Initial Comment on the Reporting of the Organic Farming Meta-Analysis

A meta-analysis about the health benefits of organic farming was reported through various media news sites (such as The New York Times) and commented on by a skeptical websites and social media outlets.  For example, Steve Novella wrote about it in Science Based Medicine and concluded:

The recent review of organic vs conventional produce agrees with previous systematic reviews that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that organic produce is healthier or more nutritious that conventional produce. Despite the scientific evidence, the alleged health benefits of organic produce is the number one reason given by consumers for buying organic. This likely represents the triumph of marketing over scientific reality.

As many of you know, we had a meet-up back in February to discuss organic farming.  We had UM Professor, Dr. Catherine Badgley, help foster a conversation that consisted of a Q & A about the science behind organic farming practices.  You can listen to our conversation here.

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Download Now – Dr. Catherine Badgley “The Sustainability & Efficacy of Organic Farming”

This is the audio recording of the 02/18 meet-up with Dr. Catherine Badgley.  The topic for the get-together was on whether organic farming is sustainable and scaleable enough to feed the world.

We discuss the distinction between organic and conventional (industrial) farming methods, the problems of over-consumption, and addresses some of the skeptical arguments of whether organic farming is too costly, requires too much land, and is otherwise unnecessary.

Note: This recording was made in a cafe, and there are a few moments where ambient noise makes listening to the speaker difficult, particularly in the beginning.  But those moments are quite brief.

Badgley: “Organic agriculture and the global food supply”

In a lead-up to our meet-up on Saturday, I thought I’d post a link to the paper that our guest, Dr. Catherine Badgley, was a contributor.

Organic agriculture and the global food supply

  • Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems (2007), 22 : pp 86-108
  • Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2007
  • DOI: 10.1017/S1742170507001640
  • Published online: 04 July 2007

The abstract states as follows:

The principal objections to the proposition that organic agriculture can contribute significantly to the global food supply are low yields and insufficient quantities of organically acceptable fertilizers.

We evaluated the universality of both claims. For the first claim, we compared yields of organic versus conventional or low-intensive food production for a global dataset of 293 examples and estimated the average yield ratio (organic:non-organic) of different food categories for the developed and the developing world.

For most food categories, the average yield ratio was slightly <1.0 for studies in the developed world and >1.0 for studies in the developing world. With the average yield ratios, we modeled the global food supply that could be grown organically on the current agricultural land base. Model estimates indicate that organic methods could produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base.

We also evaluated the amount of nitrogen potentially available from fixation by leguminous cover crops used as fertilizer. Data from temperate and tropical agroecosystems suggest that leguminous cover crops could fix enough nitrogen to replace the amount of synthetic fertilizer currently in use. These results indicate that organic agriculture has the potential to contribute quite substantially to the global food supply, while reducing the detrimental environmental impacts of conventional agriculture.

Evaluation and review of this paper have raised important issues about crop rotations under organic versus conventional agriculture and the reliability of grey-literature sources. An ongoing dialogue on these subjects can be found in the Forum editorial of this issue.

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Meet-Up (02/18) – “The Sustainability & Efficacy of Organic Farming”

The Ann Arbor Science & Skeptics are having a meet-up on Saturday, February 18th from 5:00 to 7:00pm at the Classic Cup Cafe. Our special guest will be Dr. Catherine Badgley, assistant professor of Biology at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Badgley is an advocate of organic farming, and believes that it would have many benefits to all societies. She also argues that organic farming itself is sustainable and could feed the entire world.  She is currently teaching a course called ‘Food, Land, and Society,’ which explores global and local food issues.

The first part of the event will be for general socializing and ordering refreshments. After which, there will be some announcements, and then we’ll start the informal Q & A at approximately 5:30pm.

RSVP here.

*picture was used by permission from Mitten Press.