Are Organic Foods Worth Higher Prices?

Organic foods come with high prices, but what constitutes an organic food? According to the USDA, “organic” means to be free of toxic herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and fertilizers. Food labeled organic must meet guidelines set by the U.S. government. Agriculture has historically battled insects, virus, and fungus to produce a robust product to market. Farmers motivated by the desire for a highly marketable product armed their crops with chemicals. Due to their lack of understanding of the consequences, they continued the use of these toxins by routinely spraying their crops. Licensed pilots, hired to aerially dust crops created a new industry. At first glance it seemed a successful solution; farmers were no longer bringing half-eaten crops to market. The effects of the toxins soon caught up with the farmers, their workers, their families, and us, the consumer. The use of toxic chemicals also effected the animal food population that was fed these crops. Therefore, this problem affected our whole food supply, which inevitably affects us. New cancers appeared and rapidly spread from the handling, inhaling, and digesting of the toxins and crops. Poisoning the bugs was also poisoning us.

What Are Our Alternatives?

Consumer demands, backed by the health care industry, called for agriculture to search for healthy alternatives. From the business perspective of farming, ranching, and food production, the problem was about profit and loss. From a business point of view, ignoring the opinions of consumers and physicians was considered costly.  The agricultural industry was compiled with legal suits. While large numbers of farmers were ill, their farms were lost, to banks. Banks passed the financial liabilities to large corporations. Farming was no longer family owned and decisions affecting our food supply were in the hands of big business. Still influenced by the desire to heighten profit margins, focus was placed on increasing production. Smaller farms developed with the sole intent to market organic foods. Due to the growing popularity, the large corporations followed with a select line of organic foods.

Science soon developed a new approach to producing a consumer friendly food supply. Genetically modified (GM) foods were introduced in the early 1990’s. Genetically engineering changes in the DNA of certain foods changed the properties of the food. Some common properties of genetically modified foods are a resistant to pest, herbicides, pesticides, certain virus, fungi, and bacteria. A few GM foods contain high amounts of Vitamin A or C. Sounds beneficial although the risks of eating genetically altered foods has not been thoroughly tested. Environmental concerns have yet to be studied. Unintentional cross-breeding of GM foods has not been addressed. Yet, as with the use of toxins, the sale and use of GM foods continue. Not all countries have joined the bandwagon. Zambia has removed GM foods from the UN World Food Programme. Venezuela and Hungary have banned the import of GM foods.

Animal source foods have been manipulated to increase production for many years. Antibiotic fed poultry and livestock are a good example. The practice of raising animals in crowded conditions has a result of infection prone animals. Since the 1940’s, antibiotics were routinely mixed into the animals fed to combat the infections. Long term use of these antibiotics might have led to a resistance by the bacteria. It is also evident that resistances to antibiotics have grown in people. How much of this comes from eating animal source food, fed with antibiotics is unclear. Clearly, the doses of antibiotics needed to fight infections have increased over the years. Some argue that is due to over prescribing the drug. How much of an effect each argument has played has not been studied.

Are We Swayed by the Propaganda?

The Organic Trade Association says that the prices for organic foods reflect many of the same cost as conventional foods. Both foods need to cover the cost of growing, harvesting, transporting, and storing. Since organic foods do not use “extras” such as pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and antibiotics it seems the cost should be lower than those that do. Organic foods do not need to cover the cost of cleanup of polluted water or the replacement of eroded soils. I have always been confused by the increased cost of omitting something. For instance, the higher cost of salt-free vegetables is puzzling. Instead of asking if we are willing to pay for organic foods, maybe we should be asking if those growing organic foods are being charged more for harvesting, transporting, and storing.

Photo by Deborah Mazon

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