Chances are, you’re willing to pay more for a product that is of a higher value. But when it comes to organic fruit, vegetables and other ingredients there are a lot of unanswered questions.
Some products aim to justify a higher price due to claims of higher quality or positive reviews. In the case of organic produce, it’s particularly difficult to prove these claims since one head of broccoli or an individual tomato looks pretty much like any other.
Since you have to make a choice each time you shop, here are four factors to consider as you determine whether or not organics are worth the premium price they demand.
Organic Has a Strict Meaning
Certified organic produce must meet stringent standards. These standards were developed by organic farmers and include regulations regarding pest management, soil resources, manure, compost, crop rotation, and transitioning orchards.
Regulations vary by country. In the UK, organic produce must be certified by one of nine approved UK organic control bodies. These include The Soil Association, who state that farmers must “work within natural systems and cycles throughout all levels from the soil to plants and animals.”
The bottom line is that certification serves as proof that the produce in question is grown and harvested according to organic methods, without the use of pesticides and other aids often used in more intensive farming.
Does Organic Produce Actually Cost More?
Yes and no.
A May 2016 USDA report on the cost of organic produce versus conventional produce reveals that organic produce does sell at a premium. The extent of the premium for a sample of 17 organic products ranged from 7% for fresh spinach to 82% for eggs.
Part of the premium is due to the cost of meeting the regulations in the farming process itself. Part is due to the perceived benefits of organics over conventional produce. If the price is higher, we’re more willing to believe it’s better for us than non-organic produce. Either way, organic produce definitely costs more at the point of sale.
However the ‘true cost’ is still in question. A study commissioned by Eosta and carried out in partnership with EY sought to uncover that elusive true cost, and revealed that there were benefits from eating organic not only to consumers’ health but to the wider economy.
Inorganic farming was found to have a negative impact on the environment and the economy through damage to soil, water quality and our climate. Widespread use of pesticides is also often cited as a contributing factor in declining bee populations, without which, there would be no harvest – organic or otherwise.
Insecticides (one form of pesticides) are also at the heart of a food scare involving hundreds of thousands of contaminated eggs from the Netherlands which were exported to 17 different countries. This is not only a huge danger to public health, but comes at enormous financial and reputational cost to food producers.
Is Organic Produce Better For You?
Whether or not organics are better for you is a million dollar question – literally. In 2017 supermarkets saw sales of organic produce soar, and a report from The Soil Association estimated that the UK spend on organic products totalled more than £2 billion.
With so much at stake, you would think by now that there would be a definitive answer to the question of the health benefits of organic produce over traditional produce. The truth is that there is still debate.
Partly this is due to the fact that any fertilizer, organic or otherwise, results in fewer nutrients if that fertilizer is applied to the roots of the plant. Other differences may depend on the nature of the studies, precisely what is being measured, and – regrettably – who is performing (and even more crucially, funding) the study.
More Nutrients, Fewer Chemicals
At the very least, organic foods are subject to fewer pesticides and consistently contain more nutrients. This is not a matter of debate.
The organic approach eschews the use of many types of pesticides. Only certain pesticides, those that meet the regulations, can be used while maintaining the organic certification.
The claim of consistently more nutrients in the food is also not subject to debate.
The nutrients in a food are a direct result of the health and quality of the soil. When an organic approach is taken, healthy, robust soil is the result. This type of soil supports the development of nutrients in the produce.
Fewer chemicals. A higher level of nutrients. For most of us that’s enough to justify a premium.
If you’re still unsure, why not pick up a copy of Dan Barber’s The Third Plate and have a read of the chapter on soil. It may be just the thing to help you reach an informed decision.