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Is organic better? Organic vs conventionally grown food

Updated on August 29, 2011

If organic foods are better for you, why are they so darned expensive?

I just started buying organic products on a regular basis this year. Prior to that, my feeling was that I just couldn't afford the prices; they are so much more expensive than conventionally grown products. And, how much better could they taste? The fact that conventional varieties were filled with pesticides, etc didn't seem to bother me. After all, most of the rest of the nation was eating them and they seemed to fare all right.

On reflection, I realize now that I was way off base. Not only do they taste better, but I'm no longer putting those nasty toxins into my body. After eating my first organic strawberries and marveling at how delicious they were, I thought maybe I should check out the research to see if I was also wrong about the toxins. This is what I found out.

Are organic foods really better for you? I would say so. According to researchers, they contain more vitamins, minerals, enzymes and taste than conventionally farmed produce. They are free of insecticides, pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, fertilizers and many other toxic artificial additives, flavorings, colorings and preservatives.

So, if they're so much better for you, why are they so darned expensive?

Real reasons why organic food is more expensive than conventional food:

To begin with, organic farming is done on a smaller scale than conventional farming; therefore, the amount of food produced is less. In addition, the production costs are higher because organic farmers don't use herbicides so they have to weed some crops by hand,

This labor intensive method contributes to a more expensive product. And, organic farming relies on crop rotation. Up to 25% of land may be left to lie fallow at any one time to increase natural soil fertility. Finally, there are many hidden costs and political reasons associated with the production of food, conventional and organic.

  • Organic food producers don’t get subsidies from the government.
  • The supply of organic food is limited compared to conventional food.
  • It is labor intensive to grow organic food because farmers can’t use certain chemicals to assist themselves.
  • Organic food doesn’t contain chemical preservatives; therefore, its shelf-life is shorter.
  • Organic food is grown in smaller batches.

Government subsidies and Agrochemical farming

Agro­chemical agriculture is heavily subsidized by the taxpayer through the government, whereas organic farming receives no subsidies at all. You would think that organic food would cost less to produce than foods with added extras. However, it’s a lot more complex than that.

The main reason that intensively farmed foods are cheaper to buy in the shops is that you are paying for them in your taxes. Taxes that go towards subsidizing this method. This situation dates back to the aftermath of World War II. There were severe food shortages.

Starvation and famine in Europe urgently needed to be protected against, and he new chemical technologies of the 1950’s seemed like a gift. European governments encouraged an abundance of foods by subsidizing the use of chemicals in farming.

Agro­chemicals were not developed with nutrition, taste or the ecology in mind. The chemical designers focused on mass production of food cheaper. So what we get is a cheap but inferior product.

The government is also giving subsidies to the meat and dairy industry because lobbyists for that industry have promised help in funding their campaigns.

Negative effects

Coffee, cotton and tobacco crops are the most heavily sprayed and damaged crops in the world. Yet those toxins don’t directly bother consumers, It’s the field workers that suffer. They’ve had all sorts of genetic problems, fertility and conception problems, skin problems, and high cancer incidences. It’s just morally reprehensible that we should allow that to go on.

Supermarkets are fighting to reduce the price of organic food. That would make it even less profitable for organic farmers to remain in business. The cost of production for these farmers must be built into the price.

But it's really more complex than this. There are experts that say that organic food is actually cheaper to produce than intensively farmed foods. consumers pay three 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, as modern farming is subsidized through the tax system. Thirdly, they pay again to clean up the damage to the environment caused during the growing and raising of the food.

Paying as much or more for conventional food

Most people think that by buying conventional food instead of organic food, they are saving money. In reality, they are paying just as much or even more. Here is why:

  • 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 subsidized through the tax system. This means that consumers are already paying for it before it even reach the shelf.
  • Conventional food is not as healthy as organic food because it contained 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.
  • 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.

What we need to do

We need to safeguard the future of organic farming by paying a little bit extra for organic food. We need to sell organic foods for their true costs. We need to avoid both profiteering and artificially subsidizing the market. Instead of lowering prices which could threaten the livelihood of the farmers, supporters of organic products say we should reflect in the price to the customer, the extra costs involved in organic farming and production.

Supermarkets must be willing to resist making additional margins on organic foods. The additional cost to the customer should then be passed back to the farmer. it is not helpful to the long term development of organic foods to artificially lower the price or hide the true costs to customers. As the organic market grows prices will stabilize.

Organic Vegetable Garden
Organic Vegetable Garden

Organic gardening

An alternative to paying the inflated prices for organic vegetables in the supermarket is to grow your own. It's a little tricky, but not as hard as you might think. To begin with, you need to amend your soil, preferably with nutrient-rich compost material You wont need pesticides, if you grow your plants in fertile soil. Have you Cooperative Extension Service test your soil to see what nutrients you may need to add. In order to make your own compost, pick a spot near your garden.

Add vegetable trimming, eggshells, adn coffee grounds to the pile regularly. layer in grass, dead leaves, and garden clippings (no weeds or diseased plants). Cow and horse manure can be added. Do not add meat waste or pet droppings. Keep the pile moist and turn it occasionally. Shovel pile into a large barrel or compost keeper and wait til soil has become a black compost. Add to you garden soil.

Until your compost pile starts producing, you can buy organic compost at a garden center. When choosing plants for your organic garden, select disease resistant varieties. Give each plant plenty of room to grow and mulch with straw, or mulching material, to prevent weeds and retain moisture. To keep pests away, try Neem. Pest wont eat plants sprayed with it. Neem is non-toxic to humans and pets. Check the Internet for information on selecting plants, planting, and growing them.


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