Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Is Organic Food Worth It? The Hidden Costs

In recent years, many health-minded families have made the switch to purchasing organic food more frequently or sometimes exclusively. Pesticide-free and non-GMO options tend to gain their appeal through the reported health benefits they offer; 76% of American organic consumers cite the health benefits of organic food as the main reason for purchasing it. However, while there may be some health benefits to eating certain types of organic food, it comes at a greater cost than many realize.

Going Organic: What Are You Paying For?

Organic food has seen success for many understandable and valid reasons, particularly when it comes to health concerns. Certain types of produce, in particular, are notorious for heavy pesticide usage in their cultivation, with some of these pesticides having potentially harmful effects on the human body. However, many of these substances are applied externally to the food, meaning that standard produce can simply be washed before consuming and still be safe.
Another issue that many have with standard produce over organic is that standard produce (as well as meat, dairy, and other foods) will often be genetically modified. Genetic modification is still a heated subject, but overall, most studies have revealed GMOs to be safe and even beneficial to the agriculture industry. It's estimated by the National Pest Management Association that without the pest control industry, rodents and bugs would destroy 50% of our food supply. Instead, many farmers use genetically modified varieties of food in order to deter pests without the use of pesticides, or to keep them protected against diseases.

Shipping Struggles For Organic Goods

While shipping remains a struggle across the agricultural industry in general, organic foods often come with added environmental costs in the form of transportation. Annually, almost 40 billion gallons of fuel are spent in transportation. Because organic foods are typically only able to be grown and produced in certain areas, they may have to be shipped from longer distances, adding to the overall environmental impact of their growth. Similarly, large-scale agriculture, organic or not, requires intense mechanical investment on the part of farmers. In 2009, the revenue of machinery maintenance and heavy equipment repair services in the U.S. totaled around $29 billion. When not using heavy machinery, the cost is paid in human labor. Those working on farms, organic or otherwise, are often underpaid and overworked.

Not As Green As Many Believe

Despite organic food's claim to being the more environmentally friendly option when it comes to growing practices, there are a few elements that could easily challenge that claim. Growing organic produce is still resource-intensive, and sometimes even more so than standard produce. This is because organic produce must be grown in large areas with often more water in order to create a similar yield for farmers. GMOs, because they are protected from many of the elements that could harm organic plants, tend to require fewer resources, making them better situated for cash crop farming.

The Verdict: Is It Worth It?

Ultimately, the decision to go organic or not is a personal one. While it may come with some added health benefits, it's better to eat standard produce than to not eat produce at all. The long-term environmental impact of agriculture, regardless of the organic label, means that all produce options come with certain consequences. For some, the cost of organic will not be worth the overall benefits, but the answer varies from person to person. By doing your research on what goes into organic food production, you'll be able to make the right choice for you and your family's lifestyle.


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