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Organic Consumers Association

National Organic Coalition Letter on the Role of Organic in Combatting Climate Change

Chairman Collin Peterson
Ranking Member Frank Lucas
House Committee on Agriculture
1301 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Chairman Henry Waxman
Ranking Member Joe Barton
Committee on Energy and Commerce
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Chairman Edward Markey
Ranking Member Fred Upton
Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment
House Committee on Energy and Commerce
2108 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

RE: THE BENEFIT OF ORGANIC AGRICULTURE FOR REDUCING GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS AND MITIGATING AND ADAPTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE

Dear Chairmen Peterson, Waxman and Markey, and Ranking Members Lucas, Barton and Upton:

On behalf of our organizations and members, we are collectively writing to encourage the Committees to recognize the benefits of organic agriculture practices for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and mitigating and adapting to climate change. Currently, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) offers an opportunity for the Committees to include organic farmers and organic practices in climate change legislation. To date, the agricultural sector has been largely overlooked as both a major source of GHG emissions and a potential tool for mitigation. Within the agricultural sector, increasing peer-reviewed research is demonstrating that organic and other systems that prioritize soil health and carbon addition as well as avoid the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, have the greatest potential for reducing GHG emissions and combating and mitigating climate change impacts in the future.

In particular, we recommend, based upon the scientific evidence included in this letter, the following organic practices to be eligible for offset credits within the current legislation for either their ability to reduce emissions or to sequester carbon: 1) Certified organic agriculture for its demonstrated ability to fundamentally reduce GHGs; 2) Cover cropping and abstaining from fallow fields, particularly with leguminous crops which can reduce synthetic fertilizer use and sequester carbon; 3) Abstaining from synthetic pesticide use; 4) Abstaining from synthetic fertilizer use; 5) Addition of compost and/or manures into soils at an appropriate rate determined by a nutrient management plan; 6) Organically managed and rotational pasture, range and paddock lands for meat and dairy production for their demonstrated ability to sequester carbon.

Furthermore, we also encourage the Committees to consider adaptation programs in the current legislation that will benefit all types of agriculture. Additional research is needed to build upon existing research that demonstrates that organic production systems may be better suited for potential climate change impacts. We recommend that the Committees establish adaptation research programs to better investigate these issues.

We further encourage the Committees to first acknowledge and address the significant contributions of industrial agriculture to global warming. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that agriculture is responsible for two-thirds of all domestic nitrous oxide emissions and one-third of all domestic methane emissions.1 Notable because of its unique potency and persistence, methane has 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide is 310 times stronger than carbon dioxide.2

Estimates of food system GHG emissions, as a percent of total emissions, are as high as onethird of all global emissions.34 In the United States, it is estimated that the food system uses nearly 20% of our total energy and fossil fuel requirements in the country.5 The production, packaging, and application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, substances prohibited under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), account for much of this energy use. Each year, the U.S. agricultural system uses nearly forty billion pounds of synthetic fertilizers6 and more than one billion pounds of synthetic pesticides.7 Fully 40% of all agriculture production energy goes into making synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.8 The production of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides contributes more than 480 million tons of GHG emissions to the atmosphere each year.9

In addition, the EPA estimates that, once on soils, synthetic fertilizers generate over 304 million pounds of GHG emissions annually.10 Any serious approach to climate change must address the enormous contributions of conventional, industrial agricultural systems to the production and accumulation of GHGs.

Reducing Greenhouse Gases with Organic Practices and Systems

Fortunately, there are proven ways to reduce emissions from agriculture and, moreover, use agriculture as a tool for climate change mitigation: transition agriculture in the direction of organic and related systems. As stated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), "[w]ith lower energy inputs, organic systems contribute less to GHG emissions and have a greater potential to sequester carbon in biomass than conventional systems."11

While mitigation of GHGs is important and will be discussed below, it is crucial to begin the discussion with ways to fundamentally reduce GHG emissions in agriculture. Only if the background emissions of agriculture are reduced will the reduction of carbon levels through sequestration make any real difference. Scientific studies are increasingly demonstrating that organic agriculture has an overall lower global warming potential (GWP) and significantly fewer GHGs. Research published last year demonstrated that organic commodity cropping systems required half the energy inputs and have about three-fourths the total GWP of conventional systems.12 

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