Euphoria’s Blog for Green Mamas

advice, news & freebies

Why “cheap” food is NOT cheap! August 11, 2008

Filed under: Healthy Living — Rachel @ 2:13 pm
Tags: ,

Last week I posted on how to make eating organically affordable.  Today I’d like to share with you an excerpt from a inspiring book I’m reading titled “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver:

Paying the Price of Low Prices

A common complaint about organic and local foods is that they’re more expensive than “conventional” (industry grown) foods.  Most consumers don’t realize how much we’re already paying for the conventional foods, before we even get to the supermarket.  Our tax dollars subsidize the petroleum used in growing, processing, and shipping these products.  We also pay direct subsidies to the large-scale, chemical-dependent brand of farming.  And we’re being forced to pay more each year for the environmental and health costs of that method of food production.

Here’s an exercise:  ad up the portion of agricultural fuel use that is paid for with our taxes ($22 billion), direct Farm Bill subsidies for corn and wheat ($3 billion), treatment of food-related illnesses ($10 billion), agricultural chemical cleanup costs ($17 billion), collateral costs of pesticide use ($8 billion), and costs of nutrients lost to erosion ($20 billion).  At minimum, that’s a national subsidy of at least $80 billion, about $725 per household each year.  That plus the sticker price buys our “inexpensive” conventional food.

Organic practices build rather than deplete the soil, using manure and cover crops.  They eliminate pesticides and herbicides, instead using biological pest controls and some old-fashioned weeding with a hoe.  They maintain and apply knowledge of many different crops.  All this requires extra time and labor… But the main difference is that organic growers aren’t forcing us to pay expenses they’ve shifted into other domains, such as environmental and health damage.”

It puts things into perspective when you find that eating organically requires a little more leg work on your part or extra dollars at the supermarket…

Sources include:

K. Delate, M. Duffy, C. Chase, A. Holste, H. Friedrich, and N. Wantata, “An Economic Comparison of Organic and Conventional Grain Crops in a Long-Term Agroecological Research (LTAR) Site in Iowa,” American Journal of Alternative Agriculture 19 (2002): 59-69.

D. Pimental, P. Hepperly, J. Hanson, D. Douds, and R. Siedel, “Environmental, Energetic, and Economic Comparisons of Organic and Conventional Farming Systems,” Bioscience 55 (2005): 573-82.

USDA Economic Research Service: http://www.ers.usda.gov/

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