London - If you think you are doing your bit for the environment by choosing organic chocolate or bananas, you might have an unpalatable truth to swallow.
Scientists at Oxford University say that while organic farming helps wildlife threatened by intensive agriculture in developed countries, the same might not apply in the Third World, where virgin land may be cleared for crops such as cocoa beans and bananas.
This land is likely to support more plants and wildlife when wild than when farmed. And as organic farms often need more land than conventional ones, they may not be as good for the environment as believed.
Lindsay Turnbull, of Oxford University’s department of plant sciences, said more research was needed on farming in tropical and subtropical regions.
‘For example, there are no studies on organic bananas or cocoa beans, two of the most popular organic products in European supermarkets,’ she added.
‘We simply cannot say whether buying organic bananas or chocolate has any environmental benefit.’
Dr Turnbull analysed almost 100 studies into wildlife on farms.
On average, organic farms, which grow their crops without pesticides or artificial fertilisers, had 34 percent more species of plants, insects and birds than conventional ones. In some cases, this was as high as 43 percent.
However, most of the data came from Europe, despite three-quarters of organic farming being done elsewhere.
Dr Turnbull, writing in the Journal of Applied Ecology with her colleague Sean Tuck, said we could not assume the same applied all over the world.
The Soil Association said studies had shown organic farming had ‘huge benefits’ in developing countries. - Daily Mail