Whenever I’m at a social gathering, and go on a friendly rant about the harms posed by chemical/conventional agriculture, and the overwhelming virtues of organic food and farming, someone will invariably bring up the “P” word. That’s “p” as in price.
“Hey, organic is great,” they’ll agree. “But it just costs so much.”
They’re right of course. Organic food does cost more — at the check-out. But that’s where the savings ends. When we do a little “full-cost accounting,” and start adding up all those external costs not paid at the register, organic comes out looking like one heck of a bargain.
Take antibiotic resistance, for example. We’re told that routine use of antibiotics in conventional livestock agriculture increases growth efficiency, and helps keep consumer prices low. But what’s left out of that argument is the unintended consequence of antibiotic resistance, which creates a tremendous economic burden on our entire healthcare system.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the U.S. alone, antibiotic resistant infections are responsible for $20 billion in excess healthcare costs, $35 billion in societal costs and $8 million in additional hospital days.
Then there are the painfully high costs of birth defects, obesity, type II diabetes and cancer, related to the use of certain pesticides.
It’s no surprise that the most recent President’s Cancer Panel Report recommends choosing foods grown w/out pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and eating free range meats raised without antibiotics and growth hormones. In other words, the report advocates organic food and farming to reduce cancer risk.
Pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers also pollute our waterways, poison and contaminate fish, and kill our precious pollinators on which we depend for a rich and nourishing diet.
Speaking of nourishing diets, The Organic Center’s careful evaluation of organic fruits and vegetables compared to their conventional cousins showed that health-protecting anti-oxidants were significantly higher in the organic foods.
We can also expect organic meat and dairy to contain higher levels of beneficial fatty acids thanks to the cows’ organic pasture-rich diets.
In tough economic times, my friends’ reactions are understandable. It IS hard to look beyond the price tag. But lower prices often don’t equate with higher quality or better value in the long run.
Sandra Steingraber, author of Living Downstream, and recent Heinz Award winner for her work in environmental protection, says the lower prices of conventional groceries don’t reflect their true cost to our family’s health, our children’s future, and our larger society.
Look at it this way: the higher cost of organic foods at the check-out is a small price to pay for protecting our loved ones from exposure to synthetic hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and genetically modified ingredients.
I think of organic food as an investment in my family’s health and well being. Just like many components of preventive medicine, organic food and farming pay back generous dividends in the long run.