The Food Price Scam

Those who disparage organic food often claim it’s too expensive and imply that consumers are being scammed.

Well, it’s true that organic food is often more expensive than conventionally grown food. But let’s examine why a little more closely.

It’s more expensive to control weeds organically. The conventional farmer simply sprays herbicides. One pass through the rows with a pre-emergence herbicide and one more later on in the season is all that’s needed. The organic farmer, on the other hand, has to plow down the weeds several times during the growing season, which uses more fuel for the tractor.

Conventional farming is like a paint-by-numbers painting. Put down herbicides on this date. Spray fungicide on that date. Fertilize with soluble chemical fertilizers on another date. Spray for insects on yet another date. Organic farming is more like doing a real painting. You watch the season develop and respond as nature would rather than on a set schedule. You pay for farm animals that control weeds and eat insects, as well as yield meat, eggs, and milk.

Crop rotations may mean some of the land is allowed to lie fallow for a season, giving it a rest from growing crops, and from making money.

All of these factors and more make organic farming somewhat more expensive than conventional farming—until you factor in the hidden costs of conventional farming.

The government subsidizes many crops on the conventional farm, even paying some farmers for not growing certain crops. Who pays for this? You do, through your taxes.

When farm workers get sick from exposure to agricultural chemicals, who pays their doctor bills? You do, through your taxes that support health clinics and Medicaid. And who pays for the illness chemical-laden, GMO-riddled, antibiotic-infected food causes in your family? We all do.

When the routine use of antibiotics in cattle, milk cows, chickens, and other farm animals breeds antibiotic-resistant strains of dangerous bacteria, who pays for the sickness these bacteria cause and for the cost of developing new drugs? You do.

When runoff from feedlots and other confinement facilities for farm animals fouls ground waters and waterways, who pays for clean-up? You do, if there’s any clean-up at all.

When tainted food is discovered and recalled, who pays for the illness that’s caused and for the government bureaus that monitor and enforce the recalls? You do.

When conventional farming depletes the soil of organic matter and renders it vulnerable to erosion, who’s paying the cost? Our children and grandchildren, who will inherit lifeless land. And who pays for dredging the silt that clogs rivers and streams after erosion has carried the soil into them? We do, through our taxes and the Army Corps of Engineers.

There are many more areas in which the true cost of conventional food is hidden from consumers. These costs are real, and we all pay them through our taxes or by other means. But pay them we do.

By comparison, organic food is far cheaper than conventional food.

Published on: September 30, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Jeff Cox

Jeff Cox is the author of 19 books on food, wine, and gardening from the organic perspective, including the James Beard Foundation-nominated "The Organic Cook's Bible.". He's the former managing editor of Organic Gardening magazine and has hosted two TV series on gardening, Your Organic Garden on PBS and Grow It! on HGTV.

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