Organic Sweden has challenged claims by researchers at Chalmers University of Technology that organic farming is worse for the climate, arguing that its study – based on a theoretical model of land use – relies on “hypothetical reasoning” and fails to account for real-world conditions.
Stefan Wirsenius, who led the Chalmers study, says that increased land use required by organic systems leads directly to deforestation. Since forests act as ‘carbon reservoirs’ (and produce emission peaks when disturbed or cleared), he claims that additional demand on land use “leads to large carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation” at a global level.
Wirsenius further argues that this effect applies to farming practices in Sweden. He says: “Because the world’s food production is linked via trade, deforestation in the tropics is also affected by how we use the Swedish agricultural land. If we use more land for the same amount of food, we indirectly contribute to greater deforestation in the world.”
But Organic Sweden says that the climate impact of food production needs to be seen in a much broader context, and take into account the complexities of real world conditions. In a press release, the industry group says: “Wirsenius advocates an agriculture based on artificial fertilizer that requires large amounts of fossil energy to be manufactured and transported and, in addition, emits large amounts of nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. According to the UN’s climate panel, global fertilizer production accounts for 1.2% of the world’s all greenhouse gases, which can be compared with the aviation that accounts for 2%.”
Organic Sweden says that the Chalmers study also omits to take into account the damage that pesticides have on biodiversity – in turn, the foundation of vital biological processes on the planet. It adds: “The loss of biodiversity risks in the long run turning back on agriculture’s ability to produce nutritious food for a growing population”.
“Increasing organic production will not lead to devastated rainforest. Land use cannot automatically be converted to climate impact”
The group also directly challenges the claim that increasing organic agriculture in Sweden would have negative climate impacts elsewhere in the word. It says: “… we have no shortage of arable land in Sweden – on the contrary. Increasing organic production will not lead to devastated rainforest. Land use cannot automatically be converted to climate impact. Unlike the intensive conventional agriculture in the tropics, KRAV (Sweden’s leading organic mark) also has rules that say that the production of crops such as KRAV-labeled soy, sugar cane, coffee and cocoa must not cause rainforests to be devastated.
“We, who work with organic production, are convinced that future food production must be based on sustainable methods that give us living fertile soils, stimulate carbon storage, biodiversity, clean water and healthy food. We are convinced that the road there is not about investing in intensive farming that unilaterally looks for high returns.”
Image: Organic pig farm, Sweden. KRAV