Organic food is a growing trend in the U.S., with more than 82 percent of households buying organic products in 2021, according to the Organic Trade Association. But what exactly is organic food, and why is it more expensive than conventional food? And more importantly, is it worth the extra cost?
Organic food is grown in a certain way to meet specific U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirements, which are mostly environmentally focused. These requirements include using natural substances and conservation of resources like soil and water, while avoiding synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified organisms, antibiotics, growth hormones, and irradiation.
Organic food typically costs more than conventional food, due to the higher production costs, lower yields, and limited supply of organic products. As Organic Valley puts it, “the price is higher to reflect the ‘true cost of food.’” Some critics, however, argue that organic food makes food unaffordable for many people, and that it does not offer any significant health or environmental benefits.
But is that true? According to some studies, organic food may have some health benefits, such as lower exposure to pesticide residues, higher antioxidant levels, and better animal welfare standards. For example, a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2014 found that organic crops had up to 69 percent higher concentrations of certain antioxidants than conventional crops.
However, the evidence for the health effects of organic food is still inconclusive, and some experts say that the nutritional differences between organic and conventional food are not significant enough to make a difference. As Mayo Clinic states, “Understand the differences between organic foods and traditionally grown foods when it comes to nutrition, safety and price.”
Organic food may also have some environmental benefits, such as reduced pollution, water and soil conservation, and increased biodiversity. Organic farming methods can also help protect bees and other wildlife from harmful chemicals. As Lord Northbourne, a British author and Olympic athlete who helped launch the organic movement in 1940, wrote, “The farm itself must have a biological completeness. It must be a living entity … which has within itself a balanced organic life.”
But organic farming is not without its challenges. It often requires more land, labor, and time than conventional farming, which can affect its productivity and profitability. It also faces competition from large-scale commercial farming, which relies on chemicals and genetic engineering to increase yields and lower costs.
So is organic food worth the cost? The answer may depend on your personal preferences, values, and budget. As FamilyEducation says, “The general perception among consumers seems to be that organic food is the way to go — if you can afford it.” But if you can’t afford it or don’t want to pay more for it, you can still enjoy the benefits of fruits and vegetables by choosing nonorganic produce over no produce at all.