Organic food is definitely a bit more expensive than conventional food. Depending on the season and the region of the country, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that organic food is 10 to 30 percent more expensive than conventional food. But is it worth the price? Let’s take a closer look.
What Does Organic Really Mean?
In the U.S., organic foods are certified and regulated by the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). Foods that have been certified organic carry a USDA certified organic label, which tells you a number of things about the food you’re buying.
First, if it’s produce, you know the food was grown without synthetic pesticides. Organic farmers use mulch, manure, crop rotation, and some natural pesticides to stave off insects and pests. Organic livestock cannot be given hormones or antibiotics to prevent disease and instead they’re provided with outdoor access, organic feed, and improved living conditions. What’s more, when you buy organic, you know your food cannot be genetically modified.
Additionally, using ionizing radiation to kill food-borne illness is not allowed. This is the process of putting foods through a radiation chamber to kill bacteria. Although it’s considered safe, it makes some people understandably uncomfortable. The process can create free radicals in food and reduce the nutritional value because vitamins and nutrients are destroyed in the process. Organic food also prohibits the use of sewage sludge as a fertilizer on crops. Sewage sludge, a semi-solid material leftover from sewage treatment, is often used on conventional crops.
Is Organic Food Better for Your Health?
Conventional foods contain a lot of pesticide residue. And glyphosate, the most commonly used pesticide in the world, has been tied to a host of health ailments. Studies have shown that glyphosate, the active ingredient found in the herbicide Roundup, may interfere with biochemical reactions in the body, which can predispose humans to obesity and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Ingesting glyphosate by eating the residue on conventional produce can interfere with bacteria in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, depleting amino acids. And it’s becoming more and more clear that your GI tract is responsible for the overall health of your immune system.
Not to mention that organic food does not contain antibiotics, and it’s these antibiotics that can cause antibiotic resistance. In fact, 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are actually fed to livestock to fatten them up and stave off disease. Scientists have tied antibiotic resistance to the overuse of antibiotics in the foods we eat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2 million people become infected with—and 23,000 die as a result of—antibiotic resistant bacteria each year.
Then there are all the hormones found in beef, dairy, pork, and poultry. Hormones are fat-soluble molecules and accumulate in fat tissue. When hormones build up in the body’s fat tissue they can have detrimental effects on health. Breast lumps, for example, can be caused by an imbalance in the body’s hormones. So the bottom line is, while organic may be more expensive, you get a lot of health bang for your buck.
Is Organic Farming Better for the Planet?
Beyond human health, organic foods are also better for the health of the planet. The onslaught of pesticides used on conventional crops can pollute soil and groundwater. Ponds and lakes situated near agricultural areas often contain toxic algae blooms which not only kill off marine species, they can even make the water undrinkable. What’s more, genetically modified Roundup Ready crops are often sprayed with inordinate amounts of Roundup because the crop itself is resistant. Although the crop may live, everything else around it dies, creating a dead zone. Dead zones damage flora and fauna in areas near conventional agriculture all the way down the food chain. Milkweed has been killed off across the Midwest because of the high use of pesticides. As a result, the Monarch butterfly, which feeds on the milkweed, is also dying off.
Organic food may be more expensive than conventional food, but it’s well worth the price. Organic food is much better for your health because it doesn’t contain synthetic pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics. Plus, it’s much better for the environment in which we live. It’s all the more reason to drop the extra cash on the good stuff and invest in your and your family’s health as a form of preventive medicine and take control of your health. After all, medical care and health insurance aren’t getting any cheaper. Spending a little more at the grocery store and cooking more at home just might save you from spending a lot more at the doctor’s office and on prescription drugs.