Economics - General

Why Environmentalists should NOT support Organic Farming

Currently, organic farming supplies less than 3% of America’s food, but this figure is on the rise.  Does organic farming provide a “sustainable” of how to grow food in the next millennium?  

Paul Roberts thinks not.  Eliminating chemical fertilizers and pesticides would reduce crop yields.  Thus, the amount of additional farmland that would be needed to be brought online to replace lost productivity would be immense.  Vaclav Smil claims that an expansion of organic farming would “require complete elimination of all tropical rainforests, conversion of a large part of tropical and subtropical grasslands to cropland, and the return of a substantial share of the labor force to field farming.”   

“Local” farming is viable either.  Most eaters live in cities while most growers are on distant farms.  Growing massive amounts of food in urban areas is not economically viable.  Columbia Professor Dickson Dispommier claims that a 30-story glass skyscraper using nonsoil farming could produce enough food on a single city block to feed 50,000 people, but the farm would cost $200 million to build.


  1. A common misperception is that organic cannot feed the world. In fact, several studies have shown that organic production is on par with, and sometimes superior to, conventional production levels, and that it offers a compelling and sustainable alternative to conventional approaches toward addressing the world’s hunger problems.

    It is also inaccurate to suggest that organic would result in the loss of tropical rainforests. In fact, organic agriculture does much to preserve and protect the natural environment. Organic standards support a system of sustainable agricultural management that promotes soil health and fertility through the use of such methods as crop rotation and cover cropping, which nourish plants, foster species diversity, help combat climate change, prevent damage to valuable water resources, and protect farmers and farmers’ families from exposure to harmful chemicals.

    In light of the many personal health and environmental benefits that organic agriculture has to offer, it is becoming clear that organic offers a sustainable solution that addresses the world’s hunger problems and the long-term health of the planet

  2. And how much catastrophe has the 3% wrought thus far? Leaving aside possible opposing conclusions and the weighing of actual damage thus far (see credible concerns about atrazine) vs the hypothetical 100% conversion to organic farming and the decimation of the Earth that is said to follow, how does this worst-case scenario and ridiculously exaggerated adoption estimate argue against practicing organic and/or local agriculture where it works and is supported? It doesn’t, of course. I run my old Mercedes on recycled and transesterified vegetable oil from casinos and restaurants. Is it sustainable? At the current scale (and price)? Yes. Could the entire world switch to recycled vegetable oil, even in the long run? Absolutely not. Does it mean that we shouldn’t take advantage of local alternatives to fossil fuel dependence to mitigate negative externalities associated with gas and diesel production and consumption, not the least of which is the corrosive effect of concentrated energy wealth on our political system? Of course not. I only comment because the topic is an odd one for the HCE, and so is the tone, in contrast to the customary nuance found here. See, for example, your comment on generic drugs, where you make an argument for bringing more generics to market, but acknowledge that you may be underestimating the barriers to generic manufacture.


  3. A little bit of organic farming never hurt anyone. That being said, environmentalists need to put more effort into things that make a bigger (and more certain) difference.

    For example, the government needs to stop subsidizing the meat industry and its factory farms (if you don’t know about its huge impact, google it). Yes, the price of meat will go up, but the price of other foods will go down. We can nourish ourselves with less animal products. Our tax dollars shouldn’t be wasted on animal farms.

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