The Lettuce Inn

Where Lucy discovers the truth about food...and other stuff too!

15 April 2012

Are Organics Really More Expensive?

What does organic mean?

Organic systems work in harmony with nature, keeping harmful chemicals out of our land, water and air, creating a healthy environment rich in wildlife and nutrients.

The organic standards place great emphasis on building and maintaining healthy soil, nutritious crops and animal welfare.

How organic food is produced – the extra costs in organic farming

The biggest criticism of organic food is its cost. There are several reasons why certified organic foods may cost more:

        Synthetic fertilisers and pesticides are prohibited. This leaves organic farmers with more expensive methods of controlling pests, diseases, weeds, and providing more nutrients for crops to grow. 

        Organic farming is more labour intensive and takes more time.   Because farmers don’t use herbicides, for instance, they have to weed some crops by hand, 

        And since they avoid chemical fertilisers, they use compost and animal manure, which is bulkier and more expensive to ship.

        Yields for organic farmers are typically lower than those of conventional farmers. They end up with less crops while putting out more time and using more expensive means of growing.

        Organic farmers pay more for organic animal feed.

        Conventional farming also uses every acre of farmland to grow crops, while organic farmers rotate their crops to keep soil healthy. Up to 25% of land may be left at any one time to increase natural soil fertility.

Some other reasons why we pay more for organics at the checkout:

        The supply of organic food is limited compared to conventional food. 

        Organic food doesn’t contain chemical preservatives; therefore, its shelf-life is shorter. 

        Organic food is grown in smaller batches. 

        Organic farmers don’t receive government subsidies like conventional farmers do. 

The prices of organic foods include not only the cost of the food production itself, but also a range of other factors that are not captured in the price of conventional food, such as:

        Environmental enhancement and protection (and avoidance of future expenses to mitigate pollution);

        Higher standards for animal welfare; 

        Avoidance of health risks: to farmers due to inappropriate handling of pesticides; and to consumers due to a healthier food and water supply (and avoidance of future medical expenses); 

        Rural development by generating additional farm employment and assuring a fair and sufficient income to producers.

As demand for organic food and products increases and this area develops, new technology and competitive pricing are likely to reduce costs of production, processing, distribution, and marketing for organic produce making it similar in cost to conventional produce.

How conventional food is produced - the hidden costs in conventional farming 

Conventional agriculture carries many hidden costs, such as environmental and health costs. 

If the hidden costs were included in the shelf price, consumers would be paying the real costs of food and organic food would be cheaper than conventional food.
Some of these include:

        The need for, and cost of, water treatment and environmental protection measures due to pesticide use in conventional farming.  Pesticide manufacturers pass on the costs of cleaning up pesticides to farmers, who pass it on to water companies, who in turn pass it on to consumers via water bills. In effect the polluter gets a hidden subsidy from anyone who pays a water bill, while the non-polluter – the organic farmer – receives no such subsidy.

        Farmers that grow conventional food don’t have strict guidelines which result in bad agricultural practices. Many of them also used chemicals that are bad for the environment. These bad practices usually end up destroying the land and polluting ground water. To fix these problems cost money, it is usually the tax payers that end up paying for these costs. 

        Conventionally grown food is subsidised through the tax system. This means that consumers are already paying for it before it even reach the shelf. 

        In the conventional meat industry, animals are tortured, live in cramped conditions, are fed artificial food and are removed from their natural surroundings and mothers.  Due to their artificial feed, they create more digestive gas in the form of methane which is a big contributor to the damage to the ozone layer.

        Conventional food is not as healthy as organic food because it contains harmful chemicals and is lower in nutrients. These harmful chemicals, such as pesticides can cause health problems, which cost consumers and tax payers more money. 

        Growth hormones and antibiotics, in addition to the genetically modified food fed to livestock, cause various health problems. 

        Many foods are genetically modified. These foods with altered DNA are unsafe for consumption.  

When you add it all up, consumers who buy conventional food are paying for the food itself, the subsidies, the health cost and the cost to clean up the environment. 

Organic food may actually be cheaper to produce than intensively farmed foods. 

Consumers pay four times when they buy intensively farmed food. 

        First, they pay at the shop cash register;

        Next, they pay for the same food through their taxes in the form of government subsidies;

        Thirdly, they pay again to clean up the damage to the environment caused during the growing and raising of the food; and

        Fourth is the cost to our health and, as a result of this, the financial cost of repairing our bodies once they break down.

So when you take into account the true “cost” of food production from conventional farming, including replacement of eroded soils, cleaning up polluted water, health care for farmers and consumers who get sick, and environmental costs of pesticide production and disposal, organic farming is actually much cheaper in the end.

This video gives a good overview of the real cost of food:

The True Cost of Food - Organic food versus chemicals and GMOs