Organic Food Stores vs. Groceries Research Paper

Pages: 6 (2224 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Agriculture

Organic vs. Grocery Stores

Organic Stores vs. Grocery Stores:

Discussing Advantages and Disadvantages of Going Organic

The scientific and technological development of the modern era brought many advantages to humanity. From flying planes to television sets, from factory productions to better healthcare, from space discoveries to the invention of the Internet, modern science offers lots of comfort and luxury to us today. There are, however, costs associated with the rapid development of science and technology. For instance, the rise of industrialized food processing and retailing where sophisticated technology is used to drastically reduce the costs of food production through the use of artificial and harmful fertilizers, hormones, herbicides and pesticides, and that food on average travels hundreds and thousands of miles also reduced the overall quality of food available to ordinary consumers. The industrialized food processing offers cheap products to consumers but also causes many health hazards and damages the environment. Because of these reasons, there has been a boom in organic food production in the last two decades in the United States. Organic food is obviously healthier and more nutritious as well as environmentally friendly as compared to what is today called "conventional" food, but there are downsides of going organic in a capitalist society like the United States. Organic food industry is increasingly being taken over by big industrial producers, while there is also growth of what Kim Severson calls "greenwashing," which allows food producers to package and market their products by making them look like "organic-ish" -- thus deceiving consumers further.

There has been a proliferation of organic food stores in the last several years and there are even giants such as Whole Foods Market that specialize in organic and natural food ("Organic Food Sales See Healthy Growth"). But other retail supermarkets such as Wal-Mart and Meijer have also begun to sell organic products in their stores, so comparing organic food stores with traditional food stores is a challenge. Giant organic producers such as Whole Foods Market and Stony Field came under criticism lately for allegedly becoming just like other big players that care less about ethics but more about selling their products. So, the distinction between organic food stores and conventional foods stores is increasingly blurred. It now all comes down to comparing organic food with nonorganic food. This paper therefore will rather discuss the production costs of organic food and compare it with the costs of nonorganic food.

While there is still an ongoing debate between producers of organic food and conventional food, from a scientific perspective, there seems to be little doubt that organic food is environmentally friendly, more nutritious, and even healthier. There are several essential differences between organic and conventional foods. Conventional farming, for example, promotes plant growth by using chemical fertilizers, whereas organic producers use manure and compost to better fertilize the soil. In order to get rid of pests, conventional farming sprays products with pesticides, while organic farming makes use of insects and birds, mating disruption, and traps -- which are natural fertilizers. Conventional farmers employ chemical herbicides to manage weeds, but organic farmers rotate crops, till, mulch, or hand weed. Conventional farmers feed their animals with growth hormones, give them antibiotics and various other medications to prevent disease, while organic farmers feed animals with organic feed, let them roam outdoors, and give them clean housing and a balanced diet ("It's Easy Being Green"; "Organic Foods"). And since conventional farmers do not give animals a balanced diet, these animals are likely to get diseases and develop dangerous bacteria such as E. Coli. So, many meat products are then washed with ammonia before being packaged -- adding more chemicals to their ingredients. Conventional farming is also less environmentally friendly because of the greater use of chemicals which contaminate the environment. So, in terms of the quality of organic and conventional food, there can be little doubt that the former is much better than the latter.

But organic food is also expensive. For example, if the price of a gallon of milk in a Wal-Mart store in a small U.S. town is $2.48, the price of a gallon of organic Horizon milk in the same store is over $6 -- two and half times more expensive. Organic food is more expensive because the cost of producing it is higher. Organic farmers buy more expensive feed for their animals. Organic farming is more labor intensive, and farmers pay more in order to avoid chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Organic farming also yields less than conventional farming since it avoids the use of hormones and other artificial growth stimulants. However, while organic food may seem to be more expensive in a short-term calculation, in the long-term organic food may end up being cheaper. For example, according to a study at the University of California, Davis, organic milk contains 67% more antioxidants and vitamins and significantly more Omega3s and Omega-6s than nonorganic milk. So, organic milk may not be as expensive as it seems. Organic food also does not have preservatives, additives, hormones, antibiotics, and is not genetically modified. All these considerations suggest that the actual prices of organic and nonorganic products at grocery stores may be deceptive ("It's Easy Being Green").

But as the popularity of organic food is growing, the industry is being slowly taken over by large companies against which small organic food stores were established in the first place. And since large companies operate across states and even nations, many organic products today travel long miles before reaching the customers. The dilemma of choosing between organic and nonorganic food was well-articulated by John Cloud in an article for Time Magazine, where he recalled his difficulty of choosing in a New York store between conventional apples grown locally and organic apples transported from California. "Which farmer should I support," Cloud asked, "the one who rejected pesticides in California or the one who was, in some romantic sense, a neighbor? Most important, didn't the apple's taste suffer after the fruit was crated and refrigerated and jostled for thousands of miles?" (Cloud). The question is certainly a difficult one. Many food purists argue that local is better, while others argue that organic is still of a better quality.

Of course, locally grown organic products would be of best quality. But the seasonal changes in climate and the limited availability of arable land in some parts of the nation make it impossible to always get locally grown organic food. So, consumers often have to choose between nonorganic local foods and organic foods that had travelled thousands of miles. Experts cannot agree on which one is better. According to Joseph Mendelson III, the legal director of the Center for Food Safety, a Washington group that supports rigid organic standards, the label "local" in most cases is unauthentic. "I don't know what local means," he told Cloud. "Do they use local pesticides? Does that mean the food is better because they produce local cancers?" Advocates of local food counter this claim by saying that "because locally grown produce is freshest, it is more nutritionally complete" (Cloud). John Mackey, the founder and the CEO of Whole Foods Market, asked about the quality of a locally grown nonorganic tomato and the organic tomato brought from California, described both of them "an environmental wash," since one used pesticides and the other burned petroleum while being transported (Cloud). When these nuances are considered, it is hard to decide whether organic food is more nutritious and environmentally friendly than nonorganic food.

The difficulty of choosing the right food is further complicated by the manipulation of people's penchant for organic and green through what Kim Severson calls "greenwashing." "Greenwashing" refers to the use specific packaging and marketing of products that make an impression that the products are environmentally friendly and more nutritious than other conventional products. "If the package does its work," Severson says, "then the food inside doesn't actually have to be organic, only organic-ish." According to him, there are essential elements of a greenwashed product. For example, a greenwashed product is likely to display "a gentle image of a field or a farm to suggest an ample harvest gathered by an honest, hard-working family." "A good greenwashed product should show an animal displaying special skills or great emotional range," Severson further explains. "Some Organic Valley packages feature sax-playing, environmentally friendly earthworm. Jaunty cows on a Stony Field Farm yogurt wear sunglasses and headbands. The cows on Horizon's milk cartons dance a bovine jig, despite challenges by organic purists that some Horizon cows see precious little pasture" (Severson). In essence, "greenwashing" blurs the distinction between organic and nonorganic foods. Through right packaging, nonorganic foods may be sold as organic foods without being labeled "organic."

With the success of organic food industry in recent years, big players are entering the game, thus pushing for easier organic standards in Congress and further diminishing the quality of organic foods. Currently, organic foods that carry the USDA certification label must contain at least ninety five percent… [END OF PREVIEW]

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