Is Organic Food Really Worth the Extra Cost?

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Certified organic almost always comes with a higher price tag. But why?

As this video shows, the answer might not surprise you. One reason is that USDA rules can make it more expensive.

But another reason is because organic systems rely on more expensive, natural ways of producing foods with the nutrients you're looking for. Labor and transportation costs figure in too. And of course, yields are not as high either.

In the end it's up to you to decide whether a higher price is worth it.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

I think it’s important to realize that the “price” we pay for organic food is not just about the price tag of the food itself, but also the long-term savings, in terms of reduced health care costs.

Traditional farming practices used before the 20th century are generally recognized as being organic.  This was before the creation of pesticides, herbicides, irradiation, synthetic fertilizers, and a host of other “progressive” farming “inputs”, used to control pests, decrease farm labor and supposedly increase crop yields.

In other words, in the old days, farmers planted non-genetically altered seeds, rotated crops, pulled weeds, and put in long hours to ensure their harvest was bountiful.  Farm animals ate grass and lived off the land. 

The result was an organic food supply and much lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Fast forward to the 21st century, where farmers routinely spray their crops with poisons, plant genetically altered seeds, and feed animals growth hormones, unnatural grain diets and antibiotics.  And the current rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer (along with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and autism) have reached proportions never seen before in human history.

Proponents of “modern” farming will tell you that the scale of production has changed to accomodate a worldwide population rapidly approaching ten billion, and that large-scale farming requires chemical inputs to ensure a sustainable, steady supply of affordable food.


The truth is, organic farming, or doing things the old fashioned way, is just as sustainable, if not more so, than “progressive” modern farming with its reliance on “inputs”.

And the question of whether using modern chemical farming inputs actually increases crop yields is subject to much scientific debate.  In fact, some scientists claim that the continued insistence that chemical inputs increase crop yields is a myth.

But not subject to debate, and definitely not a myth, is the fact that any chemical designed to kill bugs, mold or fungus can seriously damage your health.Likewise, it’s a well-known fact that modern farming practices deplete the soils, which in turn produces less nutrient-rich produce.

The Cost of Using Pesticides and Fertilizers

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides, and 30 percent of insecticides to be carcinogenic, and most are also damaging to your nervous system as well. In fact, these powerful and dangerous chemicals have been linked to numerous health problems such as:

  • Neurotoxicity
  • Disruption of your endocrine system
  • Carcinogenicity
  • Immune system suppression
  • Male infertility and reduced reproductive function
  • Miscarriages
  • Parkinson's disease

Ironically, studies have shown that often less than 0.1 percent of an applied pesticide even reaches the target pest, leaving 99.9 percent of the pesticide as an unintended pollutant in the environment.

Synthetic fertilizers, meanwhile, which are used to both increase crop size and shorten growth time, can lead to many negative consequences including toxic runoff into groundwater and dead zones in the oceans!

The Cost of Not Using Pesticides and Fertilizers

What does a farmer gain by not using chemical inputs on crops?

Higher costs. 

Without pesticides, farmers must use labor-intensive techniques like flame weeding.  And natural fertilizers, such as chicken manure, which cost more than synthetic fertilizers.

But restrictions on pesticides and synthetic fertilizer are only part of the higher cost of organic food.

Organic farmers are also not subsidized by the federal government, putting them at further economic disadvantage compared to conventional farmers.  And the inequities don’t stop there.

The truth is, the USDA puts many tight restrictions on organic farmers, raising the cost for them to produce organic food.

Why Organic Food is More Expensive

Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and to reduce pollution.   They are not designed to save money.

To receive an organic food label from the USDA, farmers must follow different rules than conventional farming.  Organic farming CANNOT use:

Organic food can also not use genetically modified organisms, which have been linked to negative health consequences.

Right away you’ll notice most of the restrictions imposed by the USDA either lead to higher food production costs, or put organic farmers at a disadvantage in the marketplace. 

For instance, not using ionizing radiation means foods spoil faster.  Not using antibiotics means conditions that create sick animals must be avoided in the first place.  Not using growth hormones means animals grow slower and not as large.

All of these things can translate to lower profit margins.  So in order for organic farms to remain economically viable, they need to charge a premium for the products they produce.

The question is: is it worth the extra cost?

In my opinion, I believe the answer is a resounding YES, as organic food is more nutritious and can dramatically improve your health, thereby reducing health care costs, and is sustainable for the environment.

Organic Food Doesn’t Have to be Costly

There is a common misconception that all organic foods will cost you more money, but this isn’t always the case.  Some of the most nutritious foods actually cost less than $1

One key to buying organically on a budget is to shop locally, and look for bargains.  Local growers often have items “in season” that are priced to sell.  Buying items in season will also ensure that the supply is greatest, usually leading to lower prices.

Another strategy for saving money on organic products is to buy in bulk when items go on sale.  If you are fortunate to live near a buyers club or a co-op, you may also be able to take advantage of buying by the pound from bins, saving both you and the supplier the cost of expensive packaging.

Other strategies to save money:

  • Grow your own organic foods whenever possible. 
  • Buy generic organic items instead of brand names. 
  • Check your grocery store circulars for current organic sales, and remember to clip coupons

You can also save money by knowing which conventionally-grown foods are the safest, allowing you to stretch your budget by only purchasing certain food items organic and ‘making do’ with certain conventionally-grown products.

Organic apples, beef, and spinach, for example, give you more bang for your buck than other produce because their conventionally grown counterparts are heavily laden with pesticides and other harmful additives. Seafood, cosmetics, and cleaning products, on the other hand, can be labeled “organic” without meeting the same USDA requirements imposed on vegetables and meats.

When it comes to produce, you’ll want to keep in mind the presence of pesticides. The Environmental Working Group has done the work for you here. Their Guide to Pesticides, lists the following twelve foods as having the lowest pesticide load when conventionally grown. Consequently, they are the safest conventionally grown crops to consume:

  • Broccoli
  • Eggplant
  • Cabbage
  • Banana
  • Kiwifruit
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Mango
  • Pineapple
  • Sweet corn (frozen)
  • Avocado
  • Onion

Since animal products tend to bioaccumulate toxins, concentrating them to far higher concentrations than are typically present in vegetables, it would make sense to make sure your meat choices are organic.

When choosing organic beef however, you should also go the additional step and make certain the cows are grass fed exclusively, especially the three months before they are slaughtered, as this is when they are typically given grains to fatten them up.

For chickens, it would be important to make sure they are organic free-range chickens.

The truth of the matter is, your family could be eating organic food for the same cost as processed food, or even less!  All it really takes is educating yourself, and becoming a little more diligent in your grocery purchases.

Why Organic Food is Better for You

Study after study shows that organic food has benefits over conventionally grown food, such as:

Nitrate content in food is important because high nitrate content in food and drinking water can be converted to nitrosamines that are carcinogens. Nitrates can impair the ability of your blood to carry oxygen, and may pose a risk of methemoglobinemia – a disorder in which your tissues are starved of oxygen.

Are There Different Categories of Organic Labeling?

The one label you can trust above all others when looking for organically grown foods is the USDA Organic label.  Foods with this label must meet the rules set by the USDA.  Foods produced in foreign countries will not carry this label, even if they claim to be organic.

However, the USDA recognizes three different categories of organic labeling and it can be helpful to you to know the difference:

  • 100 % Organic – 100% organic ingredients
  • Organic – 95% organic ingredients
  • Made with Organic Ingredients – at least 70% organic ingredients, with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% of ingredients, including no GMOs.

The True Cost of Eating Organic Foods

The old saying “you get what you pay for” applies perfectly to the food supply in your 21st century stores and supermarkets.

Processed foods are full of sugar, white flour, trans fats and hydrogenated oils, artificial flavor enhancers, MSG, chemical colors and preservatives – none of which will improve your health.

Your grocery bill might be less if you purchase only these foods, along with conventionally grown vegetables coated in pesticide residue with an artificially high nitrogen content, and corn-fed beef, or irradiated chicken filled with growth hormones.

But although they may cost you less at the checkout, are these foods really less expensive over time?

What about the cost to your health and quality of life from eating these foods? 

What about the medical costs and complications related to diseases these foods have been linked to, like diabetes and heart disease?  Cancer and heart disease?   Parkingson’s and Alzheimer’s?

These costs don’t show up on your food bill.  But they show up in medical bills and in your quality of life.

I encourage you to educate yourself further on the true costs of NOT eating an organic diet.

Once you do the research for yourself I think you will agree with me that the best way to take control of your health and your family’s health is to choose foods that promote your good health, not foods that have been shown in study after study to poison you.

+ Sources and References