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March 19th, 2018

What’s more expensive: organic or conventional farming?


We hear it all the time: eating organic is more expensive! It’s true that most organic products are more expensive than their conventional counterparts. But are they really? Not if we integrate the environmental, health and social costs of conventional agriculture.

Impact on the quality of water: the best quantified effects are those related to the depollution of drinking water, the problems of green algae, as well as so-called avoidance costs (consumers buying bottled water to avoid contamination). Total impact is estimated at 1.2 billion euros per year.

Impact on biodiversity: it is proven that not using systemic pesticides generates less negative impacts on wildlife. The losses due to the impact of pesticides on fish and birds are estimated at 1.6 billion euros per year. It should be noted that here in France, the index of bird populations in rural areas has decreased from 100 in 1989 to 55 in 2013! In addition, the use of GMOs in conventional farming decreases the diversity of cultivated species and thus the animals that thrive on them.

On pollination: by better preserving pollinating insects, organic farming makes a contribution which is estimated at 1.2 billion euros per year. Cereal crops may not be highly dependent on pollinators, but fruit trees, for example, experience an extra cost of about 300 euros per hectare per year when renting hives during flowering.

On the fight against global warming: organic farming offers two benefits. A meta-analysis of 74 studies indicates that it stores 40% more carbon in soils than conventional agriculture. The report also reveals a significant decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.

On health:  organic agriculture, by not using systemic pesticides in crop production and avoiding the use of antibiotics in livestock, reduces risks to human health from exposure to pesticide residues in food and the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In addition, organic products have higher levels of antioxidants (from 18 to 69%).

Socio-economic benefits:  at the farm level, there is more job creation in organic agriculture. Here in France, it’s been estimated that this increased workforce reduces the cost of unemployment in local communities between 19 and 37 euros / ha / year in large-scale farming, considering that the cost of an unemployed person for the community is estimated between 11 000 to 21,000 euros/year.

Closer social links in our cities: thanks to distribution networks such as the Amaps, or direct supply from the farm. But these impacts are rather qualitative (such as respect for animal welfare), and it is difficult to attribute an economic value to them.

On the preservation of the territory: because of lower yields than conventional, organic farming uses more land to produce the same amount of food while requiring more labor. The landscapes are thus maintained with a creation of rural jobs allowing the survival of our villages.

Yes, products from organic farming are more expensive. But this is fully justified by the prices of production but above all by the many benefits for consumers and our society in general. Moving away from conventional agriculture is a process that is beneficial for all of us in the long term! Each euro spent on organic products improves the state of our soils and water, protects biodiversity, offers more jobs and further removes the specter of global warming.

So what are we waiting for?

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