Is organic more ecological?
A study by the Technical University of Munich (TUM) posits that organic farming causes significantly lower environmental costs than conventional farming. Agricultural economist Herbert Strübel disagrees, however, because the significantly lower yields of organic farming are not included in the calculation.
Thursday, February 9, 2023
In a study published at the end of January 2023 at the start of the Green Week in Berlin by the TUM Chair of Organic Farming and Crop Production Systems, researchers attest that organic farming has a better climate and environmental balance than conventional farming. Specifically, the environmental costs of organic farming are said to be around 800 euros lower per hectare. The Munich researchers conclude that about four billion euros in environmental costs could be saved per year if Germany were to achieve its target of 30 percent organic cultivation.
However, as the German online portal "top agrar" reports, these calculations are based on serious gaps. Herbert Strübel, emeritus agricultural economist at the Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences, has addressed these in a commentary. According to Strübel, the authors of the study completely ignore the environmental costs associated with the lower yields of organic farming. The Munich researchers themselves point out that harvests in organic farming are on average 50 percent lower than in conventional farming. In practice, the resulting lower yields have to be compensated for by substitute purchases. This is usually done by importing food.
Imports cause environmental costs
Imported food also causes production and environmental costs. The only difference is that the environmental costs are incurred abroad instead of domestically: "If the reduced yields of organic farming are compensated for by additional imports, as is currently the case, these effects are shifted abroad (virtually imported areas) and intensify because there, due to low yields, land use changes can affect even larger areas and additional emissions are caused by transports and transport losses," Strübel writes on "top agrar". Strübel calculates that the following costs are incurred for the replacements:
- Additional production costs for the same crop amounting to 4 billion euros
- Environmental costs from replacement production amounting to 4 billion euros
- Environmental costs from land use changes amounting to 6 billion euros
The savings of four billion euros calculated by the Munich researchers are suddenly offset by costs of 14 billion euros incurred through imports. Strübel's conclusion: "30 per cent organic farming saves 4 billion euros in environmental costs, but on the other hand causes more than 10 billion euros in environmental costs and 4 billion euros in additional production costs. In plain language, this means that the thesis that organic farming causes less environmental costs than conventional food cultivation cannot be substantiated by the study of the Technical University of Munich, if environmental costs are correctly put in relation to yields.
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