Buying Organic is worth it!

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is an analytical essay that compares organic farming to conventionally farming and if the extra cost of organic foods is worth it. While conventional agriculture tends to be cheaper, there is extra cost associated with the environmental cleanup from the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and there are potential significant health care costs tied to serious illness due to prolonged exposure to the chemicals found in pesticides. With organic agriculture, farmers must adhere to strict regulations to be able to claim their crop or live stock is organic. Organic foods must be shipped a long distances as well. However, organic products do not contain pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or processed ingredients. Is the extra cost worth it?

Submitted: May 03, 2012

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Submitted: May 03, 2012

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Buying Organic is worth it!

Isn’t a tomato just a tomato? There are many different types of tomatoes including cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, hot house tomatoes, beef steak tomatoes, roma tomatoes, and the list continues on and on. These tomatoes are all grown on a farm and then shipped to the grocery store where consumers purchase them to be added to a meal or snack of some sort. Today, however, the consumer has options in the produce section to be aware of. Should the consumer buy the more expensive organically farmed tomato or the less expensive conventionally farmed tomato? They look the same, the texture is the same, and they smell the same, what is the difference?  Why pay more for the organic version? While the cost of conventionally grown produce, meats, dairy, and many other products is generally cheaper, the health care and environmental clean-up cost will far surpass any additional cost associated with buying organic.  Understanding the differences between organic and conventionally farmed agriculture will provide clarity when asked the question, is buying organic is really “worth it”?

Since the late 1990s, US organic food production has nearly doubled. In 2010, organic food and beverage sales accounted for four percent of total food sales in the US (Industry Statistics). In 1990, organic food and beverage sales were approximately one billion and in 2010, they are roughly $26.7 billion with organic fruits and vegetables experiencing the most growth, an 11.8 % increase in sales compared to 2009 (Industry Statistics and Projected Growth).  A recent report provided by the Organic Trade Association in November of 2011, indicated that 78% of US families purchase organic food weekly and 48% of them indicated that they buy Organic because they believe Organic foods are healthier. The motivations behind purchasing organic are primarily the concerns surrounding the health effects associated with pesticides, hormones, and highly processed food ingredients that are known to be used in conventional agriculture and products. In a recent interview with the manager of a natural foods department at Hyvee, a Kansas City, MO area grocery store, when asked which products are highest in demand, she indicated that by far organic dairy products are highest in demand at her store.This may come as a surprise, as one may have thought that fruits and vegetables would top everything as the sales numbers indicated. An article published by Parents magazine suggests “where to start” when it comes to buying organic.  Number one on the list was organic milk.  In the article, Dr. Allen Green, a pediatrician and author of Raising Baby Green,, states "If you want to make just one change, this is it."  The article explains that conventional milk contains antibiotics and artificial hormones, as well as pesticides (O’Brien). A study conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture indicated that education is a contributing factor in the increased in demand for organic foods.The study stated that consumers of all ages, races, and ethnic groups who have higher levels of education are more likely to buy organic than less-educated consumers (Marketing US Organic Foods-iii). Consumers, especially expecting mothers and young families, are more aware of the risks associated with non-organic foods. For this reason, they are choosing to live a healthy lifestyle and buying organic. With the significant increase in organic food sales over the past two decades, the demand for organic farms is on the increase as well.

Currently there are approximately 14,500 organic farms to meet the market demand and by 2015, the demand will require 42,000 farms (Organic Farming for Health 1). According to USDA statistics, organic farm land increased 63% from 1997-2003 (Organic Farming: Demand).  The Organic Trade Association indicated that organic acreage in the US reached 4.8 million in 2008, with a little over half of the land being used for organic crops and the rest devoted to organic pastures. California is leading with the most certified organic cropland with over 430,000 acres, mostly used for organic fruits and vegetables (Industry Statistics). Other states topping the list of most organic acreage is Wisconsin, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana (Industry Statistics).  Overall, organic crop land only makes up .7% of all US crop land and .5% of all US pastures (Industry Statistics), which is only a fraction of the land consumed by conventional farms and contributor to shortages in the market place.

Due to the rapid market growth and the fact that organic farmers struggling at times to keep up with the demand, there have been sporadic shortages in certain organic items. Part of the issue relates to the constraints conventional farmers face when considering converting to organic.  One of the constraints is that the farmer must farm the land meeting strict organic standards for three years before the corps can be sold on the market unless they can prove that the land had not been treated with pesticides or synthetic fertilizers (Marketing US Organic Foods 1). In addition, the farmers will likely have reduced yields that what they were used to with conventional practices which impact. However, as organic sales increase year after year, and organic farm acreage increasing to meet the demand, studies are showing that the health and environmental risks associated with conventional farming is becoming more and more apparent.

To understand the risks associated with conventional farming, an understanding of conventional farming practices is needed. In order to control crop destroying pests, keep soils rich in nutrients, and produce more, in less time, conventional farming utilizes synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in their crop productions.  The 2008-2009 annual President’s Cancer Panel Annual Report indicated that there are nearly 1400 pesticides registered by the Environmental Protection Agency. Forty of those chemicals are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as known, probable, or possible human carcinogens. These chemicals are used in EPA-registered pesticides now on the market (Reducing Environmental Cancer 45). The chemicals are applied at the farming site, polluting the air, contaminating the soil, ground water, and then our drinking water. Imagine a crop duster flying very low over the fields dumping chemical on the crop to prevent or mitigate pests. Does that chemical stay within the perimeter of the field? No. Imagine the soil and ground water contamination after years and years of being soaked in chemical. To put this in perspective, the pesticide DDT was banned from use in the US back in 1973, however, it is still found in the skins of root vegetables nearly twenty years later (Behar). Not only are these chemicals contaminating our soils for decades upon decades, they are washed away into away into rivers and streams causing “Dead Zones” in our lakes and oceans.

A “Dead Zone” is an area in a lake or ocean that has been impacted by nutrient enrichment, particularly from nitrogen and phosphorus. The chemicals promote the growth of algal blooms, which ultimately depletes the amount of oxygen in the water, killing off fish and other species (Bruckner). One of the largest dead zones in the world is in the Gulf of Mexico.  The Gulf dead zone is caused by nutrient enrichment from the Mississippi River due to the watershed from farming states in the Mississippi river valley. Fertilizer, soil erosion, animal waste, and sewage are washing into the river, elevating the nitrogen and phosphorus levels (Bruckner).  To prevent this from happening, the use of fertilizers should be minimized and animal waste should be contained.

Speaking of animals, conventional agriculture includes livestock which provides the majority of meats and the dairy products found in supermarkets all over the country. These livestock farms are often referred to as “Factory Farms” because of their mass production of meats and dairy. A normal practice in factory farming is raising the animals indoors, packing them into cages, stalls, or crates, where they are forced to stand in their own waste, or another animal’s waste, providing an environment for the spread of disease. Confining the animals causes a great deal of stress, which makes them more prone to disease. In attempt to combat the spread of disease in cows, a common practice known as “tail docking” removes the lower third of their tail so that it doesn’t touch the ground and lay in disease infested waste (Animal Welfare). When their tails are clipped, they are no longer able to swat flies that are swarming around them causing additional stress (Animal Welfare).

Another way to combat disease in cows, and most popular among farmers, is the use of antibiotics. While regulations prevent the use of antibiotics on chickens and pigs, cows are injected with them daily. The result is that bacteria becoming immune to drugs creating “super bugs” (Animal Welfare).  They are also given feed that contains animal by-products. This feed can be infected with a disease, or may be contaminated with growth hormone or antibiotics (Animal Welfare). In addition to antibiotics, in order to speed up a cow’s milk production or to get a beef cow to the slaughter house faster, they are injected with growth hormone drugs that are associated with health issues in human beings (Animal Welfare). Beyond of the contamination of our natural resources, the farmworkers that maintain the fields and livestock are constantly exposed to the chemicals that contribute to the contamination, significantly increasing their risk for health issues.  So what are the know health issues with conventional farming?

Although there is no single cause identified for the rate in which cancer has significantly increased since the twentieth century, it’s likely no coincidence that the increased rate is due to the use of chemical pesticides (Silent-Spring).  In 1959, cancer accounted for 15% of all deaths in 1958, up from just 4% in 1900 (Silent-Spring).  In the early twentieth century, children seldom died of cancer, however by the mid twentieth century; more children died of cancer than any other disease and in 1998 there were more than 12,400 cancer cases in children in the US, 2500 resulting in death. 

According to the 2008 and 2009 Annual Report provided by the President’s Cancer Panel, exposure to the chemicals contained in pesticides and used on crops that ultimately end up on the dinner table, have been linked to brain, central nervous system, breast, colon, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, kidney, testicular, and stomach cancers.  In addition, this chemical s is linked to Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma (Reuben 45).  In most cases the traces of these chemicals found in food are below EPA thresholds, however, they can have adverse health effects, especially in pregnant women, infants, and children. Studies have shown that exposure to pesticides while pregnant has been shown to cross the placenta during pregnancy and contribute to impaired fetal growth (Does it Pay). Studies also show that kids exposed to chemical pesticides while in the womb tend to have lower IQ scores and struggle to focus (Does it Pay). Children that eat conventionally farmed fruits and vegetables have nine times the amount of chemical residues in their urine than children that are given organic foods to eat (Does it Pay).

Other studies have shown that prolonged exposure to phosphate based fertilizers have been linked to elevated cases of pancreatic cancer. This research was conducted in southern Louisiana where residents living in an area where rice was grown, had an elevated number of pancreatic cancer cases.  The rice fields were routinely treated with a phosphate based fertilizer containing the chemical cadmium. When the rice crop was harvested, the fields are flooded and used to farm craw fish. While there were other health related factors contributing to the elevated cases of pancreatic cancer in southern Louisiana, the commonality among all cases was the presence of cadmium (Reuben 45).Pesticides and synthetics fertilizers are everywhere in today’s environment and exposure to them seems to be inevitable. One way to limit exposure to the harmful chemicals is going organic.

Organic means that the fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products are not produced using synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, growth hormone, or antibiotics.  Organic foods do not contain preservatives or additives, and they are not genetically modified. In order for a food to be labeled “100% Organic”, all of their ingredients must be organic. Foods that contain 95% organic ingredients may also be labeled “Organic” (It’s Easy Being Green). These two categories can apply for the optional “USDA Organic” label on their packaging. Foods that contain at least 70% organic ingredients can be labeled with “made with organic ingredients” but may not be labeled “USDA Organic” (It’s Easy Being Green). Producing these foods to meet the tough standards required for bearing the USDA stamp comes with added cost. 

One of the costs associated with being an organic farmer is becoming certified, which requires certification fees and farm field and processing plant inspections fees. In addition, according to the article It’s Easy Being Green published by the Center for American Progress, there are a number of factors that contribute to the added cost of organic foods. Instead of using synthetic fertilizers, organic farmers rotate their crops and use natural fertilizers such as compost and manure to keep their soils rich in nutrients. These natural fertilizers and manure are expensive to transport and it takes a lot to treat a field. Conventional farming practices do not rotate crops; therefore the soil is never given a chance to naturally replenish nutrients, resulting in the use of synthetic fertilizers. The increased cost of labor and management of organic farms also contributes to the elevated cost of some organic foods.

The cost to raise organic livestock is also increased. Farmers pay more for organic feed and the animals are required to be able to free roam outdoors, allowing them a life as close to their natural habitat as possible. The livestock are not injected with antibiotics or growth hormone drugs to prevent or treat disease and speed up growth. The result is that they grow at a normal rate, they require more land, and therefore they are more expensive. The methods of organic farming may seem to involve additional cost which then financially impacts consumers.  However, considering some of the residual costs of conventional farming, the cost of organic may be comparable or even cheaper.

Consider the health care cost associated with birth defects, neurological effects, cancer, and hormone disruptions that are all linked to the use of chemical pesticides. A study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health indicated that incidences of acute lymphocytic leukemia were 27.4% between 1973 and 1991.  Incidences of childhood brain cancer rose 39.6% in the same time frame. The cost associated with the treatment of these serious diseases is significant.  In the article It’s Easy Being Green published by the Center for American Progress, the organization agrees that the hidden cost associated with conventional farming front end, makes conventional farming potentially more expensive.  The article stated:

…when you take into account the true “cost” of food production from conventional farming, including replacement of eroded soils, cleaning up polluted water, health care for farmers who get sick, and environmental costs of pesticide production and disposal, organic farming might actually be cheaper in the end” (It’s Easy Being Green). 

Who pays for the clean-up due to the pollution and contamination due to conventional farming?Most often the taxpayer does. To that end, it seems apparent now that organic is clearly “worth it”.

When a consumer goes organic, it means they are taking steps to protect their families from serious illness and they are actively making an effort to conserve and clean up our precious environment. During tough economic times where families are struggling to make ends meet, conventional farmed meats and produce may be the only option. If it comes to either buying organic or nothing at all because organic is too expensive, it is important to remember that fruits and vegetables are vital to maintaining a healthy diet and purchasing the non-organic produce is certainly better than none at all. Perhaps in the future the additional up front cost associated with buying organic will be offset by a tax break or better health insurance premiums and lower deductibles for choosing organic over conventional foods.  One thing is certain, as the organic market grows, with it comes better health, a cleaner environment, and perhaps job creation as more and more farms convert to satisfy the demand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Behar, Jeff.  “How Safe is our Food? Are we Eating Toxic Vegetables?”

Country Living and Farm Lifestyles.com. Country Living and Farm Lifestyles. n.d. Web. 4 December 2010

<http://www.countryfarm-lifestyles.com/How-Safe-is-Our-Food.html>

Bruckner, Monica. "The Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone." Microbial Life Educational Resources. Carlton College, n.d. Web. April 12, 2012. <http://serc.carleton.edu/microbelife/topics/deadzone/index.html>.

Dimitri, Carolyn, and Lydia Oberholtzer. "Marketing U.S. Organic Foods." Recent Trends From Farm to Consumers. USDA Economic Research Service. United States Department of Agriculture, Sept. 2009. Web. April 11, 2012. <www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib58/eib58.pdf>.

O'Brien, Tricia. "What to Buy Organic." Parents.com. Meredith Corporation, n.d. Web. April 10, 2012. <http://www.parents.com/recipes/nutrition/kids/what-to-buy-organic/>.

Reuben, Suzanne H. "Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk- What We Can Do Now." 2008-2009 Annual Report- President's Cancer Panel. National Cancer Institute. US Department of Health and Human Services, April 2010. Web. April 11, 2012. <deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/./annualReports/./PCP_Report_08-09_508.pdf>.

"Animal Welfare." Sustainabletable.org. n.p., Sept. 2009. Web. April 14, 2012. <http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/animalwelfare/index.php>.

"Does it Pay to Buy Organic?." Businessweek.com. n.p., Sept. 6, 2006. Web. April 14, 2012. <http://www.silent-spring.com/causes_of_cancer.html>.

“It’s Easy Being Green:  Organic vs. Conventional Foods - The Gloves come off”

americanprogress.org. Center for American Progress, 10 Sept 2008. Web. 4 December 2010

<http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2008/09/organic_green.html>

"Industry Statistics and Projected Growth." Organic Trade Association. n.p., June, 2011. Web. April 10, 2012. <http://www.ota.com/organic/mt/business.html>.

"Organic Farming for Health and Prosperity." Executive Summary September 2011. Organic Farming Research Foundation. OFRF, Sept. 2011. Web. April 11, 2012. <http://ofrf.org/publications/publications.html>.

"Silent Spring & Cancer." Silent-Spring.com. n.p., n.d. Web. April 14, 2012.

<http://www.silent-spring.com/causes_of_cancer.html>.


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