25 May 2000
Organic’s green claims ‘misleading’
CLAIMS that organic farming is better for biodiversity than other forms of agriculture are damaging and misleading, claims a leading academic.
Philip Stott, professor of biogeography at the University of London, says biodiversity benefits most when different farming systems are combined.
He believes a combination of organic and genetically modified processes could bring the best results.
This comes as two new reports are published claiming that organic farming is good for biodiversity
Government environmental watchdog English Nature wants more to be done to encourage biodiversity.
And organic pressure group the Soil Association says organic practices can reverse steep declines in farmland wildlife.
Ian Alexander, author of the English Nature report, outlined the benefits of organic cultivation to the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today> programme
He said organic farms were usually mixed, which benefited birds such as lapwings, and avoided the use of avoid the use of synthetic pesticides.
But Mr Stott said the diversity from growing organic crops would be a different type of diversity to that found in conventional fields.
“What we are really looking for is a very wide range of biodiversity in agriculture itself, not one system being privileged above the others.”.
Mt Stott claimed that GM technology could markedly increase biodiversity.
In Britain, scientists at IACR Brooms Barn have found that growing GM sugar beet increased biodiversity.
Herbicide-resistant varieties allow growers to leave weed control later, which permits an understorey of weeds to develop.
This carpet of weeds confuses invading aphids, which cannot find the beet so easily, and attracts non-damaging insects and predators, say researchers.
Mr Stott said there were biases on all sides of the organic debate, and accused the Soil Association of damaging organic farming by creating false dichotomies.
He said a combination of organic and GM processes “would be the absolute maximisation both of environmental benefits and consumer benefits”.
Organic farming occupies 3% of agricultural land in the UK.
The government has embarked on a major expansion scheme and will give the sector 140 million over the next seven years.