In the past decade, organic food has moved into the mainstream, as more and more consumers have gotten creeped out by the use of growth hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, chemical fertilizers and all other sorts of unsavory, potentially carcinogenic things that go into conventional food products. The rising demand for organic food has even pushed Wal-Mart into the organics game; recently, the retail giant struck fear into the hearts of small organics suppliers by announcing a plan to fill its shelves with organic produce, meat, and dairy.
But the recent spike in food costs may curb the growing demand for organics. According to a Newsweek story, rising energy and commodity prices could drive healthy, organic fare beyond the reach of many consumers.
A gallon of conventional milk can cost as little as $2.99; meanwhile, the privilege of consuming milk that is free of unhealthy additives can run consumers up to $7 dollars a gallon.
The price hikes may discourage all but the most well-heeled shoppers from buying organics. As the article reports, only 27 percent of shoppers surveyed thought organics were worth paying extra, even though most considered organic food healthier.
As fewer shoppers load up on organics at the grocery store, the cost of producing organic food will increase, driving prices even higher:
“Organics’ growth and premium prices once persuaded farmers to go through the costly three-year process to cleanse their fields of chemicals to become USDA-certified as a green grower. But now with corn, grain and soybeans at record prices, the financial incentive is to grow conventionally. The rising price of organic grain is making it tough to feed all those free-range chickens and synthetic-hormone-free cows. Some organic farmers in the Northeast are even converting back to chemically enhanced crops to boost the bottom line. Fewer organic farmers means higher prices and less variety on greengrocers’ shelves.
Once confined to the realm of the wealthy and finicky, organic products have been increasingly democratized. But skyrocketing food prices may limit the health benefits of organic food to those who can afford it — yet another example of the impact of wealth on health.