Organic food products are, on average, 47 percent more expensive than standard supermarket food—but thanks to their health claims and environmental benefits, many shoppers don’t mind the extra splurge. In fact, the total market value for organic products in the United States was worth over $50 billion in 2020. But while the organic food industry means big business for companies and farmers, the question still remains: Are organic foods actually better for us and the environment?
AsapSCIENCE released a video explaining why eating organic may not be the universal cure most people think it is. The truth is, an organic diet isn’t entirely chemical-free. In fact, organic farmers can still use natural pesticides and fungicides to keep crop-destroying insects at a distance—and studies show that they aren’t actually better for you or the soil than chemical ones. Labels tend to be misleading, too. If a product’s packaging says “organic,” it only needs to contain 95 percent organic ingredients. This percentage is even lower when compared with items labeled “made with organic ingredients” or “containing organic ingredients.” And in many cases, chemicals or ingredients are the least of a shopper’s worries: Every year, organic foods account for 7 percent of foods that have to be recalled due to incidents of potential bacterial contamination.
Even if we’re extra-careful to consume food that’s only labeled “100 percent organic,” there’s still no conclusive evidence whether it’s better for us or the environment. A few years ago, Stanford University scientists released a meta-analysis of 237 studies proving that organic fruits and veggies don’t provide that much more nutritional benefits than standard produce. Meanwhile, another study published in the journal Nature found that organic crops produce yields that are much lower than conventional ones. They require more farmland for growth, which puts a more significant strain on the environment. To add to our confusion, other studies indicate that organic farming methods can actually increase essential nutrients in foods, and some agricultural experts purport that they improve soil quality. In short, there’s no conclusive answer for whether or not we’re wasting our money at Whole Foods—but at the end of the day, production methods do vary significantly for both organic and conventional foods from one farm to another.