SLU news

EPOK responds to polemic article: Organic Farming Stands Steady

Published: 22 May 2014

The Uppsala-based newspaper UNT published an opinion piece by a professor emeritus Lars Christersson at SLU, where he lists a series of claims about organic production. This prompted a response from EPOK, represented by the researcher Elin Röös and the Director Maria Wivstad.

In the article "Organic errors in thinking" (“Ekologiska tankevurpor”, UNT 4.19) professor emeritus Lars Christersson lists a series of disadvantageous statements about organic agriculture. However, we believe that it is Professor Christersson himself that has got errors in thinking.

It is true that organic cows emit as much methane gas as conventional cows, while producing less milk per year. But emissions per litre of milk is not increased for organic milk, since emissions in the organic feed crop is lower.

It is not possible to say whether organic or conventional milk gives the lowest climate impact, due to the variation in methane emissions and emissions from feed production and manure handling is greater between individual farms than the average difference between organic and conventional farms.

When Christersson says manure gives higher leakage than commercial fertilizer, he has a narrow perspective. The important point is that all animals, both conventional and organic, generate manure that preferably is spread on agricultural land in order to take advantage of the important nutrients that manure contains. What does Christersson suggest the manure would otherwise be used for?

Christersson advocates GM crops to tackle world hunger. World hunger is not due to food scarcity but of poverty and uneven distribution of food. Genetically modified crops, if used correctly, can certainly have a role in a future sustainable agriculture. Organic farming is however based on the precautionary principle and tries other ways to address sustainability challenges. We believe that a diversity of strategies is the best way to find solutions.

Furthermore Christersson thinks that we have enough species on earth. We ask Christersson to read, for example, an article in Nature in 2009, on the planet's boundaries, where 29 leading international researchers estimate that the loss of biodiversity constitutes one of the most serious threats on the environment. The loss is 100–1000 times faster today than during pre-industrial times. Up to 30 per cent of all mammals, birds and amphibians are threatened with extinction this century. In a review article in the Journal of Applied Ecology earlier this year it was demonstrated that organic farming provides a higher biodiversity on farms.

Regarding bacteria in salad, it is a conventional mixed salad that contains the most bacteria in the test Christersson refers (2014-03-22 UNT). However, it is not interesting, because it is not possible to draw any general conclusions from a single test of only ten salad bags. This should professor Christersson as a scientist understand.

However, there is one point on which we agree with Professor Christersson: It is complex to evaluate and compare different farming systems. Unfortunately there is not space to develop this here, but we're referring to, among other things, the knowledge syntheses we have developed at EPOK, SLU, which explains this complexity (

Finally, Christersson thinks that we should focus on local production, animal health, reasonable animal transports and acceptable methods of slaughter. Happily, we can report that much of this is regulated within just organic production, which requires farm production of feed, outdoor access for all farm animals and enhanced animal welfare standards at slaughter. We encourage Christersson to learn about the latest research on organic production!

Elin Röös, researcher in environmental impact of agricultural production, SLU
Maria Wivstad, Centre for Organic Food & Farming, EPOK, SLU