Why is Organic Food More Expensive?
Updated: Nov 18, 2019
Why is organic food so expensive?
Everyone who has been to a grocery store has probably noticed the substantial price differences between organic and non-organically produced food. According to the Journal of Food Science, organic food tends to cost between 10 and 40 percent more than comparable non-organic food. Though we can’t control the price of organic food, we can learn some of the reasons for why it is more expensive.
First, it takes years of preparation to have a farm’s soil and its produce certified organic. During this time of initial certification, the farmland and its produce must be kept free from any prohibited substances like chemical fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones. Regular inspections are also required during this time. Once the farmland and its produce have been declared chemical free, a period of transition occurs. This period of transition lasts for two to three years, during which time additional inspections occur to ensure that all certification requirements continue to be upheld. Following this period of transition, the farm and its produce is certified organic.
All of these inspections, as you can imagine, are not free. Many governments and third party certification providers attach a considerable fee to certifying land and produce as organic. These fees, which vary in price depending on who is in charge of the certification, cover an annual inspection as well as any surprise inspections that can occur throughout the year. These annual fees can range anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Natural fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides also tend to be more expensive to obtain and can be more time consuming to apply than their chemical counterparts. These added costs are, not surprisingly, passed down to the consumer and included in the final prices seen on grocery store shelves.
Organic food, especially meat, also takes longer to grow. Because non-organic food is often fed powerful fertilizers or growth hormones, it matures more quickly than nature would otherwise allow. As organic food is free from growth hormones and only uses natural fertilizers, it typically matures at a slower rate than a non-organic version of the same type of food.
Organic meat production also requires more space per animal than conventional farming methods. Purchasing and maintaining a larger area of farmland comes at a higher cost, but is typical at most organic farms so that the animals can roam free instead of being cooped up in crowded facilities or fenced in pastures.
Another major reason why organic food is more expensive is due to supply and demand. Because organic food isn’t as widely available as non-organic, it remains something of a specialty item in most stores and as such, is priced accordingly. As more organic food is produced and made available, prices should begin to even out.
As it stands today, however, organic food still remains more expensive than its non-organic counterparts. Though little can be done about the higher prices, at least there are good reasons to justify them. By knowing some of the reasons why organic food costs more, the higher pricing seems less like a price grab and more like a realistic reflection of the higher costs of producing organic food.