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Are Organic Farms Really Worse When It Comes to Greenhouse Gases?

Organic farming earned some negative press recently with the publication of a paper that linked it to higher greenhouse emissions, but the truth is a little more complex.

The paper, by University of Oregon Ph.D. student Julius McGee and published in the journal Agriculture and Human Values, found what appears to be a shocking bit of information: “Organic farming,” McGee says, “is correlated positively and not negatively with greenhouse gas emissions.”

The study used data from 49 states collected between 2000 and 2008 (Louisiana is the lone holdout, and data for Alaska was not available for 2000 or 2001) and measured the average levels of greenhouse gases coming from an acre of farmland in the U.S. Though McGee wouldn’t tell me how much those levels have increased, his paper finds that the levels have been on the rise. “The way I’ve set up my model, it’s really hard to see it as the result of anything else,” he says. Given that organic products are on the rise, he figures, isn’t it a disturbing correlation?

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