The Real Cost of Cheap Food

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This article is being presented on this site because it provides a succinct insight of the benefits of certified organic food compared with ‘other’ food.

PLEASE NOTE: At the end of this article you will find information about the author and a notice about ‘Fair Use.’

By Will Allen

Sometimes shoppers are confused by the differences in price between food grown organically and food grown conventionally. Usually organic loses the price war argument in comparison to what is called “conventional” food. Of course, we are all mostly aware that organic means grown and processed without chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, toxic pesticides, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic manipulation.

But, what does “conventional” mean?
Is food called “conventional” grown and processed with chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, toxic pesticides, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic manipulation?

Yes it is.

And, this is one reason why the price war argument should be reframed. Instead of comparing the price of organic food with “conventional” foods (which sounds so normal and safe), let’s compare organic food prices to the food price of toxic or poisonous food, which is what “conventional” food is.

The vegetables, fruits and grains that grocers and agribusiness giants label “conventional” are actually loaded with systemic chemicals, which you cannot wash off. The meat is laced with hormones, antibiotics, prions and multiple resistant bacteria that are difficult or impossible to cook out of beef, lamb, chicken or pork.

Clearly, something in our food system has gone terribly amiss since a majority of the food is loaded with poisonous pesticides, laced with antibiotics and hormones and infused with genetically modified growth hormones or genes from rats, bacteria, viruses and antibiotics and then — through some bizarre logic — labelled “conventional.”

Once one realizes how toxic “conventional” food is, it doesn’t look that cheap.

Consumers make cheap food cheap when they pay their taxes. “Conventional” food would be impossible without the farm subsidies — which means that consumers pay at least two times for most “conventional” foods they buy. They don’t seem so cheap anymore — and that does not include the expenses associated with health issues that occur as the result of eating toxic “conventional” foods.

Another payment for “conventional” food will also be made by the taxpayers, who will pay to clean up chemical spills, cancer-cases, injured farmworkers, injured citizens, polluted groundwater, trashed rivers, oceanic dead zones, contaminated wells, and toxified land that result from the toxins used to produce “conventional” food. The environmental clean up record for the chemical corporations is not good, so don’t look for help when the time comes to repair the damage.

The next payment for “conventional” food is often made at the doctor’s office to treat obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, cancer, birth defects, Parkinson’s and a hundred other ailments related to pesticides or poisoned food.

Pundits and scientific hacks will say anything to protect big chemical and factory farming, refusing to discuss these “irrelevant” external costs of our modern food system, including subsidies, environmental cleanup, and skyrocketing medical bills. Instead, they argue that we need cheap food to feed starving people around the world.

While “conventional” food is usually cheaper in the supermarket, and is easier to manage on the farm, it comes with a dangerous load of pesticide and fertilizer residues that are causing cancers, illness and death. When we analyzed pesticide and fertilizer data for the book “The War on Bugs,” we concluded that the corporations call chemical food “conventional” to conceal the fact that the food they produce is grown with the most toxic chemicals on the planet.

If the question about the real price of food was rephrased to ask what is the difference between the price of toxic and organic foods, we would not be marvelling about the high cost of organic food, nor advocating to send toxic “conventional” surplus food to the starving millions. Instead, we should be asking, “How cheap would poisonous food have to be to be a good deal?”


About Will Allen

Will Allen is an organic farmer in Vermont and author of “The War on Bugs” (Chelsea Green, 2008). He is currently a co-chair of Farms Not Arms and a policy advisory board member of the Organic Consumers Association, and he serves on the board of Rural Vermont.

Fair Use Notice:
This article is provided for educational and informational purposes and is distributed without profit to the owner of this website. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc. It is believed that this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such potentially copyrighted material.

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