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Journal cover: British Food Journal

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Online from: 1899

Subject Area: Industry and Public Sector Management

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A meta-analysis of the differences in environmental impacts between organic and conventional farming

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Title:A meta-analysis of the differences in environmental impacts between organic and conventional farming
Author(s):Koen Mondelaers, (Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium), Joris Aertsens, (Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium), Guido Van Huylenbroeck, (Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)
Citation:Koen Mondelaers, Joris Aertsens, Guido Van Huylenbroeck, (2009) "A meta-analysis of the differences in environmental impacts between organic and conventional farming", British Food Journal, Vol. 111 Iss: 10, pp.1098 - 1119
Keywords:Agriculture, Environmental management, Europe, Organic foods
Article type:Literature review
DOI:10.1108/00070700910992925 (Permanent URL)
Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Purpose – This paper aims to perform a meta-analysis of the literature comparing the environmental impacts of organic and conventional farming and linking these to differences in management practises. The studied environmental impacts are related to land use efficiency, organic matter content in the soil, nitrate and phosphate leaching to the water system, greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity.

Design/methodology/approach – The theoretic framework uses the driver-state-response framework and literature data were analysed using meta-analysis methodology. Meta-analysis is the statistical analysis of multiple study results. Data were obtained by screening peer reviewed literature.

Findings – From the paper's meta-analysis it can conclude that soils in organic farming systems have on average a higher content of organic matter. It can also conclude that organic farming contributes positively to agro-biodiversity (breeds used by the farmers) and natural biodiversity (wild life). Concerning the impact of the organic farming system on nitrate and phosphorous leaching and greenhouse gas emissions the result of the analysis is not that straightforward. When expressed per production area organic farming scores better than conventional farming for these items. However, given the lower land use efficiency of organic farming in developed countries, this positive effect expressed per unit product is less pronounced or not present at all.

Original value – Given the recent growth of organic farming and the general perception that organic farming is more environment friendly than its conventional counterpart, it is interesting to explore whether it meets the alleged benefits. By combining several studies in one analysis, the technique of meta-analysis is powerful and may allow the generation of more nuanced findings and the generalisation of those findings.

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