Organically grown tends to be somewhat more expensive than conventionally grown food. That’s pretty much a given. But is it really true? Yes, most of the time when you go to the store, food in the organic section is more typically more expensive than the conventionally grown. Even at my local farmers market, organic fruits and vegetables are usually more expensive.
Part of that may be that organic food is more expensive to grow, perhaps it requires more intensive labor, or uses more land. But I think the greater reason is supply and demand. Demand for organics is growing faster than crop fields can be converted to organic. Basic economics says that when demand goes up faster than supply, prices will go up
But the other factor which we have to consider is “cost shifting” or externalities. One of the key externalities is the impact that pesticide filled runoff contaminates water supplies.
Agricultural runoff flows into the lakes and rivers that hundreds of towns draw their water from. For example, herbicide runoff from a farm in Centralia, Mo., might end up in Goodwater Creek, which empties into the Salt River, which then flows into Mark Twain Lake. That lake provides drinking water for 70,000 residents. Water treatment plants spend millions on chemicals to clean up that surface water.
Add the cost of the cleanup to the cost of the food, and it isn’t so cheap anymore. And don’t even get me started on the impact to pollinators.
Now let’s say we only consider the direct costs. Is it worth the extra money to buy organic? The answer here gets a little more complex. Up until recently, studies have found little difference between organic and conventional food in terms of nutrition. But a recent metastudy of 343 papers found that organically grown food has statistically significant higher levels of antioxidant and lower levels of cadmium.
The authors stopped well short of saying that this made a difference in health and advocated that we all continue to consume fresh, whole food, with lots of fruits and vegetables. But they did note that antioxidants are linked to cancer prevention, and that cadmium build in the body over time.
“There is no reason to think that organic foods would be less nutritious than conventional industrial crops. Some studies in the past have found them to have more of some nutrients. Other studies have not. This one looked at more studies and has better statistics.”