Have you ever wondered why organic food costs more?
Have you ever picked up an organic apple at the store, held it in your hands, and thought, “What makes you $1 more per pound than your non-organic cousin right over there?”
There’s no doubt about that fact that organic foods are healthier — organic produce is farmed without toxic pesticides, and organic eggs, dairy, and meats are produced without harmful antibiotics or artificial growth hormones. But why exactly does organic food cost more?
Organic food costs more to produce, which is why organic food costs more at the store.
Organic food is costly to produce because farmers can’t take the same shortcuts used in conventional farming, which relies on practices that are both unhealthy for us the consumers, as well as unsustainable for the environment.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these practical reasons why organic food costs more, the first of which has more to do with politics that practicality…
Organic farmers don’t receive the generous subsidies conventional farmers receive.
Production-oriented government subsidies reduce the overall cost of crops. In 2008, mandatory spending on farm subsidies was $7.5 billion while programs for organic and local foods only received $15 million, according to the House Appropriations Committee. Big, HUGE difference there.
It’s like the whole system is built to favor unhealthy, nutrient-deplete foods.
Organic farmers don’t use genetically modified seeds.
That whole “inserting the DNA of one species and putting it into another so we can hose it down with a ton of herbicide and pesticide and it won’t die” thing? Yeah, organic farmers can’t do that.
In case ya haven’t heard, there’s a very heated debate going on about whether or not GMOs are safe. Here’s the thing that gets me: these “foods” were created in a lab and would never had otherwise existed in nature, yet we’re EATING them. Some of these “foods” have even been designed to produce their own pesticide, a mechanism that isn’t magically turned off once they’re plopped on your dinner plate. Furthermore, records show that GM crops are sprayed much more heavily with chemical pesticides and herbicides than their non-GM counterparts since these crops have been altered to withstand these chemicals. What you get, then, is not just a “food” that has been created in a lab, but one that has also been saturated in chemicals (or produces its own).
Organic farmers don’t use chemical pesticides or herbicides, and this means more labor.
Commonly used pesticides and herbicides have been linked to a host of health problems, from hormone-disruption to cancer, ADHD, autism, neurological disorders, and gut issues. Children are especially at risk. In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report that stated children have “unique susceptibilities to [pesticide residues’] potential toxicity.” The organization sited research that linked pesticide exposures in early life and “pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.”
Rather, organic farmers depend on tillage, mowing and cutting of weeds, mulching, crop rotation, insect traps, and beneficial insects and microorganisms to keep weeds and crop-eating pests away.
Organic farmers don’t use sewage sludge to fertilize.
At first, using sewage sludge to fertilize crops may just seem like using human manure — what would be wrong with that?
But there is far more than just doo-doo in sewage sludge. According to Food Safety News:
Sewage sludge regularly tests positive for a host of heavy metals, flame retardants, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, pharmaceuticals, phthalates, dioxins, and a host of other chemicals and organisms. Of the thousands of contaminants that have been found in sludge, the U.S. government regulates exactly 10 of them (nine heavy metals and fecal coliform) if you want to spread the sludge on farm fields growing food crops.
When industry, hospitals, and households send their waste to wastewater treatment plants, the plants remove as many contaminants as possible from the water and then discharge the water as effluent. The leftover solids are sludge. Sewage sludge is typically treated to remove some–but not all–of the contaminants…
What happens to them once the sludge is applied to the soil is anyone’s guess. Some chemicals bind to the soil; others do not. Some chemicals leach into groundwater; others are insoluble in water.
Some chemicals are taken up by plants–perhaps into the roots only, or into leaves, or all the way into fruits. Some chemicals break down into harmless components, others break down into dangerous components, and others don’t break down at all.
Organic farmers rotate crops.
While conventional farmers dedicate all of their land to growing cash-crops, organic standards require crop rotation. So they rotate cash-crop production with “cover crops” that improve the soil’s nutrients. According to Catherine Greene, an agricultural economist at the USDA:
When you’re rotating crops, you’re not necessarily growing all your highest value crops all the time, which is different than a conventional system.
Income, therefore, is sacrificed for sustainability. And as a result, we wind up paying more.
Organic livestock feed is up to twice as costly.
If a cow is one day going to be certified organic meat or produce certified organic dairy, that cow is going to need to eat a special diet.
According to George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley, organic feed for cattle and other livestock can cost twice as much as conventional feed. This is not surprising given the fact that most factory farm livestock feed consists primarily of cheap GMO corn and soy, and organic livestock farmers are prohibited from using GMOs in their feed.
Organic dairy farmers have less output.
Since organic dairy farmers are prohibited from administering growth hormones used by factory dairy farms, they have less output — or you know, the normal amount of milk a normal cow should be producing.
Like antibiotics, those hormones administered to factory-farmed dairy cows find their way into the final products (milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream). Did you mean to order your vanilla ice cream with hormones on top? If the answer is no, you’ll want to go organic.
The organic certification process is costly in and of itself.
The USDA organic certification process is not cheap or easy. Employees must be hired to maintain strict daily record-keeping that must be available for inspection at any time, and organic farms must pay an annual inspection/certification fee.
Keep in mind the unseen cost of non-organic foods.
Conventionally grown food includes invisible costs: increased risk of cancers and other diseases, as well as serious environmental degradation.
I view organic food as preventative medicine, as an investment I’m making in my health now so that I can avoid pain, suffering, and medical bills down the road.
Plus, I view my purchasing of organic food as a donation towards a better, more sustainable planet for future generations. Now if only it were a tax-deductible donation…