Organic food

Understanding Organics – Part 2

Where the Real Costs Lie

In Part One we took a wee look at the history of farming and learned that all food was grown ‘organically’ until about the 1920’s when the agrochemical industry began to boom.  In 1940 the term ‘organic’ was coined by Lord Northbourne in his book, Look to the Land, to distinguish food that had been grown traditionally, without the use of chemicals.

We highlighted some of the downfalls of conventional, modern farming practices like growing monocultures which are vulnerable to pests and disease, the quick depletion of soil quality and the overall lack of sustainability. But what’s really up with all the chemical use and is it really safe?

What are agrochemicals?

Essentially these are any synthetic substances used to manage a community of organisms (whether they be plant, animal, or fungal) on a farm.  They include pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, chemical fertilisers or soil conditioners, antibiotics and hormones.  Pesticides are designed to control unwanted infestations of pests and/or diseases by killing them.  Some hijack nervous systems, while others disrupt hormones. Fertilisers try to aid soil depleted from intensive farming and chemical residues.  Hormones and antibiotics are used in animal husbandry to boost growth in livestock and control infection in cramped, unhygienic conditions (think lots of chooks, LOTS of chook poop).

Okay, soooo sounding a bit unappetising?  Hormone disruptors in my salad and antibiotics in my chicken sandwich?  

Busting the Myths

The argument is that these chemicals aren’t dangerous to humans in small quantities, and that we can wash them away before eating.  But new studies are showing an increased correlation between agrochemicals and the incidence of obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disease and cancer (to name a few). There is a tonne of stuff online to support this if you want to have a dig around. I don’t know about you, but when I see all those freaky poison warnings, the last thing I’m thinking of is lunch.

So what about washing? First of all, you can’t wash hormones or antibiotic residues out of meat and dairy.  And these substances DO have an effect on our own hormonal systems and our digestive tract.  As for fruit and veg, you can wash some of the residue off, yes, but you can bet your sweet bippy that traces will remain on and in the produce – especially those coated with a shelf-life extending wax (that’s a whole other bag of coconuts).

Also those more delicate fruits with soft, fleshy skin will typically absorb much more pesticides than their thicker skinned friends.  Think strawberries vs. avocados. In fact, there is a handy dandy list, called The Dirty Dozen which helps us to understand which of our produce pals are more likely to be packing chemicals.  Check that out here.

Why Do Organics COST more?

I get it.  The number one complaint against eating more organic is the price tag.  I bet you’re a smart cookie and can already see the obvious health benefits of eating chemical free food, but your eftpos card runs screaming for the hills at the very thought of it.  There are many reasons why organic food costs more to the consumer:

  • Less chemicals equals more labour.
  • Crop rest and rotation to keep soil healthy.
  • Organic Certification – rigorous standards must be adhered to for certification, which are regularly inspected and renewed.
  • Higher standards and better feed for livestock.


AND SUBSIDIES!!!  Did you know that government subsidies reduce the overall cost of crops?! Conventional, chemical farmers get waaaaay more moula in government subsidies than organic farmers – like millions more.  Hence, they can keep their costs lower.

What is the REAL Cost?

Personal Cost:  Your health.  There is a lot of great research being conducted in the name of organic whole foods and how they boost overall health and heal disease.  Eating processed, cheap, and conventionally grown food has a measurable negative impact on your health.  Your outputs are a reflection of your inputs. Also, think health care costs down the line.

Planetary Cost:  Conventional farming dumps a heap of chemicals on and into the Earth everyday.  These chemicals may help produce higher yields over the short term, but they leach into groundwater, rivers, and lakes polluting drinking water and habitats of other species.  They are linked to colony collapse disorder – the mass die off of our pollinators like bees and butterflies.  Without pollinators our food won’t grow, dude. These are just a few of the many costs to our biodiversity.

Social Cost:  Large scale conventional farms aren’t super fun places to work.  So big corporations sometimes exploit minorities to do the groundwork.  This means spraying chemicals with inadequate protective clothing and working long hours, doing intensely physical labour in the hot sun for minimal wages.  Most organic certifiers have fair trade principles build into their criterion.  Check out how most of New Zealand’s bananas are grown here.

Adding this all up?  This cheaper food is looking pretty darn expensive, indeed.

The good news is consumers have a lot of power.  Like, a LOT.  And because of this, organic food is becoming more widely available and more reasonably priced.  So I encourage you to adjust your budget wherever you can.  Maybe you don’t need those $300 pair of shoes or you’re going to develop some strategies to reduce power costs, so you can funnel more dosh where the good stuff matters – fuel for your beautiful bod!

If you really are what you eat (and you are), then… do you want to go premium or cheap?

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