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Agriculture: Organic Food

House of Lords written question – answered on 24th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Krebs Lord Krebs Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Lords)

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they hold any scientific evidence that indicates whether organic food is (a) better for nature, and (b) better for consumers.

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Whether organic production delivers environmental benefits is a complex issue.

In respect of improved biodiversity attributable to organic systems, studies include those by Shepherd et al. 2003, Hole et al. 2005 and Norton, L. et al. 2008. While these recognise that alternative methods of encouraging biodiversity on non-organic farms may be at least as effective, they also note that the organic system provides a valuable whole farm approach to encouraging environmental benefits.

However, other studies arrive at different conclusions. For example by Gabriel et al. 2010 conclude that organic farming delivers only small increases in biodiversity on average and in some farm types a slight reduction in the numbers of small birds such as linnets and skylarks.

In terms of organic production being better for consumers, recent studies funded by the Food Standards Agency have shown that there are no important differences in the nutrition content of organic food when compared with conventionally produced food. However, it is clear that some consumers prefer not to have detectable residues in their food, and certified organic food contains fewer pesticide residues than food produced using conventional methods.

Organic regulation imposes strict animal welfare requirements on farmers and many consumers prefer to rely on the assurance of good welfare provided by the purchase of certified organic livestock products. Consumers may also choose organic products because they do not use hydrogenated fats or synthetic flavours. As stated above, consumers of organic products may also contribute to environmental benefits biodiversity. These are areas in which consumers may consider that organic foods are better for them.

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Annotations

John Byng
Posted on 25 Jan 2011 11:13 pm (Report this annotation)

Many studies of organic farming have been done by scientists that have too little understanding of what organic farming really is. Such scientists have sometimes made the mistake of examining individual crops in isolation.
Those studies that have examined the environmental benefits of organic farming on a whole farm basis have shown that organic farming scores well, particularly in comparison to large scale mono-cropping. When the environmental impact of the manufacture and distribution of fertilisers and pesticides is taken into account, organic farming scores even better.
It is very important that any conventional scientist takes advice from organic experts (such as the Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm) in the design of research projects.

Jennie Wilson
Posted on 26 Jan 2011 3:06 pm (Report this annotation)

I agree with John Byng.

I would like to share a blog article I wrote today about this question and two others on the same issue raised by Lord Krebs. My article raises issues and includes links to further information along these lines.

http://borgfoodchain.blogspot.com/2011/01/organic-farming-ge...