Organic food costs more than conventional food. Is it worth the extra money?


Rinsing conventionally grown fruits and vegetables doesn’t effectively reduce pesticide residues. Organic produce may be a better choice. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
July 21, 2014

As a rule, organic food costs more than conventional food. But is it worth the extra money?

“We want consumers to appreciate that by buying organic food, they are helping to support farming methods for plants and animals that are healthier for the Earth’s soil and water supply in the long run,” says Urvashi Rangan, executive director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center. Here’s Consumer Reports’ take on which organic choices provide the most immediate benefit and why.

Fruits and vegetables

Priority level: High.

Why: To avoid exposure to pesticide residues.

Rinsing conventionally grown fruits and vegetables doesn’t effectively reduce pesticide residues. Organic produce isn’t treated with synthetic fertilizers or most synthetic pesticides in the first place.

The benefits are considerable for many items, including fruits, vegetable, meat and dairy products. (Juliette Michel/AFP/Getty Images)
Poultry

Priority level: Medium to high.

Why: To discourage the routine use of antibiotics and questionable feed.

Organic poultry is almost always raised without the routine use of antibiotics. (The widespread use of such drugs in food animals is contributing to a rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.) And organic birds can’t be fed poultry litter — a mixture of droppings, spilled feed and feathers — or arsenic drugs.

Consumer Reports’ tests have found that organic birds raised under organic standards are just as likely to harbor bacterial contamination as non-organic poultry, but a smaller percentage of the bacteria tends to be resistant to antibiotics.

Beef

Priority level: Medium to high.

Why: Nutritional benefits.

As with chicken, organic cattle aren’t raised with routine antibiotics. For optimal nutritional benefits, look for organic meat that’s labeled “American Grassfed Approved” or “USDA Process Verified Grass-fed,” which guarantees that the animal was raised on a diet of 99 percent grass and forage and had seasonal access to a pasture. Studies suggest that meat from such animals might provide more health benefits than meat from animals fattened on a conventional diet of grain.

These eggs are all organic. (Maddie Meyer/The Washington Post)
Dairy

Priority level: Medium to high.

Why: Nutritional benefits.

Research has found that organic milk contains about 60 percent more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic versions, a benefit that also extends to cheese and yogurt. Organic dairy cows aren’t treated with growth hormones, and they eat a diet free of animal byproducts.

Packaged food

Priority level: Low to medium.

Why: To avoid consumption of food additives and synthetic dyes.

At least 95 percent of ingredients in certified-organic processed foods must themselves be organic. A “made with organic” label means that at least 70 percent of the product’s ingredients must be organic.

Organic packaged foods might be most important for children because the foods are not allowed to contain synthetic dyes, which have been linked to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. (Natural food colorings include annatto, beets and turmeric.) There’s little evidence that conventional packaged goods are a health hazard to adults — except perhaps to their waistlines. Remember, organic cookies are still cookies.

Seafood

Priority level: Not applicable.

Why: Organic labels on fish and shellfish are meaningless, because there are no government-approved organic standards for seafood.

Copyright 2014. Consumers Union of United States Inc.

For further guidance, go to www.ConsumerReports.org/Health, where more detailed information, including CR’s ratings of prescription drugs, treatments, hospitals and healthy-living products, is available to subscribers.

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