Is Organic Meat Better for the Environment?

Is Organic Meat Better for the Environment?

Compared to conventional meat, organic meat is often touted as being better for the environment. But a new study finds organic meat isn’t as eco-friendly as consumers may think.

Regulations for organic farming methods may vary from region to region. But bans on the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers—which are major greenhouse gas pollutants—are the norm.

“The advantage of organic farming methods with regards to greenhouse gas emissions is that the application of mineral nitrogen fertilizer is forbidden,” Maximilian Pieper, lead author of the study, told LIVEKINDLY. 

“Thereby, significant amounts are saved during the energy-intensive fertilizer production, as well as the over-application of fertilizer on the soil. When too much reactive nitrogen is applied to the soil, excess nitrogen is emitted to the atmosphere in the form of the highly potent greenhouse gas N2O (laughing gas),” he continued.

In their study, published in Nature Communications, German researchers compared organic and conventional farming practices for meat, dairy, and plant-based food products. They found greenhouse gas emissions for organic meat is actually comparable to that of conventional meat.

“For greenhouse gas emissions, our analysis of the available data reveal that organic meat causes about the same emissions during production as meat from conventional agriculture,” Pieper explained.

A new study finds organic meat produces the same emissions as conventional meat. | Chris Strickland / iStock

The True Cost of Organic Meat

Organic dairy fared better than conventional farming, in terms of emissions. But organic farming methods for vegan food products yielded the fewest greenhouse gas emissions.

“The external costs of organic plant-based products are clearly the lowest (0.02€/kg product, 6% price increase),” Pieper said. “External costs for conventional plant-based products are about twice as high (0.04€/kg product, 25% price increase), although still relatively low compared with the other two broad categories (dairy, and animal-based).”

“Looking at the different food categories, dairy products cause ten times less emissions than animal-based products. Plant-based products cause 68.5 times less emissions,” he continued. 

He added that the amount of feed required to produce meat is wholly inefficient. This applies to whether farming methods are conventional or organic. “The point remains that it is a far more efficient resource use to eat plant-based foodstuff rather than animal-based foodstuff.”