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The Price of Organic Food

You know that organic food is more expensive than so-called “conventional” food right? Organic food is just more expensive because it’s just some sort of weird product for hippies and it’s just not normal. I’m being deliberately a bit argumentative here because I think this standard assumption is wrong. Maybe the fact that organic food is more expensive is not true or it’s just a trick. Maybe it should be the other way around as “conventional” farmers need to purchase artificial pesticides, fertilisers and possibly genetically modified seeds that organic farmers do not.

Here’s a different view on the price of organic food.

Organic food - Val d'Orcia, Toscana

The definition of organic food

Before we get started, let’s define what organic food really is so there are no misunderstandings. There are three definitions of organic farming at the bottom of this article (from organic.org, the Soil Association and the USDA) and some of the sentiments in these really are beautiful. Please read them when you can. My personal working definition of organic food is as follows;

  • When I buy organic food I expect it to have been prepared without the use or artificial pesticides, fertilisers, antibiotics (or other artificial chemicals) or genetically modified organisms. I also expect that the farms will be run in a sustainable way that respects nature and its cycles, preserves and nourishes the soil, treats animals with respect and compassion and fairly treats all farm workers, suppliers and customers.
  • Organic food is really just normal food, grown normally, grown as our grandparents grew food. It’s not unusual. It’s actually the most normal way to grow food (the way nature intended) and we can all do so.

In an interview that you can find on the Soil Association website, Peter Melchett was asked to define organic farming in 60 seconds or less. He took 37 seconds to give this definition;

“Organic farming is a system of producing food which aims to work with nature, as so far as it is possible to, and to produce food in ways which do not damage the environment, indeed we try and make things better, while treating farm animals with respect, and as good a condition as possible, building soil, and avoiding artificial or off farm inputs as much as it is possible to do.”

It’s difficult for me to see how people can criticise organic foods and organic farming techniques. They are founded on true and solid foundations.

Of course, there are some farmers who might be trying to take advantage of the name “organic” and might be trying to sell a product that isn’t really organic as such. But this only happens because organic food can be sold for more than “conventional” food.

Free organic food

In fact, organic food can be free. What if you saved some seeds from an organic tomato and then grew your own tomatoes under organic conditions? Then you’d have organic tomatoes that were effectively free.

So there’s a baseline truth. Organic food can really be free. A gift from nature. Just accepting this truth tells us that organic food doesn’t have to be expensive.

Big supermarkets and the price of organic food

Our society now depends on supermarkets. They are everywhere and they sell the cheapest products they can access from all over the globe. It’s often hard for us to tell where they have come from, what’s in them and whether they are really good for us or not. But there are lots of brightly packaged products at “low” prices (so we’re told!) and we get addicted to them.

However, more and more of these supermarkets are now selling organic options as they don’t want to lose the significant chunk of customers that demand organic products.

Imagine one of these supermarkets that sells normal, real organic food and “conventionally” farmed foods as well. They know that most of their sales are the conventional foods and there is a small number of people who prefer to buy organic food. The organic food is a boutique option. Also, the people who prefer organic food normally have more disposable income.

Now, imagine what would happen if they received, for example, broccoli from a conventional supplier and the cost was $0.80 and they received the same product from an organic supplier at a cost of $0.60, what would they sell these for? Well, there’s no way they’d sell the organic product for less than the conventional. They know they can get more for organic. So they sell the organic for more.

In a market where it is assumed and accepted that organic products sell for more than “conventional” products, you will only find organic products which cost more.

organic food - digging up potatoes

Where to buy organic food?

The best place to buy organic products is directly from local organic farmers or from an organisation that only sells organic food. This way, the reference price of “conventional” food is not there to artificially keep the organic prices higher. Of course, these purely organic providers can watch the “conventional” prices in the supermarkets and reference their prices to those, but you hope they would not do that. One of the principles behind organic farming is fairness to all and you’d hope that organic farmers would be happy to make a fair return on their products without abusing any potential situation.

My food bill has gone down with organic food

When I was in France, I starting buying most of my organic food from a company called NaturéO and now, after moving to the United Kingdom, I’ve been buying from Abel & Cole so far.

After first beginning to buy all organic, I noticed that I was spending less on my food bill. Why was that? When looking at an individual item, it was regularly apparent that it was costing more than the same alternative in a normal supermarket, so how could my bill have reduced?

Well it turns that I bought a lot more processed foods from the normal supermarket and also a lot of things I didn’t really need, whereas from the organic supermarket I was buying more fresh fruits and vegetables and being much less tempted to make impulse buys.

My food bill reduced and I still had everything I needed. And it was healthier for me.

The common effect of big companies

Big companies (like the ones that run large supermarket chains) are tempted to move to the point where their suppliers only earn enough to cover the necessities of life. And then they’ll create a world that says life can always be better is you just work hard. But there’s no way out, they have you trapped. Better for a farmer to work his/her own seeds and farms with organic techniques than to fall into the system that supports the large food, pesticide and fertiliser companies. At least on his/her own, they have a chance to be fairly compensated for their produce and to live happily.

In the documentary Fresh there is an organic farmer who explains how he generates many times the revenue per acre than the owner of the “conventional” farm adjacent to his. That was really eye opening.

A possible future

The world could convert to organic food and all would be good. All of the mega farms with mono-cultures (most of which are used for fuel and animal feed – not for our nutrition) could be converted to organic farms and there would be plenty of food for everyone. The price of food would be less than what it is today and the world population would be healthier than it is today. The farmers would be happily making a living. Nature would be happily sustaining life on Earth.

When I think this way, I see that conventional foods are the path to some large corporations becoming very wealthy, whilst damaging the planet and all things on it (including us), whilst organic foods are the path to sustainable, healthy and happy populations living in a vibrant world. It might be said that this is very idealistic, but there is definitely truth behind it.

Do you think I’m right or wrong? Have your say in the comments below.

Related Links – The Price of Organic Food

Appendix – Some definitions of Organic Food

From www.organic.org/home/faq

  • Simply stated, organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.

From the Soil Association – http://www.soilassociation.org/whatisorganic/organicprinciples

  • Organic Principles
    • Principle of health
      • Organic Agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.
    • The principle of ecology
      • Organic Agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.
    • The principle of fairness
      • Organic Agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities
    • The principle of care
      • Organic Agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.

From the USDA ;

  • What is Organic Agriculture?
    • Organic agriculture produces products using methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics. USDA organic standards describe how farmers grow crops and raise livestock and which materials they may use.
    • Organic farmers, ranchers, and food processors follow a defined set of standards to produce organic food and fiber. Congress described general organic principles in the Organic Foods Production Act, and the USDA defines specific organic standards. These standards cover the product from farm to table, including soil and water quality, pest control, livestock practices, and rules for food additives.
  • Organic farms and processors:
    • Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
    • Support animal health and welfare
    • Provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors
    • Only use approved materials
    • Do not use genetically modified ingredients
    • Receive annual onsite inspections
    • Separate organic food from non-organic food

4 Responses to “The Price of Organic Food”

  1. Dean

    Excellent article. I have not seen anything thing that comes close to as in depth this post went on the topic of “the cost of organic foods”. This is a wonderful resource. Thanks so much for posting!

    Reply
  2. Jo Weldon

    This is a very detail post.
    Truthfully I would like to eat everything organic but I can’t tell what is really organic and what is not when I go to the store. It’s very hard for me to eat this way because here in the US it cost so much and it seems to be trendy. Healthy food such not be for the trendy people who can afford it, it should be for everyone.

    Reply
    • Pete

      I couldn’t agree more Jo. It’s bad that organic food has become trendy and expensive. Organic food is really just the way food should be and it’s what everyone deserves, no matter how much money they have. A while ago, I found this graphic that captures what organic food really is. It’s nothing weird, it’s really just normal, and it should be for everyone.

      Try organic food, or as our grandparents called it, food.

      Reply
  3. Peter

    I received this comment via email – “Totally agree and share your vision of a world with only organic food in it.”

    Reply

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