Monday, September 21, 2015

The Real Cost of Going Organic

It is clear American’s desire organic foods; demand is soaring with nearly 80% of households including some organic foods as part of their purchases. Sales totaled $35.9 billion in the U.S. for 2014 and accounted for 12% of all produce sold. The number of certified organic farms increased last year to 19,474, however inability to keep pace with demand keeps organic foods much pricier than conventional varieties.

$3.49/lb vs $1.49/lb for an organic Granny Smith apple vs. the conventional variety at my supermarket this weekend. The price difference is easy to see, but the quality difference is much harder prompting the question, is organic food worth the added cost?

Organic refers to farming practices which do not use synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMO’s), petroleum or sewage-based fertilizers, and remain separate from conventional products. Organic livestock must have access to the outdoors, eat organic feed, and not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or animal-by-products. It is important to note in organic farming certain organic pesticides are allowed as are natural fertilizers such as manure and compost.

Some studies show use of pesticides in conventional farming, even at low doses, increases the risk of certain cancers such as breast cancer, brain tumors, lymphoma, leukemia, and prostate cancer. Some experts also attribute the use of antibiotics in meat production to increases in antibiotic-resistant bacteria resulting in serious public health concerns.

Research presented at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes found a 61% increased risk of diabetes upon exposure to environmental contaminants, including pesticides. Another study presented at the same meeting found that a 10-time increased exposure to environmental contaminants in early pregnancy increased risk of gestational diabetes 4.4 times.

The question as to whether organic food is healthier has not been substantiated due to lack of significant scientific evidence. Studies on vitamin and mineral content of produce is all over the map and varies greatly. Studies do consistently show organic milk, meat, poultry, and eggs have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids which can help reduce risk of heart disease, depression, stroke, cancer, and other diseases. Further research on benefits of organic foods is needed.

For people concerned about exposure going organic might be worth the added cost. Studies consistently show organic foods have lower residue and fewer pesticides compared to conventional varieties. Each year the Environmental Workers Group identifies the top twelve produce as the “dirty dozen” most contaminated with pesticides and residue. Targeting organic varieties of these foods would be a good start. Alternatively the “clean fifteen” are the fifteen least contaminated conventional produce which might support more cost efficiency if buying 100% organic is not economical. Check out their website for more information.

Dirty Dozen: Produce most contaminated with pesticides and residue
  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Spinach
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Snap peas
  • Potatoes
Clean 15: Produce least contaminated with pesticides and residue
  • Avocado
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Frozen sweet peas
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet potatoes

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