The True Cost of Food
If you’ve read the blog posts Celebrate Organic Month and Health Benefits of Organic Food you may be tempted to switch to buying organic. It’s well known that organic food, drink, beauty and textile products can be more expensive. For many the higher price tag is a barrier. However, even though these products cost more they may actually be better value for money.
Organic food is more expensive because organic farmers use nature friendly methods including:
- Instead of using artificial fertilisers organic farmers use crop rotations, home made compost, animal manure, and nitrogen capture with legumes and clover to enhance soil health.
- Encouraging beneficial wildlife by maintaining healthy hedgerows and creating wildflower field margins. Having natural fauna roaming can reduce pests.
- Bringing animals onto the farm periodically to help produce fertiliser thus creating a closed loop
- Organically reared animals have to be free-range, with lower stocking densities than other farming systems. There are also high standards of welfare around living conditions, food quality, transport and slaughter.
- The Soil Association bans the routine use of preventative antibiotics. Instead animals are healthier due to more humane and less stressful farming practices.
- Organic certification bodies charge a certification fee which funds annual inspections and the development of standards that cover everything from animal welfare to pesticide alternatives. They also offer technical support to farms about how best to comply with these standards. An organic symbol on a product means that it meets strict standards.
So by buying organic food, you’re casting a vote for the highest standards of animal welfare, and a sustainable way of farming that minimises risk to human health.
The True Cost of Food Production
The true cost of food is not reflected in the prices we pay. The costs of cleaning up polluted water courses and treating drinking water to remove chemicals used in some non-organic production methods are often hidden in our taxes and water bills. Government spending on flood defences could be redirected into natural flood management, where soils, trees and ponds absorb water throughout the landscape slowing run-off.
We are losing insects eight times faster than mammals, birds and reptiles. Intensive agriculture and pesticide use is the main driver of these losses. The decline of pollinators is a real threat to human nutrition. If pesticides were substituted for more sustainable farming practices, this could slow or reverse the decline in insects:
The Soil Association is lobbying the government in the UK to incentivise and subsidise organic farm conversion and to embrace the Danish model of procuring organic farms for the public sector. Both of these would reduce the price difference between organic and non-organic foods.
Is Organic Worth the Money?
We currently face many challenges to produce food in a way that works with nature and remains sustainable for generations to come. Some people believe in paying a little more for their food in order to support the highest animal welfare standards along with care for the environment in order to create sustainable food systems.
Many organic brands are leading the way in developing solutions to the plastic packaging and waste crises by developing biodegradable packaging, plastic free box schemes or making beer from unused crops.