French, Danish and Swedish researchers say there needs to be a better system to compare conventional and organic production systems which accounts not only for differences in crop yields, but for the environmental impacts of the different systems.
According to three scientists, the most widely used method of analysis often tends to overlook vital factors, such as biodiversity, soil quality, pesticide impacts and societal shifts, and these oversights can lead to wrong conclusions on the merits of intensive and organic agriculture. The most common method for assessing the environmental impacts of agriculture and food is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), but the implementation on many ‘LCA is too simplistic and misses the benefits of organic farming.’
“We are worried that LCA gives too narrow a picture, and we risk making bad decisions politically and socially. When comparing organic and intensive farming, there are wider effects that the current approach does not adequately consider,” said Hayo van der Werf of the French National Institute of Agricultural Research.
“Our analysis shows that current LCA studies rarely factor in biodiversity, and consequently, they usually miss that wider benefit of organic agriculture,” added Marie Trydeman Knudsen from Aarhus University, Denmark. “Earlier studies have already shown that organic fields support biodiversity levels approximately 30% higher than conventional fields.”
Usage of pesticides is another factor which needs consideration consider. The report’s authors say that Between 1990 and 2015, pesticide use worldwide has increased 73 per cent, and that while pesticide residues in the ground and in water and food can be harmful, few LCA studies account for these effects.
Ecovia Intelligence Comment
There is considerable investment in life-cycle assessment of food and beverage products as companies look to measure and reduce their environmental impacts. However, most focus is on single metrics like carbon footprint, water footprint, and energy use. The limitation of such assessments is that they do not take a holistic view of food production systems. They do not factor in soil fertility, biodiversity impacts, nutrition, social parameters and related aspects. As the food industry moves towards sustainability metrics, the question is what analytical tools and methodologies can provide a holistic view?
Source: Hort News, Ecovia Intelligence (18/03)