Monday, October 1, 2012

Is "organic" sustainable?

Elsewhere we have argued that some of the arguments for organic food are anything but sustainable. Now we get estimates of the opportunity cost of locally grown organic food:

Studies show somewhere between a 20 and 50 percent decline in yield per acre from organic methods. So, is the environment better served by more land being used for farming, and less land left to nature? Conventional agriculture has given society both more food and more land, in the form of rainforests not farmed, the millions of acres in the United States which were once farmed and are now returning to the wild, or the 35 million acres taken from production in the last 30 years and planted to native grasses in the American Midwest and West.

The entire essay is well written, and funny.

HT:  Germain


  1. This is an excellent example of cutting thru liberal bias without making any attempt to bring forth any conservative agendas. Currently, organic is more a marketing ploy than true grassroots swelling of desired products. However this goes back to the ongoing Walmart versus Whole Foods debate. Everyone would prefer a better quality, healthier option, but budgets (and time) require everyone to make choices. Flash frozen vegetables at the local mega mart last longer, cost less, and taste nearly as good as the fresh off the vine organics. The point that isn't discussed (or at least glossed over) is whether non-organic is sustainable in the long run and even if the short term output is above overall average what happens when it can no longer meet the needs of an exponentially growing population.

  2. Penn & Teller did an amusing segment on this on their show, here is a video clip.

  3. I don't know that this is such a cut and dry debate, even from an economic perspective. There have been multiple instances(1) which show that organic farming done right can have similar yields. I also believe that relying on the our current level of pesticides and fertilizers does more harm than most people are aware of (2,3). I think that if we dedicate to a fuller transition to organic farming, we will likely lose out on overall yields, but this will also spark the type of innovation that is often difficult to predict(4).

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  4. Lalitha BhojanapalliNovember 23, 2012 at 6:56 PM

    The art of business consists of identifying assets in low-valued uses and devising ways to profitably move them to higher-valued ones : A decades ago, we only has one choice - organic (Lower valued use of time and land). We evolved into the non organic world to meet the growing needs of world populations or what ever the reason (Higher valued use of time and land - yield more by using chemicals and pesticides and working the same). Is it time for Equilibrium yet?

  5. I understand that the approach that has been given to these two types of food is wrong. The approach based on the replacement of a type of production over another, I understand each of these types of products have their niche market. The exponential growth of the masses with less purchasing power forced the production to massively reduce food prices.
    As an alternative to this type of maximum production developed with agrochemicals elements, and aimed at a segment of the market with greater acquisition power, as well as with better awareness of the various types and formats of production, as well as the variety of chemicals that can affect their bodies, these are nature-oriented organic products.
    I understand that the organic production is focused on a niche high-end market, is highly sustainable in terms of business. This public, has the purchasing power to hold these types of production, hence highly beneficial for its producers since they would be paying higher prices, compared to those products treated with agrochemicals.
    Froeb, McCann, Ward, Shor: (2014) Managerial Econonics. A Problem Solving Approach, Ohio: South Western Cengage Learning