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expert reaction to study on organic food production and greenhouse gas emissions

Research, published in Nature Communications, reports that a 100% shift to organic farming could lead to a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions. 

This Roundup accompanied an SMC Briefing.


Prof Dave Reay, Chair in Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“These findings are not surprising. By definition, organic food production doesn’t use the artificial fertilisers and pesticides that can super-charge yields in conventional systems. Lower yields nationally therefore mean more imports, and so off-shoring of land use change and emissions. This is important – the climate doesn’t care where greenhouse gases are emitted, it’s how much that matters – but land use is not just about greenhouse gas emissions.

“We face a fiendishly difficult balancing act between cutting emissions, producing enough food, and protecting biodiversity and the myriad other gifts the land provides. Organic food production methods have an important role in achieving this balance – you can use all the precision farming methods and fancy fertilisers you like, but if the pollinators are all killed by pesticides you’re still in a heap of trouble. Yes, food production in some areas must become much more efficient so as to free up land elsewhere for carbon sequestration. Yes, our diets must change and cuts in food-related emissions at home must not come at the expense of greater emissions overseas. But as we plough the furrow to ‘net zero’ we cannot afford to be wearing carbon blinkers.”


‘The greenhouse gas impacts of converting food production in England and Wales to organic methods’ by Laurence G. Smith et al. was published in Nature Communications at 4pm UK TIME on Tuesday 22 October 2019. 

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-12622-7


Declared interests

Prof Reay is an advisor on rural policy for the Scottish Government. He also owns a small sheep farm on the west coast of Scotland. No other interest declared.

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