Five Years Later, Scientist Still Thinks Organic Can Feed the World

Jane Sooby's picture

Controversy arose in 2007 around an article published by a group of graduate students and their professors at the University of Michigan, asserting that “it is time to put to rest the debate about whether or not organic agriculture can make a substantial contribution to the food supply. It can, both globally and locally.”

The argument came up again recently with publication of a paper in Nature that presented an overall yield difference between organic and conventional agriculture of 25%.

Catherine Badgley, lead author of the Michigan study, stands behind her findings and challenges society to go beyond being “obsessed about yields” and focus on issues of food storage and waste, farmer livelihood, and access to food.

“We could use the production we have today and feed the world, even with 9 billion people,” Dr. Badgley said. “ If we turned our attention to solving the problems of storage in developing countries, if we could eat less meat in the west and raise animals on pasture, then we could reallocate a huge amount of feed to different uses.”

Dr. Badgley also noted that the new analysis did not include data from traditional agriculture in the developing world, a strong emphasis in the Michigan paper. “It is important to look at organic’s comparison with traditional agriculture because this is how most food is produced in the developing world,” she said.

The University of Michigan team analyzed a broad array of data from the published literature, including global food supply in ten food categories; comparative yields between organic and non-organic systems; and biological nitrogen fixation by leguminous crops.

“We don’t need to make food cheaper,” said Dr. Badgley, “we need to offer people other ways of having access to healthy food.”


Badgley, C., J. Moghtader, E. Quintero, E. Zakem, M.J. Chappell, K. Avilés-Vázquez, A. Samulon, and I. Perfecto. 2007. Organic agriculture and the global food supply. Renewable Agric. and Food Systems 22:86-108.

Seufert, V., N. Ramankutty, and J.A. Foley. 2012. Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture. Nature Published online 25 April 2012.

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