Does the carbon footprint of organic milk production negate its environmental benefits?

Henry J.W. Robertson
Department of Geography, Oxford Brookes University
August 2008


This review aims to highlight the environment, economic and social factors which influence the production of organic milk. In 2006 organic food and drink sales reached £2 billion in the UK, indicating an overall growth of 22% from the previous year (Melchett 2007 b). However, human health aside, the organic milk market is coming under scrutiny. Its low yields are a crucial factor. Foster et al. (2006) estimates that organic production requires up to 80% more land to produce one unit of milk than conventional production does. And the energy consumption per functional unit in the on-farm process is around 20% higher on an organic model than it is on a conventional one. European farm Life Cycle Assessment models have shown that the actual global warming potential of organic milk is higher than conventional milk. Methane emissions from the organic farm are largely to blame for this. The importing of organic Soya meal for cattle feed from distant continents is a subject that needs recognition, as all the protein requirements for organic dairy cows cannot be grown in temperate/cool climates. The environmental burdens of organic milk production are often subliminal but entirely significant and require further research.


organic, conventional agriculture, carbon footprint, yield, Global Warming Potential, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Greenhouse Gases (GHGs)

Does the carbon footprint of organic milk production negate its environmental benefits? by Henry J.W. Robertson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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