Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released new data, showing that certified organic farms and businesses grew 13 percent between the end of 2015 and 2016.
But you don’t need new data to know that organic is popular. Long gone are the days when you might buy organic milk and call it a day. Now, just about anything can be labeled organic, from food to your kids’ toys. What you’d like to know is – is it worth the extra expense?
That’s a conversation between you and your wallet. Still, before you plunk down your credit or debit card, there’s plenty to think about when it comes to price and what you’re getting for it.
Price difference. According to one blog post at Organic.org, an educational website devoted to all things organic, organic foods are 42 percent more expensive than their nonorganic counterparts. A Consumer Reports study found organic foods to be 47 percent more expensive, on average. But look around, and you’ll probably find prices ranging from 10 to 100 percent higher, judging from anecdotal shopping evidence.
Worth it? You’re putting the food and drink into your body, and so you would think so. Still, opinions vary wildly.
Dr. Morton Tavel, clinical professor emeritus of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Bloomington, Indiana, says studies have shown that there’s no real evidence that organic foods are more nutritious than nonorganic foods. If you’re worried about food items like produce, wash them before you eat them, Tavel suggests.
And what about, say, mass-produced foods like potato chips? You can’t wash potato chips (well, you can …). Maybe organic chips are better for you than the nonorganic ones?
Not according to Tavel, who also is the author of “Health Tips, Myths, and Tricks: A Physician’s Advice.”
“There is no convincing evidence that organic products possess any advantages over their nonorganic counterparts,” he says. “Maybe a higher price confers an air of exclusivity.”
But if you feel more comfortable consuming organic foods, look for the USDA Organic symbol, says Erin Bennett, a San Francisco-based food labeling, advertising and intellectual property lawyer who has also been an organic farmer.
The symbol means that the product has at least 95 percent organic ingredients, by weight.
“While there are other acceptable variations of using organic in food, products that use the symbol have met the most stringent requirements,” Bennett says.
And if you see the word “natural” on any label, be wary, Bennett says. That sounds like it might be organic or something close to it, but, alas, no.
“The term ‘natural’ is not regulated and is almost entirely meaningless,” she says. “Producers will often opt for ‘natural’ when a product doesn’t qualify as organic, but they are still seeking to sell the product for the premium price that organic products can garner.”
Price difference. Toys are so varied by size and price that it’s impossible to say. But, generally, you will pay a premium.
Worth it? Late last year, a report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found that from January 2015 to October 2016, more than a dozen of 40 recalled toys from a Consumer Product Safety Commission could still be purchased online, and some had excessive levels of lead.
There are numerous nonorganic toys that are perfectly safe and without dangerous chemicals in them, common sense should tell you. But if you see an organic toy that you think your kid will like, common sense should also tell you that it’s probably worth the extra money.
Still, don’t assume any toy advertised as organic – or any nonfood item – is completelyorganic, Bennett says.
She offers up the example of yarn. “Does organic yarn mean that the wool is from organically raised sheep?” Bennett asks. “Was the wool cleaned with organic detergent? Were the dyes organic? So yarn labeled as organic could have a host of meanings.”
Bennett suggests researching the product as much as you can, if you’re really concerned about what you’re buying.
Price difference. Organic flowers tend to cost about 10 percent more, according to various industry sources.
Worth it? It may be, if you’re concerned about the environment (rewarding growers who use eco-friendly practices), and if you’re thinking about the employees growing your flowers.
“Getting organic flowers will help ensure that farm workers are not exposed to pesticides and chemicals,” says Summer Rayne Oakes, an author and environmentalist based out of Brooklyn, New York.
She says that at least 65 percent of cut flowers come from another country, which may or may not have as good working conditions as the U.S.
Still, buying organic flowers doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ve purchased from a company that treats its workers well.
“Flower picking is backbreaking work and there needs to be more transparency in the market as to where our flowers and plants are coming from,” Oakes says.
Price difference. You’ll probably pay several hundred dollars to an extra thousand more for an organic mattress. Given that you can easily spend a few hundred or thousand on nonorganic mattresses, this is a significant expense.
Worth it? If you worry about the chemicals that are used in the making of your mattress, such as polyurethane foam and petroleum-based nylon, maybe you’ll sleep better at night on an organic mattress.
On the other hand, consumers may be worrying a little too much about how organic a product or service is, says Kevin Vogeler, the owner of holistic lawn care company, Turf Care Enterprises Inc., in the suburbs of Chicago.
Vogeler’s lawn care service doesn’t use dangerous chemicals, and customers can request 100 percent organic lawn programs, but even he thinks some consumers get too carried away in worrying about how organic something is.
“Most consumers want organic materials because of an emotional belief that organic means safer, healthier and better for the environment. But this isn’t always true,” he says. “Where do they get this belief from? Usually marketers.”
Vogeler says that another problem that “goes hand in hand with organics is that most people don’t understand the term ‘chemical.'”
“I’ve found that most people view chemicals as bad, dangerous, harmful to the environment – and yes, some are,” Vogeler says.
But he also points out that “virtually everything on our planet is made up of chemicals,” from the organic materials consumers want, to the food we eat. Even our bodies are made up of chemicals, Vogeler adds.
“There needs to be more education on this matter,” he says. “The world is turning into a bunch of chemophobics, and virtually everything we are surrounded by is made up of chemicals.”