The organic myth: hungry for land

biodiversity & environment

By Gavin

June 15th, 2011


Organic production contributes to a high level of biodiversity and the preservation of species and natural habitats.


A misleading statement, and part of the European Commission’s official organic campaign. Organic production can in fact lead to the destruction of natural habitats; and a loss of habitats will usually result in a loss of species.


The ‘preservation of natural habitats’ is a common claim made in favour of organic agriculture; it is an argument put forward by organic enthusiasts who misunderstand the relationship between agriculture* and the European ‘natural’ environment.


Let’s firstly consider the fact that Europe has little in the way of ‘natural habitat’; centuries of extensive land use (mainly farming) have created a patchwork of cultural landscapes – a rich and diverse collection of habitats and species that we call the ‘countryside’. Many of Europe’s natural habitats are the direct or indirect result of human intervention – most notably – agricultural practices. Europe is essentially a very large – in places intensively managed – garden. When we venture outside of our urban spaces into the ‘countryside’, we are not entering ‘wilderness’ or ‘virgin territory’, what we see is diverse, beautiful and ‘natural’, but very much of our design.


The most serious threat to nature (without exception) is land use change that results in the loss of natural areas and precious habitats.


Biodiversity needs space to survive, areas for habitats that support the wildlife upon which agriculture relies. Europe uses around 40% of its land for agriculture, so it is not surprising that demand for agricultural land is cited as the single biggest contributor to biodiversity loss in Europe.


If the biggest threat to biodiversity is the loss of habitats to agricultural land, then perhaps the key focus for biodiversity conservation should be to support the implementation of modern agricultural practices that maximise output on the existing agricultural land base – in other words, to adopt farming practices that reduce the need for expanding farmland in to natural areas.


Fact: inefficient farming practices require more land to produce the same yield.

Fact: crop protection products (pesticides) improve crop yield per land area.


Pesticides can be harmful to biodiversity if overused or misused; but, they also provide a means to save biodiversity by making better use of existing agricultural land and therefore avoiding continued loss of natural habitats.


As populations continue to grow, demand for food rises, and so too do concerns about food security. Pesticides and other agricultural technologies offer solutions for sustainable agriculture and provide means for us to ‘produce more, with less’. A trait of timely importance as today farmers are required to increase productivity and at the same time protect nature and biodiversity, all whilst making more efficient use of natural resources.


This is an incredible challenge, and whilst modern agricultural practices offer solutions, political and cultural barriers can inhibit progress. The tendency for certain political or interest group campaigns to uphold organic agriculture as the ‘green’ way, or the answer to our biodiversity conservation problems, is essentially counterproductive. Organic agriculture is an important facet of a necessarily diverse array of agricultural practices, but it is too hungry for land to be the only solution to halting the loss of biodiversity.



*This is the second in a series of posts we’ll be making, examining the misleading nature of parts of the EC’s organic campaign. We examine the campaign with crop production in mind – livestock and other agriculture is not considered.



  1. alethea

    Thursday, June 23, 2011

    I was an organic farmer (now i just grow ‘organically’) and was amazed by what was allowed by many certification bodies;
    carbon dioxide pumped into monoculture greenhouses to imported transplants….organic?
    No pesticides….unless they were needed?
    Huge pig farms of acres and acres of ‘free range’ but penned in pigs?
    It drives me insane that food can be marketed to the public as organic, given what people think organic means, when it is produced in such an unnatural way.
    I don’t think however that just because organic isn’t perfect that means that the use of pesticides is. It can’t be the answer. We know pesticides affect our wildlife greatly,causing one knock on effect to another. We know that they cause disease in humans.. the list goes on..we know they’re not the answer.
    So what is?
    I’m also aware of the issue of feeding everyone, its something we think about on a daily basis, and there are a few ways that we could address the balance,
    firstly people need to understand the full value of food, and to eat less of it. Cutting down on consumption and waste would be a great start, then we wouldn’t need to produce half as much in the first place!
    Secondly people need to grow their own food. We have 40 allotments on our farm on a 2 acre plot that will end up feeding a lot of people. If everyone grew veg in their gardens at home..that would make a huge difference too.. we all need to become more aware as a nation, about the problem we have, their just isn’t the space needed to produce the amounts of food we currently want, with or without distroying the environment. Unless we a. consume less, and b. ue all our space wisely.
    Farming needs to become a community activity, it takes people, it takes time, it’s hard work. But a farm can be farmed ‘purely’ and produce as much if not more food than in conventional agriculture.
    People need to realy understand the worth of food, respect it, and pay what it is worth.
    Organic is not the answer, Pesticides are not the answer…we are! :-)

  2. Vito

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    Your facts seem to be directly related to the fact that you write on behalf of the pesticides industry. You are not credible because not impartial.

    • Gavin

      Wednesday, July 20, 2011

      Vito, thank you for your input. Impartiality does not guarantee credibility – but this is perhaps beside the point. Many facts presented in this post are sourced from non-industry bodies, such as IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and the WFP (the UN’s World Food Programme). This post uses well respected sources to round what is often a very one sided debate.

  3. Karen Maskall

    Friday, August 19, 2011

    It doesn’t matter how small the size of land that is used for agriculture with pesticides. They dont just land on the crops they are leaching into water ways and flying in the air and they are killing people insects and planet.

    Pesticide use is disgusting and very very wrong. Anyone with a brain cell knows this. Along with the overuse of anti biotics pesticides will create resistant strains and more and more chemicals will be needed to control these too.

    I have no doubt at all that there are some cons in the organic industry. Jumping on the bandwagon to cover up up dubious methods.
    But take a look at a permaculture farm interplanted with plants and flowers that attract the wildlife to control the pests and you have harmony with our planet and NO pesticides.

    • Gavin

      Wednesday, September 7, 2011

      Karen, I think we all wish it was so simple. I think I perhaps failed in my article to make the point that there is not ‘one’ solution, but a collection of methods that we must use to ensure sustainable agriculture. Pesticides will be required, so will organic agriculture, and so will the permaculture farm that you describe… it’s all about finding the right balance.

    • Gavin

      Wednesday, September 7, 2011

      PS. My next post will actually be on the topic of resistance.


Comment on this article