Have you ever been in a state of shopping paralysis, standing with a fresh vegetable in your hand, and the moral portion of your brain telling you to add it to your basket of groceries, but your brain’s financial watcher stubbornly refuses? In a brief moment, both logics battle until one of them prevails. In the next moment, at the store until there is a sense of dissonance when you see an assortment of organic and conventional products.

We must follow our moral compass and go for organic products or be financially prudent and buy everything organic. Mixing half and a half is to be the most unhealthiest of possible worlds.

There are many differences between organic and conventional food products are the same. Scientists under the direction of Laurence Smith of Cranfield University have now quantified the greenhouse gases emitted by farming various varieties of grains, livestock, and vegetables, employing both organic and conventional methods. The results of their research are presented in the publication Nature Communications.

Organic agriculture is an organic method of producing food that requires fewer chemical inputs like pesticides and fertilizers made from synthetic materials. It results from having an environmental footprint that is lower for each field.

Because yields are generally lower in organic farming, it means more land is needed to produce the equivalent amount of crops or livestock. That’s why Smith and his colleagues employed the term ” life-cycle assessment” method to determine the environmental effects associated with each stage of a product’s lifespan from the moment of production until final consumption. They expanded the scope of their study beyond analyzing the emission produced in the process of farming to include emissions from inputs, like making synthetic fertilizers for conventional cropping.

They discovered that throughout the entire life cycle, certain organic crops, such as potatoes, beans, spring barley, and oats, generate more greenhouse gases per tonne than conventional farms. However, other crops like oilseed rape winter barley, rye, and wheat are more efficient when grown organically. Regarding animals, pigs, sheep, and beef were more sustainable when organically produced, but poultry was not.

Oilseed rape is more efficient in organic production. EddieCloud / Shutterstock

To meet its new goal of zero net greenhouse emissions in 2050, the UK should encourage organic production of a select group of food items.

It is a good idea. However, in an exciting variation, Smith and colleagues suggest that if everyone in England and Wales switched to organic foods, they would need more food for their nations. They would have for imports more food items from abroad, which could result in more significant emissions from ships, lorries, and planes. As an unintended result, the carbon-storing grasslands would be used to cultivate crops, resulting in further emissions.

They estimate feeding England and Wales in the two countries alone will require more than 7 million hectares of land worldwide, five times the amount currently utilized. In the case of medium land-use conversion scenarios, this could result in 70 percent more greenhouse gases by people all eating organic foods compared to conventional.

Transport can increase the carbon footprint of food products. Aleksandar Malivuk / shutterstock

Clearly, the ” systems thinking” approach employed to study this issue is beneficial – we often tend to focus on the narrow side of topics and fail to see the larger view. But we could broaden the perspective and consider what other elements could change simultaneously. The public is becoming more conscious of the amount of food waste, for example, and their diets could be shifting away from foods that emit emissions, like red meat. If we could reduce food waste, improve our diets, and further enhance the yield effectiveness of organic agriculture, there would be fewer requirements to import out of the world.

It is also essential to employ long-term planning to determine what might happen if the UK keeps using conventional farming. We are aware that these intense methods of farming result in the loss of biodiversity and decreased quality of water, and deterioration of the quality of the soil and, in turn, increase the risk of food production. In the end, farmers risk destroying the environment so that certain nations, such as the UK, will depend on other countries for food in the first place.

Where does that leave the issue of organic foods? We all can cause harm or help the environment through our purchases, and if we can afford it, we should select carefully. Having a diverse shopping cart is okay since some organic foods are more eco-friendly than other products. It’s a challenge to decide which ones are best for you since food labels need to provide more information about their emission levels and different environmental impact.

With the introduction of new “big data” approaches for monitoring product sources, the impact on consumer information for consumers is growing. One option is to shop for local, seasonal, and organic foods whenever possible. This way, you will surely lower transportation emissions and land conversion emissions. And there is the added benefit that it can help restore your farm’s natural landscape.