When do you buy organic? When do experts?

I never know when it makes sense to shell out extra money for organic foods. It's one of the reasons I started working on the story for Marketplace this afternoon on feeding a growing world population.

For some shopping decisions, like what produce to buy if you want to avoid pesticides, there are guides. Check out the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean 15" list of fruits and vegetables with the most and least pesticides. You can download the PDF here. There's also an app.

But what really matters? The experts I talked to each had different answers to the question: "When and do you choose organics over conventionally grown food?"

Farmer and former California secretary of Agriculture AG Kawamura says the organic vs. conventional label matters a lot less to him then how recently the fruits and veggies were picked, and how good they look. He buys whatever is freshest.

Agriculture expert Mark Rosegrant from the International Food Policy Research Institute has a similar approach: "I'm sort of mixed I guess. I don't religiously buy organics, but if there are some nice looking ones there, I'll sometimes buy them."

Cookbook author and food columnist Mark Bittman says if he's got a choice he'll always buy organic, with a few exceptions: "if something is local, and it's really appealing and it's not organic, I don't care that much." But, he said he thinks we need to come up with a better definition for sustainable food, something that means more than "organic." "I want to see farm workers treated fairly, I want to see animals treated fairly, I want to see consumers treated fairly and I want to see the land treated fairly."

Finally, Pedro Sanchez, from Columbia University buys organic milk "because I don't like what they are doing to the cows." He says he doesn't like the way some dairy farmers overuse antibiotics. As far as other foods, Sanchez says, "I go with either one, and because of the price differential I go with the conventional."

We want to know what you do? Do you buy organics? When and why?

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.
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Was this story written by Monsanto? I have liked Marketplace for many years, but I was dismayed that this article ignores what the UN's FAO and a growing number of researchers and international development organizations are saying: that organic, sustainable, locally-based agriculture can feed the planet (and cool it, by the way). Industrialized food production merely profits the wealthy, and steals food and livelihoods off the plates of millions of rural people around the world. The real story should be: Why else are millions of now empoverished Mexicans and Central Americans no longer able make a decent living growing food for their own communities and families? For centuries, they used to.

Actually, I just remembered, Monsanto is one of Marketplace's underwriters.

Rural peoples around the world can no longer support themselves on backwards farming techniques because there has always been a demand for cheap food in the developing world, and thanks to globalization and the introduction of western technology, there is now a fairly regular supply. Now, the shrewdest/richest/most corrupt of these rural farmers can buy John Deere tractors and all their neighbors land. Labor saving technology frees up a huge human resource that could be put to work on other aspects of rural development, alas such programs were never put into place after the technology and equipment trade deals between the governments/elite of the developing countries and US corporations.

Perhaps U.S. organic farms cannot feed the world, but you're looking at it from the wrong end of the spyglass. The solution is to teach the world how to raise their own organic crops. We have already seen where in India, Monsanto's genetically altered cotton and its marketing practices caused hundreds of Indian farmers to commit suicide. In Africa Monsanto's corn crops are producing no corn-stalks have no corn ears. We can choose frankenfoods that look pretty, but have no nutritional value, or organics, which nurture and sustain good health. For me, age 85 and my husband, age 94, we choose organics and have good health to prove it's the safe, sane and healthy way to eat.

I am shocked and disappointed by this report. Such misinformation is what one would expect on Fox, but not on NPR!
Fortunately, most NPR listeners are informed enough to see this report as what it is. (For real information see other comments...)

I for one, choose organic whenever it is available. As long as I can afford buying a cup of coffee at any place (especially if it costs more than a dollar), I have enough money to pay an extra 50c for organic.

Every dollar I spend is a vote. I vote organic. I see more and more people do so, too. So there is hope...

www dot toolOfTheUniverse dot org

I always buy organic, I think its the most healthy for myself, my family and the earth.

The less petroleum we put into agriculture the better, here in the USA and elsewhere. My family consumes locally grown organic produce when it is in season. But, I am also thankful for the modern industrial food distribution system that allows access to high quality produce year round. You'd think that with all the smart people we have in this world we could find a sustainable middle ground that provides for both access to good food with less risk to our health and environment.

i am poor and i buy organic as much as possible.

i really feel like the 'i can't afford it' argument is bullshit. i make less than 30 k a year and still buy whatever i can organic. i always say money talks, and it expresses the choices we make about the wellbeing of the world.

yes, of course, some organic produce is more expensive, but a lot of it is not much more than conventional. organic carrots, kale, chard, apples, oranges, peppers, zucchini, cucumber, broccoli, green beans i buy at shop rite for a very affordable price.

i think we need to realize that healthy food is worth our hard earned money- it is what sustains us, and keeps us alive and healthy. if you say you cant afford it, well perhaps looks at where your money goes and make a few sacrifices here and there (no more coffee at starbucks, dont go out to eat, get rid of cable? whatever- there are always extras we are paying for that maybe we dont have to).

when we buy conventional food we are supporting monsanto, we are supporting toxic chemicals being leached into the earth- harming wildlife and of course the people that eat it!

when money has become more of a priority than our own health, than the health of our families- this is a problem. for my family, i do whatever i can to get healthy organic food to the table.

AND, not to mention, if you cant afford food- perhaps you should apply for food stamps and get some assistance so you can better afford organic.

there really is absolutely no reason you cant afford organic!

I always buy organic food. I believe that it is healthier and better tasting. Organic farming is also much kinder to the animals and plants involved and the environment in general. I will say that for me the price is not an issue, so I can understand why everyone does not buy it.

I do not buy organic food. Personally the cost is significantly higher and does not accommodate my budget. Pesticides along with other chemicals in non-organic food is a problem but I will have to ignore this problem to keep the annual food bill to a minimum. Organic food is nice but it is only a niche product. Feeding the world (9 billion people) should be our first concern and feeding everyone with organic food is an impossible task. Its ignorant to think we can provide enough food for everyone with the hindrance involved in organic farming. Organic farming uses more land and requires more labor to produce a much smaller amount of harvestable crop. Also we must take into consideration those who do not have the budget to buy all organic. If all farmers practiced this type of farming, more and more people would starve.


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