Why Do Organic Foods Cost More?

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People who regularly purchase organic foods often find them to be more expensive than similar conventional items. However, not everyone understands exactly why producing food in a more sustainable, environmentally friendly manner should cost more. We hope to shed some light on this. For example:

  • The price of organic foods reflects the production costs involved. Clearly, more labor and management are required when farmers don’t use chemicals to manage weeds and pests.
  • Unlike conventional growers, organic farmers do not use sewage sludge or chemical fertilizers, which are both cheap to buy and transport. Instead, they fertilize their land with compost and animal manure, which is bulkier and more expensive to ship.
  • While conventional farmers utilize every last acre to grow the crops that obtain the highest prices, organic farmers emphasize crop rotation to keep soil healthy. Rather than planting a cash crop on every acre annually, they rotate fields and plant “cover crops” that improve the soil’s nutrients for the long term.
  • By rotating crops, organic farmers are not able to grow their highest value items on a regular basis, which is significantly less profitable than the conventional system, according to Catherine Greene, an agricultural economist at the USDA.
  • According to George Siemon─CEO of the Organic Valley co-op─organic feed for cattle and other livestock can cost twice as much as conventional feed. For example, organic cattle feed can cost from $350 to $400 a ton versus $220 or less for a ton of conventional feed.
  • Organic growers have the added expense of compliance with organic certification standards and government programs that don’t subsidize organic farming. In fact, they face stricter government regulations than conventional supplierswhich means higher administrative coststhroughout the entire production cycle.
  • Behind cheaper conventional food prices are greater, hidden costs, such as a higher incidence of some cancers due to potentially carcinogenic chemicals, as well as other diseases in farm workers and their children─not to mention the contamination of our precious, dwindling fresh water supplies.
  • Organic livestock and poultry are not treated with unnecessary antibiotics, hormones, or medications and livestock diseases/parasites are managed primarily through preventative measures like rotational grazing, healthy diet, sanitary housing, and stress reduction. While this approach is costlier, it’s more humane and healthier for all concerned.
  • Currently, the demand for organic food is greater than the supply. While this may affect prices in the short term, organic foods will be increasingly affordable over time.

Choosing organic benefits not only you and your family, but also animals, farm workers, and the environment at large. All that may well be worth a few extra cents on the dollar.

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