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Is Organic Easier on the Environment?

Is Organic Easier on the Environment?

"Organic" and "environmentally-friendly" seem to be two buzz words that have gone hand-in-hand recently, but a new University of Oxford analysis suggests they may not be as closely related as once thought.

In a recent analysis, researchers at the University of Oxford have found that organic farming is generally good for the environment but doesn't necessarily have less environmental impact when compared to conventional agriculture.

To compile the data, researchers analyzed 71 peer-reviewed studies that compared organic and conventional farms in Europe.

"Whilst organic farming almost always supports more biodiversity and generally has a positive wider environmental impact per unit of land, it does not necessarily have a positive impact per unit of production," an Oxford media release said.

Researchers examine peer-reviewed data to compare the overall environmental impacts of conventional and organic agricultre.

The analysis found that organic production in some sectors increased greenhouse gas emissions per unit of product when compared to conventional production. Such sectors include milk, pork and cereals. However, the study did note that beef and olive production were exceptions.

Biodiversity is also generally supported by organic farming, according to the analysis. "Species richness" was 30% higher among organic farms, though 16% of the studies analyzed suggested organic farming could have a negative impact on species richness.

Research leader Hanna Tuomisto says an organic label doesn't guarantee an environmentally-friendly product.

"Many people think that organic farming has intrinsically lower environmental impacts than conventional farming but the published literature tells us this is not the case," Tuomisto said in the release.

Tuomisto says the study showed the results of varying management practices between conventional and organic farms.

"[The variation] suggests that there could be a lot to gain by moving beyond the simplistic 'organic' versus 'conventional' debate and look at how to combine the most environmentally-friendly practices from both types of farming," Tuomisto notes.

The study explains that new options for improving biodiversity and farmland conservation could include anaerobic digesters, selective breeding and improved plant development for less pesticide use.

The full study will be published in the Journal of Environmental Management. The study was prepared by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford and was supported by the Holly Hill Charitable Trust.

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