Why do people buy organic foods?

By Jack Mans on June 22, 2009

As I walked the few aisles of the Organic Food Show in Chicago last week looking for interesting new packaging, I again pondered one of the mysteries of the universe—why do people buy organic foods? It brings me back to the dim dark days when my kids were in elementary school, and one of the other parents constantly was beating on my wife to buy “healthy” foods. (They didn’t call them organic then.) The woman would make a special trip to Wisconsin to buy fertilized eggs and unpasteurized milk directly from a farmer. I never was comfortable with the idea of fertilized eggs. I always had the picture in my mind that I’d crack the egg and a baby chicken would fall out. But having spent years around the dairy industry, the thought of unpasteurized milk really set my teeth on edge. The U.S. government doesn’t require milk to be pasteurized for nothing!

Now, there’s a huge movement touting ORGANIC. Rather than give you my thoughts on the topic, I’d like to include some points on organic foods I found on the Mayo Clinic web site.
Nutrition. No conclusive evidence shows that organic food is more nutritious than is conventionally grown food. And the USDA—even though it certifies organic food—doesn’t claim that these products are safer or more nutritious.
Quality and Safety. Organic foods meet the same quality and safety standards as conventional foods.
Residues. Most experts agree that the amount of pesticides found on fruits and vegetables poses a very small health risk.
Cost: Most organic food costs more than conventional food products. Higher prices are due to more expensive farming practices, tighter government regulations and lower crop yields.

What really astounds me is the amount of money people are willing to spend for organic products—some cost twice as much as conventional products or even more. The whole thing brings to mind the famous quote attributed to P.T. Barnum: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Actually, he didn’t say that.  It was said by his competitor. Here’s the story of how this quote came about. 


By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.
500 characters remaining
DDT wasn't used for pesticide purposes until 1939. The widespread growth of agri-chemicals and GMO seeds has been largely within your lifetime, sir. I think it's simply to early to say what the long-term effects will be. Maybe there's a correlation to the growing rates of cancer or food allergies in children. During your childhood, probably most produce was organically grown. You're taking this for granted.
The reason why people spend more money on organic food is not the cost. Its the idea of not eating GMO and foods that have chemicals. The Gov states just a little chemicals ppm is ok. Are you brain dead how does that sound. I guest you are just a little bald and gray. Big pharma and the chemical food machine are in bed together. Pharma needs the food industry to make people sick so they can slow kill you with more chemicals. I have a question for you. Is fluoride that the FDA has approved for you to drink in tap and bottle water good for you? If you say yes know your history and find the origin of flouride. www.borganic.org
Thank you for sharing your perspectives on the nutritional value, quality/safety, residues and cost of organic products. The Organic Trade Association would like to offer an alternative set of perspectives on these topics. Nutrition: There is mounting evidence that organically grown fruits, vegetables and grains may offer more of some nutrients, including vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, and less exposure to nitrates than their counterparts grown using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. See www.ota.com/organic/benefits/nutrition for a list of studies affirming these findings. Quality/Safety: By law, organic products must comply with federal regulations for production and handling. These regulations state that "organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity," and that "it is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony." The regulations also prohibit the use of toxic and persistent pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, and genetic engineering, among other things, and specifically outline what can - and cannot- be identified as organic. They state, for example, that products labeled “100% Organic” and carrying the “USDA Organic” seal be just that – they contain all organically produced ingredients. Products that are made from at least 95% organic ingredients, and have remaining ingredients that are approved for use in organic products may also carry the “USDA Organic” seal. Products that contain at least 70% organic ingredients may label those on the ingredient listing and identify themselves as "made with organic," while products containing less than 70% organic ingredients may list only those ingredients that are organic on the ingredient panel with no mention of organic on their main panel. Together, these and other organic regulations offer consumers both a clear definition in which they can trust and assurance that the organic products they buy and consume are produced and processed in a manner that maintains product integrity that begins on the farm. Residues: There is growing evidence showing the negative impacts of pesticide exposure-particularly on the health of children. See www.ota.com/organic/benefits/children for an extensive list of studies on this topic and their findings. Cost: Buying organic is easier and in many ways more affordable than ever before. Not only do organic products appear on store shelves in mainstream retail outlets around the country, but thanks to the introduction of organic private label products, the growth of farmers’ markets selling organic products, and organic’s lack of dependence on petroleum-based farm inputs, the gap between organic and non-organic prices is closing. Indeed, in some cases, the price of organic goods is comparable to non-organic goods, making the decision to “go organic” simple and cost-effective.
Jack, You make several good points. "Organic" is a highly successful "super-brand" but there is little science to support its claims of human and environmental safety. As for the earlier comments in this stream. Jack grew up in a time when there were some really nasty pesticides being used (tin-based fungicides, mercury-based seed treatments, diesel oil as a herbicide...). A huge proportion of the pesticides used today are less toxic than table salt and as safe or safer than what is sprayed on Organic crops (yes, Organic is sprayed with pesticides).
Look if your at a an organic trade show and all you're doing is checking out the packaging it pretty much says you just aren't paying attention. Could we see references for the statements you provide?