Are Organic Foods Worth What They Cost?

by AJ Pettersen · 15 comments

A couple weeks ago, I discussed the benefits and costs of juicing fruits and vegetables, and I realized that people are more and more concerned with what they put in their bodies. Certain unhealthy foods can cause damage to your body in the short and long term, so it’s only natural that the organic food versus non-organic food debate rages on.

Does it really make a difference for your health? Let’s take some time to discuss this today.

The Basics on Organics

Organic farming has been around for some time, but was pushed out by rapid population growth in the middle of the 20th century. The result is the modern day farm, where most foods can pretty much be classified as “engineered.”

In these non-organic farms, most crops are sprayed with pesticides to prevent diseases, and most animals are given growth hormones so they grow faster and produce more food. Pesticides have been linked to brain defects in humans if levels are too high. Hormones given to animals can remain in their manure and cause contamination of the groundwater.

Organic foods don’t have these problems, as chemicals are avoided and hormones are nearly nonexistent. In order to get the USDA Organic seal, organic foods must be made with at least 95% organic ingredients.

The evidence quite clearly points to the fact that organic foods are safer, but since the health benefits are hard to quantify, it’s difficult to put a monetary value on the benefits.

Is it Worth the Cost?

There are health benefits to buying organic, but is it worth the steep cost? On average, organic foods cost around 20% more (varies greatly by area). Is this justified?

My fiancée and I spend about $300 a month on food. We shop at a conventional grocery store and buy mostly non-organic products. We’ve recently been talking about buying our food at an all-organic grocery store.

It would cost us over $700 more per year to shop completely organic. As an economics major in college, I always think in terms of utility. Organic food would have to make my fiancée and me at least $700 healthier in order to pay off.

What’s Best For You?

On a macro level, it appears that non-organic farming arose out of a need for more food. Some claim that if all farms were organic, the yields would be too small and we’d have a food shortage. Too much conventional farming, though, could lead to contaminated groundwater. It’s obviously a delicate balance that society will hopefully address sooner rather than later.

On the micro level, it comes down to your choices. The cost of organic food varies from place to place. Is the extra cost worth the health benefits? Supporting organic food can also lead to a cleaner environment for everyone, but how do you actually put a value on something like that?

My fiancée and I will most likely continue shopping in the same way. We buy healthy foods, but can’t afford to pay a steep price to shop all organic.

What’s your opinion when it comes to organic foods? Do you buy organic? Can you afford the extra expense?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • I buy organic, local when possible. I shop mainly at Trader Joe’s which has a great selection of affordable organic prices. I supplement my grocery trips with stops at the farmers market. The heirloom tomatoes are killing my budget right now- they’re just too beautiful and delicious to pass up!

  • Kiwikid says:

    AJ, you say that you need to be $700 healthier for organic food to pay off. That’s nonsense. What you are not factoring into your calculations is the cost of being sick. Suppose you balance out the cost of hospital care, lets use coronary bypass surgery as an example. So you are possibly in a financially neutral situation because your health plan pays for it. Less your deductible, no idea what you’d pay for that in the States. Then, factor in loss of income due to your illness, add in the loss of quality of life etc. Trust me, I know about coronary bypass surgery. Went into hospital in 2009 for what was described as a triple bypass. What they don’t tell you is that is just referring to the number of arteries they are going to operate on. I ended up having 7 bypass grafts. A feat that had never been seen before in New Zealand. Bloody surgeon put out the word and a whole bunch of cardiac doctors scrubbed up to have a look in the operating theater. This annoyed me to no end that I couldn’t charge them for the sideshow. Hear we are 3 1/2 years on and I am still struggling. I have Chronic Fatigue, inability to walk like I could before. Oh, and while I did go back to work I ended up being made redundant through an organizational restructure. That happened March 2012. I have not been able to work since then. I am now on a Social Welfare benefit. So, life is tough financially as well as from a physical quality of life perspective.

  • Raquel says:

    We spend a LOT more and buy only from a local, organic farm that is a 20 minute drive from our home. We eat what’s in season. Even organic food, that needs to be transported long distances, is not great. We see the results of our decision in our health and the health of our children. Eating healthy will save you a lot in current and future health care costs!

  • Stephanie says:

    Honestly I do not know how much I believe organic claims on products in my local supermarkets. So I do not bother spending the money on them. I visit farmers markets, talk to the local farmers and find some that grow in the way I want to eat. We also have a small garden of our own and are starting to can and preserve. Living in Canada I am not sure how living healthier affects my healthcare costs but shouldn’t I want to live healthier regardless of whether there is a difference in my budget’s bottom line or not?

  • Steve says:

    I recently read that a lot of big companies, including Whole Foods, are changing the rules of the organic game. By that I mean they put employees onto the board that determines what foods or compounds are considered organic. As a result, the list of accepted organic chemical has more than quadrupled.

    The big companies know that by declaring food as organic, they can increase the price, and profits, significantly. Many big conglomerates bought out smaller organic farms and now dominate the board that determines what is truly organic.

    One chemical recently approved has been known to be carcinogenic.

    So, we may be paying 30-50% more for food that is no healthier, but is called organic.

    Greed is everywhere.

  • Jonathan says:

    Either pay the farmer today, or eat GMO/HFCS garbage and pay the doctor a lot more tomorrow. Personally, I know what my choice is, and I’m putting my money where my mouth is, literally.

  • Gabriela says:

    We buy everything we can organic, not because of the health benefits but because of the manufacturing, production, non-environmentaly friendly way of growing our foods.

  • Coin Sleuth says:

    Not worth the money in my opinion. If I am buying and eating plenty of fruits and veggies (organic or not) I’m already way ahead health-wise of a huge chunk of the population who are subsisting for the most part on pre-packaged foods.

    • KM says:

      I wouldn’t base my choices on what everyone else is doing. Just because I am doing better than most others doesn’t mean what I am doing is good. I am not advocating one way or another, just saying that comparing your choices to other people’s choice is a bad way to go about it.

  • Christine says:

    I’m no organics expert and really don’t buy hardly anything organic, but I did hear a talk recently that talked about which foods were the least and most important to buy organic. For example, it’s not that important to buy organic bananas because you peel the thick skin off before you eat them. On the contrary, it’s apparently very important to buy organic apples because they spray the heck out of them and we eat the skin. If you want to send me an email I’m sure I can get the list for you.

    • KM says:

      You pretty much have it nailed down there. If you remove the skin before eating the fruit or veggie (bananas, mangoes, etc.), then organic is not worth it. If you eat the skin (apples, peaches, spinach, etc.) then it might be worth looking into organic options.

    • Jonathan says:

      Grass fed beef has a completely different taste and texture when compared to the steroid injected bovine that most people are used to eating.

      • Kiwikid says:

        As I understand it in the States most beef is grain fed. How insane is that? As a result the fat is marbled all through the flesh, therefore making it virtually impossible to remove most of the fat.

    • Robert says:

      How do we know that organic is really organic , who checks everything with all
      The corruption that is all around us.

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