Why Is Organic More Expensive?

sustainable farming

The gap between the rich and poor is nowhere more evident than in the difference between what each group is able to put on the dinner table. This one thing has a major impact on people's health, in a country where rates of type II diabetes and heart disease are skyrocketing. Yet many people are unable to afford putting organic food and meat on the table on any sort of regular basis. Why is this?

Is it merely that food produced on an industrial scale can be grown more economically, or rather that organic farms deliberately make their products more expensive in order to increase their profits on the backs of those stupid enough to pay for it? It's neither of these. There are actually two main reasons...

The first is that it actually is more expensive to produce healthy food, giving plants or animals precisely the nutrients they need, in the correct environment and with the ideal length of time to grow. Cramming crops and cattle into increasingly small spaces, with little regard for their biology, and feeding them cheap ingredients (be it industrial fertilizer or corn rather than grass, in the case of cattle) is much more profitable. Essentially, industrial farming aims for a high yield, low cost product, whereas small-scale agriculture is more focused on a lower yield of higher quality.

Fresh produce

The second reason healthy organic food is so much more expensive is that the price of conventionally grown produce or meat is artificially low due to the huge agricultural subsidies provided by government. The United States spends tens of billions of dollars a year on agricultural subsidies to industrial agriculture. Yes, you read that right ... tens of billions so that huge corporations like Cargill can make money hand over fist producing unhealthy foods laden with trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup while your local small-scale organic farmer producing healthy fruits and vegetables and grass fed meat struggles just to be able to pay his mortgage and put food on his own table every month.

The government is obviously far less concerned with keeping its citizens healthy than in keeping corporate agricultural interests happy. American agricultural policy, instead of encouraging the development and success of local organic farms, gives all the subsidies to big agribusinesses which grow ever increasing quantities of intensively reared meat and genetically modified grains such as corn and soy.

These mega-corporations even get compensated when the price of their product falls, which is what happens when you flood an already saturated market with more than it can use. Meanwhile, your local small farm that grows produce and meat in a sustainable manner still has to follow all governmental regulations, which cost a lot of money, for which they are not similarly compensated.

CAFO feedlot

The true cost of producing corn and beef on a large scale is borne by the US taxpayer, who also picks up the bill for the environmental and health damage inflicted by industrial farming practices. Nitrogen run-off from fertilizer application causes water pollution and other environmental problems that must be dealt with, and diseases such as E. coli are becoming more common as a result of the way animals are treated in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). Factor the cost of these into your weekly grocery bill and suddenly organic food is no longer more expensive.

If emphasis was given to quality rather than quantity, with subsidies given to help increase sustainable farming, and big farms were forced to pay for the environmental damage they cause, then many more people could afford to eat well, and would likely choose to. But until major changes are made to U.S. farm policy, there are few options but to pay for good healthy organic food. Learning to cook simple meals with fresh local ingredients and foregoing processed foods can reduce your cost significantly, however.

The good news is that the popularity of organic products is still rising, and with each purchase the demand for nutritionally poor food containing unhealthy trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup falls. You can also support the petition for a Fair Farm Bill that will help small farms put healthy food on your table for less. If you put your hard-earned dollars into buying food that is produced in a way that is local, ethical and nutritionally rich, you will show producers there is a clear market for it, and with more small producers prices should eventually fall.

Andy McLellan

Top Photo: Kristin Smith
Middle Photo: Shantel Ruiz
Bottom Photo: Chris Austin

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