Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why is Organic so Expensive?

After reading a number of blogs and online discussions tonight on buying organic food for the family, buying organic feed for animals on the farm and many questioning the merits of doing such a thing when there would be such a financial burden attached to it, I began to really wonder to myself, "WHY is organic SO EXPENSIVE??" As I read post on top of post of people saying, I'd really like to, but we can't really afford it, I was coming undone. I wanted to write back: IT IS WORTH IT, but I steadied my hand realizing that these are easy words coming from someone who has only to buy food for her husband and herself... Will the same sacrifices be possible when we have a family? Will the sacrifices be enough to cover the cost of organic living?

As I thought about it more and more it seemed increasingly unfair that organic was not a viable choice for all. It also didn't make a lot of sense to me - didn't organic food have less stuff in it? Shouldn't less cost less? Alas, so it should seem, but we know business doesn't have to make sense, it only has to make cents!

I needed to get to the bottom of this, for my own complete understanding. I wanted to know what I was paying for really. I know that my intention is to pay for quality food, but I had a feeling that the real expense was coming from something unforeseen.


One of the first things that our organic dollars go to is the manpower. Rather than rely on chemicals and pesticides to kill all of the weeds on a farm, when a farm is organic, they refrain from using these techniques. This does not mean, however, that they allow weeds to grow willy-nilly throughout their crops! In fact, people actually have to go pull out the weeds. This takes time and time = money.

...that seems reasonable to me.

It's Economics

Supply and demand rear their ugly heads into this discussion, driving our prices skyward. It seems that in organic farms have a smaller harvest than non-organic farms. They simply do not produce as much produce! Especially since the demand for certified organic foods is increasing, the prices are following suit.

...this is the unavoidable law of the capitalist world I live in, I guess.

They're On Their Own

Large, non-organic farms receive government subsidies to cover expenses such as pesticides, herbicides and corn. They also do not have to pay for the mess they make of the world around them. In both cases they are covered. If you are wondering where the government is getting that money to pay them, that would be from us, through our tax dollars. Organic farmers are paying for everything beginning to the end, out of pocket - so they put the cost in the product.

...this was the part I worried about.

I am sure there are a whole bunch of other reasons why organic is more expensive than non-organic, but it is this last issue that truly gives me pause. THIS is what we have to stop. We have to stop paying for harmful food. We have to stop paying for it with our money (through our taxes) and we have to stop paying for it with our health! One website that I used as a reference when getting to the bottom of this enigma brought up another very good point - if we truly calculate the dollars and cents spent on the two types of food, we may find that organic is not that expensive. Here is an excerpt from the site's answer to the question "Why is organic food so expensive?":

Some scientists have estimated that the use of just one agrochemical (methyl-bromide) contributes to more than 20% of the global ozone depletion. This in turn is estimated to double the incidence of skin cancer globally.
Our taxes are then used to pay for operations and the care of terminally ill patients. This money is currently not added to the cost of producing crops (such as strawberries) using methyl-bromide. If the environmental cost were accounted for, organic strawberries would be cheaper than conventional ones. (Read more: Why is organic food so expensive?: iVillage,,161170_179846,00.html#ixzz14HRcd027 )

I think this point is a salient one and one we should all consider. Food should be healthy, it should be life-supporting and it should not put families in a quandary of physical health versus financial stability every time they think about putting food on the table.

At this moment I can think of two things that we can do:
  • Use your "capitalist vote" I have used this term before. In my eyes this is the most powerful thing we can do in a capitalist society - speak with your dollar. If you can't buy a whole meal in certified organic or local foods due to the expense, find one thing that you can buy this way and do it consistently. Ask your family members, neighbors and friends to make the same commitment and you will be surprised how simple it could be to make a noticeable change.
  • Support the Farm Bill 2012 I haven't looked at this in a couple of months myself because I was getting pretty overwhelmed by the prospect of the entire thing, but I just found a blog post by Lee Zukor that gives me a bit of encouragement to revisit it with a guide he helped to create! Read Lee's post at Civil Eats and you may get an idea of how important this is for us to support.
We can't just hope for things to get better. 

Reference Links:


1 comment:

  1. My friend Dawn sent me the following comment to this blog on Facebook when the blogger security bat her down. I wanted to make sure everyone got a chance to read her words:
    Buying organic is not always more expensive, you need to be in the right location though to capitalize. (Whole Foods, local farmer's markets) Due to the fact that I buy for a family, I always comparison shop organic versus conventional. Right now, conventional and organic bananas are the same price at Whole Foods.

    To aid in making your decision about when to go organic, if you can't afford to always, this is a list of the most pesticide laden foods:celery,peaches,strawberries,apples,blueberries,nectarines,bell peppers,spinach,kale,cherries,potatoes and imported grapes.

    This is a list of the cleanest conventional foods: onions,avocados,sweet corn,pineapple,mangos,sweet peas,asparagus,kiwi,cabbage,eggplant,cantaloupe,watermelon,grapefruit,sweet potato,honeydew and melon.


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