What the heck is non-organic? Actually everyone seems to know that answer. The question some have trouble with is what does organic mean, exactly? Aside from the politics of the actual use of the word “organic” on food labels, most people know that it means natural – grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, hormones or other unnatural chemicals or treatments. Unfortunately, tacking a word, any word, in front of a food item causes one to pause to understand how that word modifies the food item, how it makes that food item different. This puts that food item at a competitive disadvantage as it is seen as different and therefore possibly inferior or at least requiring further investigation.
What is vastly unfair about the organic label, is that it should not require a label at all. Organic is the natural version of chicken. It is what we usually refer to as just plain chicken that is unnatural. In other words, we have it quite backwards. Chicken, before the introduction of chemicals and hormones to their lives was natural and did not need a label. What we currently call chicken is not natural and it is what ought to be labeled. What kind of label? Is there a single word that captures chemicals, growth hormones and torturous treatment? Sick?
Overcrowding chickens is one way to cut costs
Many people are put off of buying organic because of higher prices. This is understandable; there are some cases where the organic choice is twice the non-organic price. But perhaps this is the wrong way of looking at the situation. In order for something to cost twice as much as something else, you need to have the base price from which to calculate. But what if that base price is wrong?
What if chicken that costs $2.79/lb. only got that low because large factory farms continuously cut corners to cut costs. Placing 3 times the number of chickens that could move about comfortably in a confined space would lower the cost. Keeping them indoors for their entire life would shave a few more dimes per pound. Growth hormones will speed up production and reduce the price again. At the point where the consumers would be shocked and offended by the animal’s treatment, the price is wrong. We would choose to pay more for more humane animal husbandry and less harmful additives had we all the information at our disposal.
We should think twice before using the absolute lowest cost as the base price from which we compare “higher” prices. If the base cost is ill-gotten and morally offensive, we should never have gone there in the first place.
In North America, we spend only about 10% of our incomes on food. In France, they spend close to 15%, Italy and Germany, nearly 20%. In Honduras, almost 40%. Why is food so cheap here? There are a number of reasons. One of them is that the price is wrong.