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7 Reasons Organic Food is So Expensive

7 Reasons Organic Food is So Expensive

Find out why organic foods cost more than their conventionally grown counterparts

Organic farms forego chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Certified organic products — those that are in compliance with specific standards during their production, storage, processing, and handling — are often more expensive than their non-organic counterparts. This is due largely to the fact that producing them with ecological and social factors in mind is expensive. Instead of growing foods with synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, organic farmers incur additional costs when they can use natural farming practices to prevent pests and diseases, to enhance the health of the soil, and to raise animals more humanely.

Click here to see the 7 Reasons Organic Food is So Expensive (Slideshow)

Committing to organic farming practices and choosing not to rely on chemicals to control pests, weeds, and disease usually also means more work for farmers. Organic farms use site-specific management practices; this means that farmers and farm workers spend more time caring for their crops and animals so that they can make informed decisions about how to best manage them. For example, conventional farmers kill weeds with chemical sprays while organic farmers spend time in their fields weeding their crops by hand.

The extra time and effort dedicated to raising, shipping, and selling organic food drives up its price. Extra farmworkers employed or extra time spent doing jobs by hand translates into higher labor costs, producing food without any synthetic fertilizers to speed their growth mean organic foods take longer to make it to markets and their price must be raised to compensate. Even transport costs are greater for organic producers, since they ship in smaller batches separate from conventional foods to prevent cross-contamination.

Basically, organic farmers incur extra costs so they can produce food that is good for us and good for the environment. Looking for more details? Here’s a closer look at the way organic certification impacts farming practices and seven specific reasons organic food is so expensive.

Organic Certification

There are several costs involved in gaining organic certification. Not only is there an annual fee, but some farms may have to hire additional employees to assist in daily record-keeping or make modifications to their land and equipment in order to comply.

Organic Fertilizer

Conventional farms use chemical fertilizers that are cheap to purchase and ship. By contrast, organic farmers fertilize with manure or compost — if they can't produce enough organic fertilizer on their own farm then they can purchase more, but these types of fertilizers are expensive and cost more to ship than their synthetic counterparts.

Click here to see more of the reasons organic food is so expensive

Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal’s Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.

10 Reasons Organic Food Costs More

Jennifer Chait is a former writer for The Balance Small Business who covered organic businesses. She runs a family-oriented blog on green living.

Recent polls show that most Americans think organic food isn't worth the cost, mainly because many consumers think organics are the same as conventional items, simply with a fancy organic label attached.​

However, there are actual differences between organics and conventional food. There are also some significant, and very real reasons, why organics can be expensive.

Here are the top 10 reasons organic food costs more.

Here's Why Pasture-Raised Turkeys Are So Expensive

Thanksgiving means different things to different people, but for a turkey none of it is joyful. This time of year, the bird’s life serves but one purpose: to feed our families in the traditional feast of thanks. No matter which way you slice it, the turkey gets the short end of the deal during the holiday season — but there are some birds that fare better than others. The luckier of the turkeys are those that had the good fortune to have been raised on pasture at a small-scale farm — at least they lived a life in the open air before meeting their end. There is a downfall to the pasture-raised turkey: the steep price tag. A commercial Butterball turkey will cost about $30 for a 20-pound bird, but the price hits closer to $120 for the same size bird raised on open fields.

Despite the price hurdle, the past two decades have given way to a steady rise of small farms that are working to change our current big Ag, factory farm food system. The Butterball scandals brought to light by animal welfare advocacy group Mercy for Animals in 2011 and 2012 is a testament to the importance of that shift (especially since Butterball provides the nation with roughly 13.4 million turkeys each Thanksgiving). The advocacy group revealed the abuse turkeys undergo in factory farming environments. These are horrors that no creature with a beating heart should have to endure, from extreme physical abuse to maggot-infested living conditions — and in some extreme cases, being ground up while still alive. These nightmarish images are reminiscent of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” but they aren’t stories from the Industrial Revolution they are happening today.

The severe mistreatment of turkeys paints a dark stain on the entire meal. It’s during these times that the importance of small farms, where humanely raised actually means something, can so clearly be felt — although it is a standard that should be held year round. And it’s why the rare small farm that has slowed down and preserved its principles becomes such a treasured part of the community, such as Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds in Sudbury, MA.

Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds began in 2003 by Pete Lowy and Jen Hashley just raising chickens in their, well, backyard for personal use. As time went on, they began selling their excess eggs to friends, meat birds (chickens raised for eating) soon followed, and before they knew it they were raising 200 meat birds at a time and 90 turkeys for the holiday — as well as rabbit, hog and capon. That might not seem like a notable operation in terms of scale, but a closer look at quality tells you that this is significant.

Pete and Jen not only feed their turkeys on pasture, but they’re feasting on fresh pea tendrils too — the kind a trendy New York restaurant will plate with ramps, call it a spring salad and charge you $18 a head for. The birds also eat grain, as well as grit (basically, rocks). They roam in an enclosed area with what is probably the greatest salad bar in all of America. A couple of times a week, once the turkeys have mowed down their salad of fresh greens, they’re moved to another location with fresh tall greens for grazing. Take a look:

This is the idyllic image many people conjure when picturing farm-raised animals, but this is so rarely the case. It’s a somber reality and even Pete Lowy is dismayed at the number of small farms that falsely market their animals as pasture raised. Pete recounted that many farmers will claim to raise animals on pasture, but when you visit the farm you find them tucked away in barns. And that then there are the large farms that are operating at basically the opposite end of the spectrum. Unfortunately, this reality is a result of the many challenges of raising animals in open fields.

It’s incredibly hard to make a living while farming on pasture the “old fashioned way.” That’s one of the reasons that factory farmed animals came to be the norm — and why they are so cheap. The large fields required for grazing take up more land (and therefore are more expensive) than enclosed barns. The work of moving the birds on pasture requires labor (which costs money). And then there are the predators to watch out for. Electric fences will only deter some animals. Coyotes, hawks and weasels can easily sneak in and kill off 50 birds in a night — that’s a huge loss for small farms. The hard work is a sacrifice worth making though — not only for the general well-being of the bird, but for its overall health and taste too — but it comes at a cost for the consumer.

The steep price of pasture-raised turkey is a problem for many Americans. One can easily find a great big Butterball turkey a couple of days before Thanksgiving at any local supermarket for around $1.50 a pound, but getting your hands on a pasture-raised turkey requires planning — all of the birds at Pete and Jen’s have already been sold a month before Thanksgiving — and a deeper pocket, too. A sustainable turkey can easily go for $5-7 a pound: We’re talking about four times more expensive than what you find at the supermarket. But there’s a reason that bird costs so much — and it’s not just because it has the allure of a small farm. Or the fresh diet of pea shoots. The farmers themselves are barely making a profit. Raising a bird on pasture on a small farm scale is just expensive.

Pete broke it down for us: the poult (baby turkey) costs usually $6-10 per pout, which is about 5-10 percent of retail price. But if you take into consideration the possible (and probable) loss of birds while trying to raise the fragile babies, that price shoots up even higher. The loss expected while raising the birds should be less than 5 percent, but many farmers have unexpected issues. Poults can pile on top of each other if they get cold and farmers can end up losing many in a night from a cold spell. Trying to keep them warm with heat lamps is an option, but that hikes up the electricity bill. This is all just to keep the baby birds alive. Then there’s the feeding, which is where it gets really expensive.

Organic grain is about two times the cost of commercial grain. Grain costs can easily make up 30 percent of the retail price — we’re talking about $40 of grain per bird here. Since Pete and Jen also feed their turkeys on pasture, they have to grow the pasture forages too (those pea sprouts don’t just magically appear) — which is another expense. And then there’s the grit that turkeys eat for digestion. Pete said that their 90 turkeys consumed 10 bags of grit this year. At $12 a bag, it adds up. And now comes the trickiest part: processing the bird.

Processing the bird is industry talk for slaughtering the turkey. This is actually trickier than it sounds for small farmers — and not in the emotional sense. Small farmers are faced with the challenge of finding how to process their birds legally, which no matter which way they do it usually costs roughly 15 percent of the retail price of each bird. They can either pay for transportation and processing at the nearest USDA poultry plant of which there are not many — Eastern Massachusetts only has two options — or they can opt to process the birds on their own farm. Each option has its own set of downfalls. Having another party process your bird means paying out even more of your already small profits. But making the decision to process your own bird means serious labor — and lots of paperwork too.

We spoke to Sam Anderson, who is in charge of the Mobile Poultry Processing Unit for Eastern Massachusetts — the MPPU is essentially a licensed slaughter house on wheels that aims to provide small farmers with a legal means to process and sell their birds on their own farms. He said that getting the paperwork in order is hard for farmers. It involves getting permission from the local boards of health, which they’ve found aren’t always so agreeable. But that’s not even the hardest part. Sam says that on processing day, “something always goes wrong and you have to be ready. The hardest stuff is lining up all the logistics, monitoring the temperature of the bird, lining up who’s working and cleaning the whole unit down.” It’s a lot of work. Some farms, like Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds, are lucky enough to have volunteers come out and be part of the process. But for those who don’t, labor becomes another cost in processing. When the profit margin is so narrow as it is in these small-scale farms, costs like this really matter. And they in turn add to the price of the pasture-raised turkey.

Pete sums it up perfectly: “When you add it all up, a $100 turkey at retail could easily cost us $80. And then when you have a coyote saunter along and take out 10 bird — just before slaughter — there goes a large portion of your profit from growing the turkeys the last four months. Farming is great!” (Did you pick up on that hint of sarcasm?)

Some consumers just simply can’t afford the steep price tags of pasture-raised, small-farm animals, and that is another unfortunate reality of our current food system. And others don’t feel like the price is justified. But if you can afford to pay the difference, you’ll be rewarded with a flavor that will make you grateful for all the pea shoots those birds ate. Customers of Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds have said that their birds taste way better than anything you could buy at the grocery store. And because it’s more expensive, they just eat less poultry. It’s one of those “less is more” cases.

But making the decision to buy a small-farm pastured raised bird isn’t the only step required to support good farming practices — you have to find the farms that practice what they preach, too. In a world where food labels have become nearly meaningless, it’s disheartening to hear a small-scale, sustainable farmer gripe about the mislabeling happening within his own peers as Pete did. How are those of us who have found their lives fully removed from food production ever to trust what we’re buying? Pete’s advice: Visit the farm. Seeing with your own eyes the conditions of the animals and the farm is the only way to guarantee your food is being grown ethically. And if you can’t visit the farm, look for pictures. Many farms these days have websites, are blogging or are even posting photos on Twitter — Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds do all three. Look for green fields, happy animals and recent photos, advises Pete, because the proof is in the pasture.

Why is organic food more expensive than conventional food?

Certified organic food. Certified organic products are generally more expensive than their conventional counterparts (for which prices have been declining) for a number of reasons:

  • Organic food supply is limited as compared to demand
  • Production costs for organic foods are typically higher because of greater labour inputs per unit of output and because greater diversity of enterprises means economies of scale cannot be achieved
  • Post-harvest handling of relatively small quantities of organic foods results in higher costs because of the mandatory segregation of organic and conventional produce, especially for processing and transportation
  • Marketing and the distribution chain for organic products is relatively inefficient and costs are higher because of relatively small volumes.

As demand for organic food and products is increasing, technological innovations and economies of scale should reduce costs of production, processing, distribution and marketing for organic produce.

Prices of organic foods include not only the cost of the food production itself, but also a range of other factors that are not captured in the price of conventional food, such as:

Why are healthy foods expensive?

In our society, healthy choices are sometimes a lot harder to make than unhealthy ones: going to the gym vs. staying home, ordering a salad vs. french fries or buying healthy groceries vs. unhealthy ones. Healthy groceries such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and 100% whole wheat products always seem to be more expensive than their unhealthy counterparts. The reasons are are simple but the solutions, complex.

How to Measure Cost of Food

Part of the problem with healthy foods being so “expensive” is the definition of price. The most popular way to measure cost is to compare price to portion (i.e., volume or calorie content). The result is Big Macs or sodas cost “much less” than fruits and vegetables. Comparing the cost of food using the price/calorie ratio ignores healthier food options are generally lower in calories and higher in nutrients.

Healthy foods are higher in nutrients and satisfy you for a much longer period of time. A better way to measure the price of food is to look at price/nutrient or price/satiety ratios. If you look at these comparisons, the price is not so different. Let us take a look at the following example.

A can of soda and an apple have roughly the same number of calories (

120). While a large apple costs about $1, a can of soda sells for .50 to .75 (even less if you buy a larger quantity). If you compare these two using the price/calorie ratio, the can of soda looks cheaper. Unfortunately, the can of soda has no nutrients. An apple is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. If you look at the price/nutrient ratio, the apple is much cheaper.

Furthermore, because an apple contains a large amount of fiber, it keeps you full for a longer period of time than a can of soda. If you look at the price/satiety ratio, the apple wins again. Though a soda costs half as much as an apple, it does not come close to providing you with even half the benefits.

The soda does not contribute anything to your overall health nor does it do anything to keep you full. How many cans of soda do you need to keep you as full as one apple? If the answer is more than two, the apple becomes cheaper. The price of unhealthy foods might be absolutely more expensive but healthy foods are relatively cheaper. Now let us look at some of the reasons why the absolute cost of healthy food is higher.

Demand vs. Supply

Simple economics is the main reason healthy food is expensive (supply and demand). This country demands much more unhealthy food (red meat, sugar, high fructose corn syrup) than it does healthy (fresh produce, seafood, whole grains). Food manufacturers supply what is in demand. The result is cheap junk. The way to change this is to change the supply and demand equation which cannot happen overnight. Only changing attitudes can move this process along.

Ways to Save

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to save on healthy foods. First, buy your fruits and vegetables in season. The supply of in season produce is very high and very perishable. This means prices are low. The USDA has a comprehensive guide on what’s plentiful during each season. A few examples include:

  • winter: bananas, grapefruit, potatoes
  • spring: apricots, broccoli, cabbage
  • summer: blueberries, cherries, corn
  • fall: apples, carrots, cranberries

Another way to save on produce is to buy frozen rather than fresh. While canning adds preservatives, freezing avoids most additives. Frozen products allow you to buy in or out of season produce at much lower prices. A lot of the generic grocery shopping rules also apply to healthy foods:

  • Buy non-perishable items in bulk whenever possible (including sales on items you frequently use).
  • Use coupons only for items you would normally buy.
  • Buy store brands over national ones.
  • Find a local farmers market for fresh produce.

The Bottom Line

While buying healthy food might seem like the more expensive option, in the long run, going healthy saves you a lot of time and money. Ingredients found in some of our most popular foods (sugar, sodium saturated fat, trans fat) are known to increase your risk for a number of diseases including heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. There are also other ingredients (fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants) found in healthy foods that can prevent those same diseases. Instead of worrying about the damage healthy food does to your wallet, worry about the damage unhealthy food does to your body.

Is It Worth the Cost?

Whether or not organic food really is safer or more nutritious, advocates say there is one more compelling reason to go organic: The health of the environment and society as a whole.

"Toxic and persistent pesticides do accumulate. They accumulate in the soil they accumulate in the water they accumulate in our bodies," says DiMatteo. "So by eliminating the use of these pesticides and fertilizers in the organic production system, we are not contributing any further to this pollution."


But food experts caution that while the big picture is important, you must make the decision that makes the most sense for you. If you can manage the higher price, and you like the idea of fewer pesticides and a more environmentally friendly production system, organic food may be for you. But don't skimp on healthy conventional foods just because you think you need to save your pennies for the few organic items that you can afford.


"The best thing you can do for yourself is to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and grains. And eat variety. From my perspective, it doesn't matter whether they are organic or conventional," Winter says.

If you like the idea of organic foods but aren't ready to go completely organic, you can always pick and choose. Depending on your own needs and goals, here are a few items you might want to put on your list.

If you are most interested in reducing pesticides in your food, buy organic versions of foods whose conventional forms may carry high levels of pesticide residues. These include:

7 Reasons Organic Food is So Expensive - Recipes

Abbey's Top Ten Reasons to Buy Organic Food:

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Reason #1 To Buy Organic Food: You'll Protect Future Generations

"We have not inherited the Earth from our fathers, we are borrowing it from our children"- Lester Brown

The average child receives four times more exposure than an adult to at least eight widely used cancer-causing pesticides in food. The food choices you make now will impact your child's health in the future. Protect future generations - buy organic food.

Reason #2 To Buy Organic Food: You'll Prevent Soil Erosion

The Soil Conservation service estimated that more than 3 billion tons of topsoil are eroded from United States croplands each year. This means that it is being built up naturally. Soil is the foundation of the food chain in organic farming. But in some conventional farming the soil is used more as a medium for holding plants in a vertical position so they can be chemically fertilized. As a result, American farms are suffering from the worst soil erosion in history. Prevent soil erosion -- buy organic food.

Reason #3 To Buy Organic Food: You'll Protect Water Quality

Water makes up two-thirds of our body mass and covers three-fourths of the planet. Despite its importance, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated pesticides -- some cancer causing -- contaminate the ground water in 38 states. Polluting the primary source of drinking water for more than half the country's population. Protect water quality- buy organic food.

Reason #4 To Buy Organic Food: You'll Save Energy

American farms have changed drastically in the last three generations, from family-based small businesses dependent on human energy to large-scale factory farms highly dependent on fossil fuels. Modern farming uses more petroleum than any other single industry, consuming 12 percent of the county's total energy supply. More energy is now used to produce fertilizers than to till, cultivate and harvest all the crops in the Unites States. Organic farming is still mainly based on labor intensive practices such as weeding by hand and using green manures and crop covers rather than synthetic fertilizers to build up soil. Organic produce also tends to travel fewer miles from field to table. Save energy- buy organic food.

Reason #5 To Buy Organic Food: You'll Keep Chemicals Off Your Plate

Many pesticides approved for use by the EPA were registered long before extensive research linking these chemicals to cancer and other diseases had been established. Now the EPA considers that 60 percent of all herbicides. 90 percent of all fungicides and 30 percent of all insecticides are carcinogenic. A 1987 National Academy of Sciences report estimated that pesticides might cause an extra 1.4 million cancer cases among Americans over their lifetimes. The bottom line is that pesticides are poisons designed to kill living organisms and can also be harmful to humans. In addition to cancer, pesticides are implicated in birth defects, nerve damage and genetic mutations. Keep chemicals off your plate - buy organic food.

Reason #6 To Buy Organic Food: You'll Protect Farm Worker Health

A National Cancer Institute Study found that farmers exposed to herbicides had a six times greater risk than non-farmers of contracting cancer. In California, reported pesticide poisonings among farm workers have risen an average of 14 percent a year since 1973 and doubled between 1975 and 1985. Field workers suffer the highest risk of occupational illnesses in the state. Farm worker health is also a serious problem in developing nations, where pesticide use can be poorly regulated. An estimated 1 million people are poisoned annally by pesticides. Protect farm workers -- buy organic food.

Reason #7 To Buy Organic Food: You'll Help Small Farmers

Although more and more large farms are making the conversion to organic practices, most organic farms are small independently owned and operated family farms of less than 100 acres. It is estimated that the Unites States has lost more 650,000 family farms in the past decade. And with the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicting that half the country's farm protection will come from 1 percent of farms by the year 2000, organic farming could be one of the few survival tactics left for many family farms. Help small farmers -- buy organic food.

Reason #8 To Buy Organic Food: You'll Support a True Economy

Although organic foods might seem more expensive than conventional foods conventional food prices do not reflect hidden costs borne by tax payers, including nearly $74 billion on federal subsidies in 1988. Other hidden costs include pesticide regulation and testing, hazardous waste disposal and clean-up and environmental damage. Author Gary Null says " If·you add in the real environment and social costs of irrigation to a head of lettuce, its price can range between $2 and $3". Support a true economy - buy organic food.

Reason #9 To Buy Organic Food: You'll Promote Biodiversity

Mono-cropping is the practice of planting large plots of land with the same crop year after year. While this approach tripled farm production between 1950 and 1970, the lack of natural diversity of plant life has left the soil lacking in natural minerals and nutrients. To replace the nutrients, chemical fertilizers are used, often in increasing amounts. Single crops are also much more susceptible to pests, making farmers more reliant on pesticides. Despite a ten-fold increase in the use of pesticides between 1947 and 1974, crop losses due to insects have doubled -- partly because some insects have become genetically resistant to certain pesticides. Promote biodiversity -- buy organic food.

Reason # 10 To Buy Organic Food: You'll Taste Better Flavor

There's a good reason why many chefs use organic foods in their recipes -- they taster better! Organic farming starts with the nourishment of the soil, which eventually leads to the nourishment of the plant and, ultimately, our palates. Taste better flavor -- buy organic food.

This article was excerpted from an article by Sylvia Tawse, marketing coordinator for Alfalfa's Markets, an organic food marketplace, in Boulder and Denver Colorado.

These are just a few of the benefits to making healthy changes to your lifestyle through adopting a vegetarian diet. To receive a new vegetarian recipe every week for free, click here and join our fun, online community now!

How Organic Food Works

Organic and conventional food must meet the same quality and safety standards. Organic food differs from conventionally produced food simply in the way it is grown, handled and processed. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that it is more nutritious or safer than conventional food. A recently published report indicates that organic food is less likely to contain pesticide residues than conventional food (13 percent of organic produce samples versus 71 percent of conventional produce samples contained a pesticide residue when long-banned persistent pesticides were excluded). Yet, according to the National Research Council, the traces of pesticides left on conventionally grown products are unlikely to cause an increased cancer risk. Also, if fruits and vegetables are properly washed, most of the chemicals can be removed.

As for taste, that's up to you to decide what you like best. In general, people tend to find that the fresher a food is, the better it tastes, regardless of how it was produced.

Is There Any Downside to Organic Food?

In addition to the higher price, there are two main criticisms of organic food. First, some people argue that eating such products increases your exposure to biological contaminants, putting you at greater risk for foodborne illness. In particular, concerns have been raised about:

  • Manure - While manure is a well known carrier of human pathogens, when properly treated it is both safe and efficient. Plus, certified organic farmers are restricted from using untreated manure within 60 days before the harvest of a crop and are inspected to make sure these standards and restrictions are met.
  • Mycotoxins from molds - Fungicides are not permitted in the production and processing of organic foods. However, studies have not shown that consuming organic products leads to a greater risk of mycotoxin contamination.
  • E. coli bacteria - Particularly the virulent strain O157:H7, found in the intestinal tract of animals, is a concern. As it turns out, both conventional and organic foods are susceptible to contamination by E. coli.

The second criticism of organic agriculture is that organic farmers can't produce enough to feed everybody. Some experts contend that organic food production, and in particular the failure to implement genetic engineering techniques, will condemn millions worldwide to hunger, malnutrition and starvation because:

  • Yield (total harvest per unit area) for organic farming is lower than for conventional farming.
  • Organic farming is not economically or socially viable in poorer countries.

In contrast, proponents of organic farming argue that the problem isn't producing enough food -- the problem is getting the food that is already produced to the people who need it. The FAO says that under the right circumstances, the market returns from organic agriculture can potentially contribute to local food security by increasing family incomes. The issue remains under heated debate.

For more information on organic food and related topics, check out the links below.

Produce With Highest Level of Pesticide Contamination

The following list is based on information and studies by the USDA, Consumer Reports, and the Environmental Working Group. Because of these high levels, it's recommended to buy organic for these fruits and vegetables:

  • Nectarines – 97.3% of nectarines sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Celery – 94.5% of celery sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Pears – 94.4% of pears sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Peaches – 93.7% of peaches sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Apples – 91% of apples sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Cherries – 91% of cherries sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Strawberries – 90% of strawberries sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Imported Grapes – 86% of imported grapes (i.e., Chile) sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Spinach – 83.4% of spinach sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Potatoes – 79.3% of potatoes sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Bell Peppers – 68% of bell peppers sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Red Raspberries – 59% of red raspberries sampled were found to contain pesticides.

The bottom line

Organic products are more expensive than conventional ones, and whether they&rsquore really worth the extra cost is certainly a matter of choice. &ldquoIf you can afford all organic, that’s fantastic, but it’s not feasible for most people,&rdquo says registered dietitian Cynthia Sass. &ldquoIf it&rsquos not, the most important groups to buy organic, in my opinion, include foods you eat daily and produce on the Dirty Dozen list&mdashthose with the highest pesticide residues.&rdquo If people eat eggs, dairy and meat, she also recommends buying those organic.

Halden says that vulnerable groups&mdashincluding pregnant women, young children, the elderly and people suffering from allergies&mdashmay benefit the most from choosing organically produced foods. He also points out that a strictly organic diet can still be plenty unhealthy: &ldquoEating too much sugar and meat and too few vegetables is risky, regardless of whether the shopper picks from the conventional or organic grocery selection,&rdquo he says.

It&rsquos also important for consumers to make educated decisions about why they choose to buy organic, says Crosby&mdashand not to get hung up on individual studies that haven&rsquot been supported by additional research. If you’re trying to reduce exposure to pesticide residues, organic is a good choice, he says. &ldquoOn the other hand, if you&rsquore buying them because they&rsquore more nutritious, the evidence doesn&rsquot broadly support that,” he says.