Local vs. organic: the environmental debate

Yesterday, I wrote about new research showing that organically-grown produce contains more disease-fighting nutrients than conventionally-grown vegetables.  Yet another reason to choose organic whenever circumstances and budget allow. After all, as any eco-conscious eater knows, organic farming is also better for the environment–or is it?

What if your organic produce is flown in from Chile? Do the fossil fuels burned transporting your organic food cancel out the environmental benefit of using fewer petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides?  Obviously, local and organic would be ideal. But if you can’t have both, which is the better choice?

Eating “right” has gotten a lot more complicated

With the local food movement gathering steam, I’ve heard many people argue that local, conventionally grown food is more environmentally friendly than organic food from far away.  But a recent post on the Terrablog cites new research from the University of Wales, finding that:

“In general, the food miles are actually a minor portion of the total ecological footprint of food. In the study of a basket of foods in Cardiff, transport amounted to only 2% of the total environmental cost. Growing conditions, packaging and processing made up the bulk of the impact. In fact, a separate article in the same journal shows that local food systems actually have slightly higher carbon emissions!”

What’s the “Ethicurian” to do? (I can’t take credit for that clever term, by the way. It’s the title of a great new blog devoted to helping people “chew the right thing.”)  For what it’s worth, the readers of the Terrablog pretty much dismissed this new research as bogus.  What do you think? What are your priorities in choosing the foods you buy?

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