Does shopping at high-end grocery stores make you a better consumer?
Barely. Indeed, contrary to what one may already believe, organic food is no less effective and therefore more expensive. It’s also worse for the environment.
A study by the University of Melbourne in Australia shows that organic farming yields 43% to 72% less than conventional methods – and to achieve the same yield requires 130% more farmland. One study points to the fact that “if all US wheat production were grown organically, an additional 30.6 million acres would be needed to match 2014 production levels.”
Organic food requires more resources than conventional agriculture. The effects on biodiversity are severe: insects and pollinators can access fewer nature reserves with organic farming. On top of that, in a scenario of 100% adoption of organic farming, carbon dioxide emissions would increase by up to 70%, as researchers in the UK have shown.
So why do some people in the United States continue to buy organic food at sometimes double the price of conventional food? One under the hand, it is performative. Shopping at big organic food stores is popular and probably the kind of thing you’re supposed to do once you have a comfortable salary in a big city. On the other hand, some consumers are misled about the alleged benefits of organic farming. Organic foods are thought to be healthier (it’s not) and don’t use pesticides (it is).
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Organic farming has become a topic of discussion, more than just a placebo effect beneficial to upper-class urban dwellers. It is also political.
“Democrats will invest in research and development to support climate-resilient, sustainable, low-carbon and organic farming methods,” the Democratic Party 2020 platform says. Yet Democrats are doing more than just subsidies — environmentalists undermine the catalog of pesticides available to farmers by arguing that they are dangerous. In fact, portraying pesticides that have been used safely in American agriculture since the 1960s as “bee killers” or “toxic” has been a frequent trope of activists who lament everything from “farming industry” to the availability of meat.
Senator Cory Booker is happy to star in a New York Times opinion video in which he says “we’ve passed the national emergency,” linking climate change to the US food system.
Booker, whose home state of New Jersey produces 0.35% of all food in the United States, is likely misrepresenting the reality of American agriculture. In fact, agricultural intensification has led to peak agricultural land, which means we produce more food with less land overall, allowing our ecosystem to regenerate over time. This means more forests and flowers for the aerial shots of political campaign videos.
The depiction of the American food system as toxic and evil can only go so far as to become comical or sad. None of them are beautiful.
Bill Wirtz is a Luxembourgish writer and commentator and senior policy analyst at the Consumer Choice Center. He wrote this for InsideSources. Opinions are those of the author.
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