated with the antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which might be attributed to the nontherapeutic usage of antibiotics in conventional farming. The authors of the Stanford Organic Food Study paid little attention to the connection between human health and consumption of organic products because of the lack of studies that deal with this problem.
The Clinical Report about the health and environmental advantages and disadvantages of organic food prepared by the American Academy of Pediatrics include more information about the influence of organic food upon people’s health. The authors found that hormones used to increase the quantity of milk produced by cows had no effect on human organisms; the authors also suggested that the usage of hormones might be beneficial for the environment because fewer cows were needed to produce the same amount of milk, which led to the decrease in the percentage of cultivated land. The authors of the Clinical Report are convinced that the routine nontherapeutic usage of antibiotics facilitates drug-resistant organisms development in animals and that such organisms could spread through the food chain. The authors state that: “Because organic farming prohibits the nontherapeutic use of antibiotic agents, it could contribute to a reduction in the threat of human disease caused by drug-resistant organisms” (1410). The authors write about the negative effect of pesticides upon the health of farm workers, but state that no studies have proven negative outcomes of the consumption of products grown with the usage of pesticides. According to the Clinical Report, no major differences were found between organic and conventional milk. Moreover, the report proves the idea that organic food has the same nutritional value as conventional food.
Very often, farmers are stopped from converting their farms into organic because of common beliefs that the yields in organic farming are low while the costs of such farming are higher than the costs of conventional farming.
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Argiles and Brown in their Agricultural Economics Review insist that the future of organic farming will depend on its economic viability. Argiles and Brown investigated a variety of factors and concluded that: “organic farmers obtain a market premium that reflects the consumer’s willingness to pay for healthier and environmentally friendly food” (8). Argiles and Brown were surprised to found that farms that were converting to organic farming did not show a considerable influence on output, costs, and profits. According to the authors, this might be explained by the fact that farm converts into the organic one gradually. Moreover, while the authors did not found any significant differences in the costs of conventional and organic farming, the composition of costs for these two types of farming is different. In organic farming, wages make up the biggest percentage of expenditures, while in the conventional farming a significant amount of money is spent on energy. Another economic benefit of organic farming is that it allows to employ more people, while consuming less energy, insecticides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, crop-protectors, and medicines. The authors conclude that in terms of employment and environmental protection, it would be better for farmers to spend money on wages than on chemicals and energy.
In his “Cost Benefit Analysis in Organic Farming”, Dr. P. Raja Babu also addresses the financial side of organic farming. He describes problems connected with conventional farming in India and tries to define why farmers are hesitant to convert their farms into organic. He interviewed 50 organic and 50 conventional farmers in India to collect data relating to costs and yields in both types of farming. He found that growing organic paddy was more effective in terms of costs than its conventional counterpart: the variable cost in conventional farming was 21,804 INR and only 19,151 INR in organic farming, while fix costs were 1,083 INR and 400 INR respectively. Planting and casual labor were the only fields where costs in organic farming were higher. Taking into account yields, Babu found that they were the lowest during the conversion period (22 bags of rice compared with 36). The author comes to the conclusion that the government plays a very important role in encouraging farmers to convert their farms to organic.
In the article “The fruits of organic farming”, John Reganold also discusses the issue of yield inequalities in organic and conventional farming. He states that yields in conventional farming are 20% higher than in organic farming in developed countries and this gap reaches 25% in the developing ones. According to Reganold, the most productive organic crops in terms of yield are rice, soya beans, corn, grass-clover, fruits, and oilseed crops. The author believes that the yield gap could be closed. He states that increased yields are not the only way to make agriculture sustainable; another key features of such economy include “enhancing the natural-resource base and environment, making farming financially viable, and contributing to the well-being of farmers and their communities” (Reganold 1). The author believes that conventional agriculture does not match these three criteria and for this reason the percentage of land managed organically should be increased in the future. Nevertheless, the author does not agree that the organic agriculture alone would be able to feed the world in the future and states that the combination of organic and conventional farming methods would be the best solution.
The gap between the yields in organic farming and conventional farming is often used by the critics of organic farming. They claim that in organic farming more land is needed to produce the same amount of food as in conventional farming. The question whether organic agriculture could feed the world is very controversial. This problem is also discussed in the article “New Study Sheds Light on Debate over Organic vs. Conventional Agriculture” by the University of Minnesota. It is stated that organic agriculture alone would not be able to feed the world: “To achieve sustainable food security we will likely need many different techniques – including organic, conventional, and possible hybrid systems – to produce more food at affordable prices, ensure livelihoods to farmers, and reduce the environmental costs of agriculture” (“New Study Sheds Light on Debate over Organic vs. Conventional Agriculture”. The authors state that good management techniques could help to close the yield gap.
Hall Peter also tries to answer the question whether organic agriculture would be able to provide enough food for the population in the future. Hall’s answer is negative. According to Hall, organic farming needs more land, energy, and labor and for these reasons it is more harmful to the environment and expensive. Hall strongly believes that: “The future lies with genetically-modified crops and varieties”. He states that genetically-modified organisms can withstand adverse climate changes and often contain enhanced medical qualities. According to Hall, genetically-modified organisms do not deserve the negative public opinion in Europe because their negative impact upon human health has not been proved. Sean Rickard also insists that the problems of hunger and malnutrition and their solutions are more important than the debates about the type of agriculture. He also hopes that the government will encourage further research on the properties of genetically modified products because they inevitably become a part of human lives in the not-so-distant future.
The issue of energy efficiency is another aspect, which is often mentioned by opponents of organic agriculture. People often claim that organic farming requires more energy than conventional farming, which is harmful for the environment. Various studies prove that this point of view is not correct. One of such studies is the article “Organic vs. Conventional Farming: Which Uses Less Energy?” written by Brian Palmer. He uses results of the Rodale Institute’s investigation to prove that organic farming is more energy efficient. According to the Rodale Institute’s figures, conventional farming consumes 71% more energy than the organic one. This gap is not due to pesticides and herbicides, but rather due to the nitrogen-based fertilizer, which corresponds to 41% of energy consumed in conventional agriculture, according to Palmer. In organic farming, manure is used instead of synthetic nitrogen. Moreover, organic farmers might use some nitrogen-fixing crops, for instance, legumes. Synthetic herbicides account only for 10% of energy consumption and even less pesticides. Besides, some kinds of weed become resistant to herbicides, which forces conventional farmers to buy and use more herbicides. Such situation also leads to energy losses. Moreover, it is important to remember that only 35% of consumed food corresponds to farming; so, the research used by Palmer might be not very acute. Furthermore, Palmer expresses the idea that the best environmental choices are often choosing the least between the two evils. Palmer also believes that organic agriculture will not provide enough food in the future because of its relatively low crops: “the environmental benefits of organic farming would not matter if we have to sacrifice precious acres of biodiversity hot zones and old-growth forests to organic farms”.
In their article “The Carbon and Global Warming Potential Impacts of Organic Farming: Does It Have a Significant Role in an Energy Constrained World?”, Lynch, MacRae, and Martin support the fact that organic farming is more energy efficient and has lower GHG emissions than its conventional counterpart. Lynch, MacRae, and Martin refute the idea that tillage reduces the level of carbon in soil: “In fact, our review found that the inverse is usually true, i.e., that green manures and forages increased soil C on organic farms regardless of added tillage” (348). The authors state that in some regions the yields in organic farming are higher than those in conventional farming and suggest that extremely high yields often lead to a variety of problems for farmers. As Palmer, Lynch, MacRae, and Martin emphasize, only 35% of energy in the entire food supply chain is consumed at the stage of farming; the rest of energy is consumed at the stages of cooking, packaging, and transportations. For this reason, organic products could also be very energy efficient because the rules of organic food production prohibit the usage of artificial additives.
Leifeld and Fuhrer also discuss the issue of organic farming and soil carbon sequestration. Their analyses prove that organic farming leads to the increased level of carbon in soil. This might be caused by a frequent use of organic fertilizers in organic farming, while conventional farmers usually use mineral fertilizers. The authors have also found out that crop rotations do not influence the level of carbon in soil. Moreover, they have found some evidence that biodynamic farming helps to preserve soil carbon. Besides, Leifeld and Fuhrer include in their article findings suggesting that differences in the soil carbon level in organic and conventional farming in the experiments might be caused not by the type of farming, but by the initial level of soil carbon. In conclusion, Leifeld and Fuhrer emphasize importance of further research and documented experiments for defining the connection between organic farming and the level of carbon in soil.
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As it has been already mentioned, Babu underlines importance of the government in promoting organic farming. In his article “Organic Farming Blossoms into Favor at US Agriculture Department”, Jonathan Harsch describes measures taken by the USDA to popularize the organic type of farming among farmers. He describes the main points of the USDA report released in 1980 such as a research that could prove positive sides of organic farming, programs that will help to make the best use of organic waste, development of nonchemical ways to control weeds, insects, and diseases, a research that will help to define effects of synthetic pesticides and other chemicals upon human health, and the most efficient management techniques for organic farming to reach maximum benefit. The authors of the report also underline importance of promoting advantages of organic farming not only among farmers, but also among consumers. The USDA hopes that organically produced food will be certified and prices of such food will be higher than prices of conventional food, which would also encourage farmers to convert their farms into organic. After reading the USDA report, the progress made from the 1980s up to now becomes obvious.
To sum up, organic agriculture means farming without any synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. The usage of hormones, antibiotics, and irradiation are also forbidden in organic farming. Organically grown livestock must have access to the outdoors. Many customers purchase organic food because they are convinced that such food is less harmful for human health and has a higher nutritional value. Another reason that encourages people to buy organic food is the impact on the environment. Nevertheless, various scientific studies prove that organic and conventionally grown food has only minor differences in their nutritional value. The impact of organic food upon human health is also unclear although researches from the American Academy of Pediatrics state that the nontherapeutic usage of antibiotics in conventional farming might lead to the development of diseases that are resistant to antibiotics and are able to spread through the food chain. Critics of organic agriculture often claim that yields of organic farming are lower than in the conventional one while the costs are higher.
The majority of studies support the idea that yields in organic farming are 20% lower than in the conventional one, but many scientists believe that good management techniques will help to close this gap. They refer to examples of some organically grown crops that have yields at the same level as their conventionally grown counterparts. Costs in organic farming appear to be lower than costs in the conventional one, according to the studies. In conventional agriculture, more money is spent on energy, while in organic farming main expenditures are wages. Argiles and Brown are convinced that in terms of social and environmental benefits spending money on wages is better than spending it on energy. Various studies also prove the positive impact of organic agriculture upon the environment.
Organic farming is more energy efficient and helps to maintain the level of carbon in soil, while conventional farming pollutes the environment with many chemicals. Nevertheless, many scientists do not believe that organic agriculture will be able to feed the growing population in the future and insist that the combination of organic and non-organic farming techniques is the most effective way to provide food to all people around the globe with a minimum impact on the environment and reasonable prices. Some researchers, for instance, Sean Rickard insist that this goal could be achieved only with the help of genetically-modified organisms.