Are organic foods worth the cost?

Organic foods are a popular alternative to foods filled with pesticides and residues. But with their cost, are you really getting the best all-around deal?

Are organic foods worth the cost?

Organic food

Concern over the quality of food that goes into you body has led to a spike in the popularity of organic foods. The percentage of yearly sales keep climbing in the double digits with the organic food industry totalling billions of dollars, but how much value is there in eating organic food? Here are the pros and cons of both sides of the argument.

Going organic: doing your body a world of good

One of the biggest reasons of eating organic food is they tend to be nutritionally superior to non-organic food, and for a number of reasons.

Lack of pesticides: although the definition of organic food differs from country to country, one generally agreed-upon term is pesticides aren't usually allowed. Specifically, chemical and synthetic pesticides cannot be used, although non-chemically-treated, approved pesticides can be used.

As well, herbicides are a no-no when it comes to organic foods so that crops are grown with as few residues as possible. Farmers can use pesticides and herbicides from an approved list, such as managing weed and pest growth.

Crop rotation: this is one of the most important tenets of organic farming, and involves changing the type of crop grown in a particular area on a regular basis so the soil doesn't get "tired" or used to it. If a crop is grown for too long in one area, the soil's nutrients can get depleted, decreasing the chances of a healthy crop in every successive year.

Rotating crops also helps keep the soil fertile, as well as help reduce the amount of pests and diseases that can build up over time. How often a crop needs to be rotated depends on what's being planted there.

Genetically engineered ingredients: when you spot a label that says "100% organic", it means that food contains no genetically engineered or modified ingredients.

While this may seem confusing, a fairly straightforward way of approaching it is to remember that the animals are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.

Is the price really worth the value?

While the benefits of organic foods are wide and varied, it doesn't necessarily translate to a better overall value. For example, a food label that says "organic" on it shouldn't be taken as a nutrition claim.

Organic foods can still contain food-borne pathogens that are found in non-organic foods, like salmonella in chicken. It also doesn't give you a free pass to eat things like raw eggs just because they're marked as organic.

It's also not entirely clear what effect herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals used in farming have on the people who eat them. One reason for this is the effects need to be measured across a person's lifetime, which has been difficult to do given the relatively short lifespan of organic foods.

However, practicing organic farming is beneficial for the environment in the following ways:

  • it helps to reduce soil erosion by creating more natural and hospitable environments for crops to grow in, as opposed to forcing the land to accommodate the crop
  • groundwater tends to stay cleaner because of the lack of chemical treatments
  • wildlife has a better chance of survival, both because of the reduced amount of chemicals and the chance for them to colonize an area more naturally

If you're concerned about the cost-benefit value of eating organic foods, doing more research is a good place to start.

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