Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Cost of Organic Food

It's true, organic foods often come with a higher sticker price. Because of this, some argue that the organic movement is an elitist one—only offering healthy foods to the wealthiest. In fact, the mean income of a frequent organic food buyer in the U.S. is $43,280—solidly middle-classand 31 percent of frequent organic buyers make under$15,000 a year. And as more people buy organic, the more ,the prices will go down: Suppliers will have to place orders, which means more farmers will be encouraged to farm organically because they have a steady market for their goods. So this increases the easy availability of organic food, which often leads to a reduced price for consumers.

Some people willingly pay the price for organic foods, seeing this as a charity donation—a way to support the health of the planet or the farmers who are trying to do right by the land and their communities. In some spiritual communities it is even seen as "tithing"—which means taking a portion of one's income and giving it back to the world in a way that supports the greater good. Yet other people see it as a kind of health insurance payment, recognizing that by ridding their bodies, and the bodies of their children, of agricultural chemicals they may have fewer medical bills.


There is another issue: We need to think carefully about the hidden costs of nonorganic foods. For years, we've been forced to buy into the chemical contamination of our planet and bodies under the guise of creating abundant, "cheap" food. But how cheap is it really? The real cost of industrial farming never shows up on the price sticker at the grocery store. The price never shows the money taxpayers pay for government subsidizing of agribusinesses. The grocery store price also doesn't reflect how much we pay for our damaged health and weakened immune systems. It's almost impossible to measure how much we spend trying to clean up and cope with the environmental damage caused by chemical intensive farming, but in the U.S., it's estimated to be $9 billion a year. We just cannot afford this "cheap" food much longer. About three million tons of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides are used on this planet every year! Every continent is burdened with the ongoing cost of cleaning up this chemical contamination, especially in streams, rivers, and lakes.

Diet Start


Unfortunately, it will take a long time for the earth to break down and heal itself from much of the poisoning caused by farming with chemicals. For now, we can't easily rid ourselves of what we have already done, but we can stop adding more. And there is one sure way to do this: Eat organic. If you buy "certified organic" food, you are guaranteed that it was grown without chemical pesticides, GMOs, chemical fertilizers, sewage sludge, or preserved with ionizing radiation.

Purists may think we shouldn't bother with organic certification if it's being co-opted by corporate interests. But we must also keep in mind that the booming organic certification movement is doing an enormous amount to protect consumers as well as the environment from the harms caused by industrial agriculture. Organic certification offers us important safeguards—forcing agribusiness to abandon some of its more destructive practices. A whole line of McOrganics or Organic Coke may seem like horrible aberrations, corrupting the sacred intentions of the organic pioneers. But any restraints we can put on the corporate world are important. And in some instances, corporations might actually give greater economic strength and consumer recognition to small, ethical businesses without corrupting their core values. For instance, when M&M-Mars bought Seeds of Change it helped finance a wonderful company that has remained dedicated to sustainable farming and protecting the purity and heritage of our seed supply.

As we said, the rising availability of organic foods gives us solid evidence of the power of consumers. It tells us that we are forcing the corporations, some of which are the biggest names in agribusiness, to change their farming methods in order to capitalize on the fastest-growing trend in the industry. And in the next chapter I'll tell you more about what you can do to directly support the small-scale, deep organic farmers we value so greatly.

Avoid Pesticides and Other Chemicals

Unless you primarily purchase organic foods, one item in three in your kitchen cabinet or refrigerator will likely contain pesticide residues. Government testing has found residues from as many as seven different pesticides on a single head of nonorganic lettuce. So if one of your main reasons for buying organic is to reduce your exposure to farm chemicals, you may want to substitute organic for the produce that typically has the highest levels of chemical residues.

U.S. shoppers should also avoid imported, nonorganic fruits and vegetables, since they consistently contain more residues than domestic samples. Also, many chemical corn.. panies take the pesticides that are banned in the United States and unload them in countries where there are fewer government restrictions.

Another bonus of certified organic foods is that they have to be processed without many of the food additives that have been linked to diseases such as cancer, heart disease, migraine, hyperactivity, and osteoporosis. For instance, the enhanced red color of some nonorganic strawberries comes from the fungicide captan, a probable human carcinogen that irritates skin and eyes, and is highly toxic to fish. Phosphoric acid in fizzy drinks has been linked to osteoporosis. Aspartame, an artificial sweetener in nonorganic foods, is linked to mood swings and migraines, and MSG (monosodium glutamate) is linked to asthma and headaches.

Feed Children and Babies Organics

As we said, children are especially vulnerable to the effects of pesticide residues. And we now have scientific evidence for what common sense already told us: Children and babies who are fed mostly organic foods have lower levels of pesticide residues in their bodies than children who are fed nonorganic foods. So it is well worth the investment in feeding children organic foods.

If you have no choice but to serve nonorganic foods, parents can reduce exposure by serving children vegetables with thicker skin, shells, or peels, since soft-skinned fruit and vegetables seem more likely to contain residues. According to research from Consumer Reports, pesticide residues in a single serving of peaches "consistently exceeded" the EPA's safe daily limit for a forty-four-pound child. Since pesticide residues can be transferred (often in a more concentrated form) through the placenta and breast milk, it is especially important that women who are pregnant or breast-feeding follow these guidelines.

... andjoyohoxing