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A meta‐analysis of the differences in environmental impacts between organic and conventional farming

Koen Mondelaers (Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)
Joris Aertsens (Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)
Guido Van Huylenbroeck (Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 26 September 2009




This paper aims to perform a meta‐analysis of the literature comparing the environmental impacts of organic and conventional farming and linking these to differences in management practises. The studied environmental impacts are related to land use efficiency, organic matter content in the soil, nitrate and phosphate leaching to the water system, greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity.


The theoretic framework uses the driver‐state‐response framework and literature data were analysed using meta‐analysis methodology. Meta‐analysis is the statistical analysis of multiple study results. Data were obtained by screening peer reviewed literature.


From the paper's meta‐analysis it can conclude that soils in organic farming systems have on average a higher content of organic matter. It can also conclude that organic farming contributes positively to agro‐biodiversity (breeds used by the farmers) and natural biodiversity (wild life). Concerning the impact of the organic farming system on nitrate and phosphorous leaching and greenhouse gas emissions the result of the analysis is not that straightforward. When expressed per production area organic farming scores better than conventional farming for these items. However, given the lower land use efficiency of organic farming in developed countries, this positive effect expressed per unit product is less pronounced or not present at all.

Original value

Given the recent growth of organic farming and the general perception that organic farming is more environment friendly than its conventional counterpart, it is interesting to explore whether it meets the alleged benefits. By combining several studies in one analysis, the technique of meta‐analysis is powerful and may allow the generation of more nuanced findings and the generalisation of those findings.



Mondelaers, K., Aertsens, J. and Van Huylenbroeck, G. (2009), "A meta‐analysis of the differences in environmental impacts between organic and conventional farming", British Food Journal, Vol. 111 No. 10, pp. 1098-1119.



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Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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