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Surprise! Big Orange Growers Produce a lot of Carbon

January 23, 2009

By Anya Kaplan-Seem

0orangeThe New York Times’ Andrew Martin reported on Wednesday that PepsiCo had hired experts to determine the carbon footprint of one half-gallon of Tropicana orange juice. (It came out to 3.75 pounds.) His article, though it sought to charm with its punning title, “How Green is My Orange,” contained several troubling instances of linguistic imprecision.

“It turned out,” Martin writes, “that the biggest single source of emissions was simply growing oranges. Citrus groves use a lot of nitrogen fertilizer, which requires natural gas to make and can turn into a potent greenhouse gas when it is spread on fields.”

Simply growing oranges? Oranges aren’t simply grown, they are grown in a manner, following a particular methodology. And citrus groves do not “use a lot of nitrogen fertilizer.” Growers use a lot of nitrogen fertilizer on their citrus groves. To be more precise, Tropicana’s growers use a lot of nitrogen fertilizer on their citrus groves—plenty of growers don’t use any at all. It’s perfectly possible to grow oranges—good, juicy oranges and lots of them—without any chemical fertilizer, which would seem to be what PepsiCo should do if it wants to reduce the carbon footprint of its Tropicana orange juice. But PepsiCo (which should be commended for doing the carbon footprint analysis and for publishing it, but which shouldn’t be unduly praised as it is still the producer and distributor of some of the emptiest calories in the world) isn’t quite there yet, at least according to Martin.

“Growing the oranges accounted for a larger share [of orange juice’s carbon footprint]—about a third — than PepsiCo had expected, almost entirely because of the production and application of fertilizer,” writes Martin, who goes on: “Now, PepsiCo managers said they planned to work with their growers and with researchers at the University of Florida to find ways to grow oranges using less carbon.”

Using less carbon? I thought fertilizer was the problem. Shouldn’t PepsiCo be working with its growers and researchers to find ways to grow oranges using less chemical fertilizer? Come to think of it, shouldn’t PepsiCo be working with its growers to implement a way of growing oranges that uses less chemical fertilizer? Finding a way shouldn’t be very difficult, as I’m pretty sure there is a way, one that’s been around for quite some time, in fact. You can check me on this—I might be wrong—but I could swear the way PepsiCo is looking for has a name. I could swear it’s called organic.

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