Buying Organic Food

Question:

I have a friend who buys all organic food. What does it mean when they slap an organic label on a package? Is it actually better or just packaging? I like the idea of eating organic, but why does it cost so much. What are some ways to save money eating organic food?

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Thanks
Janine from CO

Answer:

Janine,

It is much more than packaging. This was USDA's definition of "Organic" effective since October 21, 2002. All farms and products claiming to be organic needed to be guaranteed by a USDA-approved independent agency to meet the following guidelines:

  • Abstain from the application of prohibited materials (including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and sewage sludge) for 3 years prior to certification and then continually throughout their organic license.
  • Prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms and irradiation
  • Employ positive soil building, conservation, manure management and crop rotation practices.
  • Refrain from antibiotic and hormone use in animals.
  • Sustain animals on 100% organic feed.
  • Avoid contamination during the processing of organic products.
  • Keep records of all operations.

There are variations in labeling claims including "100% organic" (all organic ingredients), "organic" (at least 95% organic ingredients), and "made with organic ingredients" (70% organic ingredients).

Unfortunately, as I write this, congress passed a congressional rider that weakens these standards by allowing certain synthetic food additives to be added to organic products without notifying the consumer.

Organic food costs more for several reasons:

  • The result of not using pesticides and herbicides results in more labor (weeding-by-hand, etc.) Instead of relying on chemical fertilizers and sewage sludge, organic farmers rely on soil building techniques using compost and animal manure that is bulky and more expensive to transport.
  • Everything done on a mass scale is cheaper, including commercial farming. That is why jewelry from Wall Mart is cheaper than buying from a designer.
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  • Organic livestock feed costs more (almost 2 x more)
  • Instead of always planting a cash crop (the crop that pays the most money), organic producers rotate their crops to improve soil nutrients.
  • Demand for organic products far exceeds supply
  • Organic certification costs money
  • Retailers need to make up the cost differential so they pass it on to you.

Since your friend already buys organic, consider pitching in to buy a share in a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. You pay a fee at the beginning of the season and in return, you receive weekly boxes of fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers (whatever is in season). Another option is to join a local food co-op, where members get a discount on purchases (volunteer and get more). Also try buying from farmer's markets, buying in bulk, stocking up on whatever is in season and then canning or freezing it, or try growing your own. In the off-season, when produce is more expensive, buy frozen or canned.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com

October 22, 20050 found this helpful
Top Comment

Well in answer to the 2nd post 1st, organically grown foods have been found to contain pesticides - but far less than 'conventionally' grown .

The sad fact is our environment has been poisoned - there's no escape from it, but buying & consuming organic products does help reduce your own personal exposure & also supports agricultural practices that are less harmful to our environment/ecology.

As for the 1st question, most organic costs approx. the same as 'conventional' here where I live.But there are more than a few co.s that charge 'what the market will bear' - that is, many people don't question higher $$ for organics coz they perceive it as higher quality (which it usually is).

& what many do not realise is that the super cheap prices for 'conventional' foods are the result of subsidies - so tax $$ pays the costs - a.k.a. 'hidden' costs.Environmental damage, loss of habitat/ecosystems, farmworker healthcare - not to mention cheap imports which put US producers @ a disadvantage - all get paid for out of taxpayer pockets - sooner or later.So you either pay a bit more up front or subsidise (for a lot more) the 'hidden' costs of 'cheap' food .

FWIW, I belong to a small co-op - about a dozen members buy from a local organic distributor & have membership w/ a local CSA(community supported agriculture) organic farm.(You might check to see if there is a CSA in your area - they're almost everywhere.)We order every other week & split the costs - 2 weeks worth of organic produce & organic eggs costs me less than $30 & feeds my household of 3 adults.

I have a garden too & fruit trees - all organic.

http://www.ewg.org/

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October 22, 20050 found this helpful
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I try to buy organic foods whenever I can, for both myself and my 2 year old son. I don't know that it's proven that organic foods have less pesticides, etc. compared to "regular" foods, but I figure, why take the chance? I would rather expose my son to LESS pesticides. For Miranda, I believe that the soil, etc. that organic foods are grown in have to be tested to meet the standards to label it organic, so I don't think there's much chance of contamination. I agree that organic is usually more expensive (the reason I can't buy ALL organic foods), but this is a matter of supply/demand--if more consumers bought organic, the price would go down. Some of the prices I see are high, but some are actually not too bad and comparable to "regular" food prices. Organic foods also usually have a lot less additives, preservatives, and trans fats, none of which are good for us, so many times organic is better in this regard. I have friends who roll their eyes or tease me for buying organic. But I want the best for my son, and if buying organic foods will help him to be healthier (like I really believe they do), then I'm going to keep going with organic! I wish more people would do the same, at least for their children. Good nutrition is SO important for children's development! Well, I'll get off my soapbox now! Hope my comments helped somewhat!

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November 6, 20050 found this helpful
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the best way to spend less on organic foods is to simply do it yourself if you can. Start a garden and plant the produce that you use the most. If you have room too get some chickens for eggs. you dont have to do much at first you can just start with veggies and fruit and you are allready eating better and healthier foods.

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August 6, 20070 found this helpful
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Yes, unfortunately contamination from non-organic fields can occur by wind, or by seed spread and isn't all that uncommon and is a huge concern for organic farmers. There are several court cases (some involving Monsato (sp?) about this. The best thing one can do is write to their representatives and show their support for local organic foods by purchasing through CSAs or food coops. Potential contamination is not a good excuse to not try to purchase ecologically and environmentally sound produce.

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December 1, 20080 found this helpful
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Hi Miranda,

Yes it is "possible" that insecticides and pesticides can be wind blown (known as drift) onto Organic produce HOWEVER, insecticides and pesticides are expensive commodities for the farmers that use them, and they do all they can to minimize their own "loss" due to wind by applying on calm days. In addition, pesticides/insecticides can only drift so far, and while it is possible to touch the edge of an organic field, most of the field would be untouched.

Organic also has to do with natural vs synthetic fertilizers which contaminte the ground and our water supply. My father-in-law converted from "regular" farming to organic farming about 25 years ago. One of the reasons he did so was because as a child in the 1930's (before the use of most synthetic fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides which are largely petroleum based) he saw tons of earthworms in the soil. One day he realized there were NO earthworms to be found. That may seem small, but earthworms do much to "work" the soil as well as contribute nitrogen fixing bacteria. It took 3+ years to be certified organic, and his fields then had hundreds of earthworms per square yard.

Run-off from chemicals has contaminated many private and community water systems. Large areas in farm states now have to treat their water (with more chemicals) or find alternative sources for their water supplies.

One of the suggestions on where to start to get the most "value" for your money is to realize that the more "water" is in your produce, the more it is likely to have higher proportions of chemicals. Grapes, tomatoes, peppers and lettuces are a good starting point. Fruits that you peel absorb less - such as bananans.

I buy ONLY organically raised meat - the body fat of cattle, hogs, and chickens is where chemicals are stored. In addition organically raised meat is generally more humanely raised and treated, and considerably more healthy at the time of slaughter. That is one reason that most cattle are fattened as quickly as possible because the chemicals and un-natural food many are given greatly deteriorates their health and internal organs by a relatively young age.

You can look for miniscule reasons to not buy organic, but in the end - it is my belief - that you will end up paying with your health.

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September 29, 20140 found this helpful
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Since this question was originally posted several studies have been done on whether organic produce has greater nutritional value. The studies show that organic produce normally has between 30% to 70% more nutritional value than non organically produced produce. Makes me feel better about paying a little more.

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October 22, 20050 found this helpful

I`m all for "eating healthy" but something puzzles me: In a field where produce is grown in the wide open spaces, isn`t it possible that insecticides and pesticides can be wind blown onto the "Organic" produce? This has always puzzled me. Does anyone out there have a reasonable answer? I`d like to know. M.

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