Daily News Archive

Organic Farming Benefits Wildlife
(Beyond Pesticides, October 29, 2004)
New research shows that organic farming increases biodiversity, and is beneficial to wildlife at all levels of the food chain, from bacteria to mammals, according to New Scientist. The study “Does Organic Farming Benefit Biodiversity?,” published in Biological Conservation (volume 122, page 113), is the largest review ever done of studies from around the world comparing organic and conventional agriculture.

Researchers reviewed data from Europe, Canada, New Zealand and the US. In more than 50 comparisons it was usually true, although not universally, that organic farms had more individual wild animals and/or plants, such as birds, bats, insects and wildflowers, and also some declining species such as skylark. The research concluded that there were three main reasons for this:

  • non-use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides;
  • sympathetic management of non-cropped habitats such as hedges, ditches and ponds;
  • a greater tendency for organic farms to be mixed livestock and arable enterprises.

Mixed farms often provide the mosaic of different habitats that wildlife needs to thrive in the farmed environment. For example, lapwings - a species of bird - nest on spring-sown crops, but raise their chicks on pasture. Intensive agriculture has been blamed for the 80% decline in lapwing numbers in England and Wales since the 1960s, according to New Scientist.

It is interesting to note that the research was performed by groups from two independent organizations with no vested interested in organic farming: English Nature, a government agency which champions wildlife conservation, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Critics of study’s conclusions say that conventional farms that use pesticides may help wildlife flourish as well, and that farmers who opt for organic may have already leaned toward environmental practices, and that perhaps biodiversity was higher than average before conversion to organic.

While the study did not encompass these topics, other research has shown biodiversity is affected by heightened pesticide use in fields of genetically engineered (GE) crops. A three-year study published in 2003, led by the British government, showed that farmland wildlife is harmed by the extra-powerful herbicides used with GE crops. (See Daily News story). GE crops are not allowed in organic farming. Unfortunately, there are no labeling regulations for GE foods, so the only way for a consumer to know if a product is GE-free is to buy organic.

TAKE ACTION: Support organic farmers by buying USDA certified organic products. Lobby your supermarket to label GE food. Voice your concerns to your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative, U.S.EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt, and USDA Secretary Ann M. Veneman.