Is Organic Food Worth It?
Crunch the numbers before taking a bite
Some activists are frightening low-income mothers into wasting their money on overpriced organic products. The advice goes as follows:
- Buy expensive organic food and refuse more affordable, conventional produce.
- Avoid GMOs, which are present in 85 percent of processed food.
- Eliminate all chemicals from your home. Shop only at boutique stores that stock expensive food and other products, preferably those helmed by Hollywood actresses.
- Never do your own research. Ask an actual scientist or medical professional about the benefits of these expensive lifestyle guidelines.
These activists don’t deny that following these guidelines is more expensive. They imply that if you truly love your children and the environment, you’ll make larger financial sacrifices in order to protect them. To these activists, it doesn’t matter if you really can’t afford organic products; a kitchen shelf stocked with trendy, organic food is the good mother’s trophy wall.
But the high priestesses of the organic movement aren’t exactly neutral observers in the great debate. Vani Hari, better known as The Food Babe, is certainly profiting from the fear she peddles.
In addition to selling certain “Food Babe-approved” organic products on her website, she is paid to promote them. While telling moms there’s no acceptable level of chemicals in food, she manages to miss the fact that everything, including humans, dogs, trees, house plants, flowers, bananas, blueberries, and even (gasp!) quinoa and (double gasp) kale, all contain chemicals.
Robyn O’Bryan, an anti-GMO activist and mother, has made a successful career of addressing her child’s food allergies with controversial theories regarding the agriculture and biotech industries. There are also many mothers who write for the environmental activist website, Mamavation, who warn of the dangers of Goldfish crackers, Girl Scout cookies, and even good old-fashioned fun. These mothers who might benefit from a deep breath, a hot shower, and an extra-large bottle of hair detangler.
The anti-GMO hype is catching on. Since 1997, sales of organic food have increased from $3.6 billion to $24.4 billion, and the organic food industry is considered one of the fastest growing sectors in the marketplace. This growth is happening while a whopping 47 million Americans are on food stamps, millions continue to struggle with unemployment or have dropped out of the workforce, and home ownership continues to decline. Yet, despite these statistics, instead of going for the less costly items at the grocery store, Americans are increasingly buying the more expensive products.
Why are Americans, even those struggling to make ends meet, willing to shell out their money for this high-priced food? Is organic food more nutritious? Is it worth the price?
These activists don’t deny that following these guidelines is more expensive. They imply that if you truly love your children and the environment, then you’ll make larger financial sacrifices in order to protect them.
Researchers at Stanford University have found that organic foods are not necessarily more nutritious. In a large meta-analysis published in the Sept. 4, 2012, issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers found no significant nutritional difference between organic and conventional food. The article indicated that both contain similar vitamin and nutrient content. The researchers also found no significant difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk. This study echoes a 2009 independent study funded by the UK’s Food Standards Agency that also found no significant nutritional benefit in organic food when compared to conventional food.
In spite of the anti-GMO hype, thousands of studies, including one that examined the health of a whopping 100 billion animals that were given genetically modified feed over their lifetime, find that the GMOs are perfectly safe for the animals to consume. Still another recent study done at Italy’s University of Perugia examined more than 1,700 separate studies on GMO food and found no instances of harm to humans or to animals that consumed GMO food. These researchers also found no evidence that GM food is toxic or allergenic.
Most organic farmers use some form of pesticides.
Many mothers, however, believe the hype surrounding organic food, believing it to be healthier because it’s grown without pesticides even though there is no evidence to support this claim. Indeed, most organic farmers use some form of pesticides, and the USDA maintains a list of pesticides organic farmers are allowed to use to stave off bugs and weeds. The USDA even allows organic crops to be grown with the use of many synthetic chemicals as long as the grower has proven his use is essential.
Consumers should be free to spend money on items that may not be healthy. There is a rich history of people doing just that, spending money on potions and elixirs and oils that do nothing. Yet those who care about the poor in this country should take care not to echo the claims of activists who peddle fear, and who guilt struggling families into purchasing costly food.
Julie Gunlock writes about food at the Independent Women’s Forum and is the author of From Cupcakes to Chemicals, How the Culture of Alarmism Makes us Afraid of Everything and How to Fight Back.