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Conventional food is considerably more expensive than organic food
by Karin Heinze (comments: 0)
For a long time the organic industry has been having a discussion about so-called externalized costs. But far from all consumers are aware of the fact that the low price of food is achieved at a cost because of the chemicals used in agriculture, factory farming and the severe consequences for the environment. Or they put it to the back of their minds. It’s high time to tell people the truth. This is the reason why Volkert Engelsman, head of the Dutch organic company Eosta, has launched the information campaign “The True Cost of Food”. Organic supermarkets have started to promote the campaign.
Picture of a flyer of the true cost campaign: ”When I buy organic pears I save m2 of soil"
The True Cost campaign by Nature&More
The joint campaign “The True Cost of Foods”, launched by the Eosta´s transparency brand Nature&More and the world organic umbrella organization IFOAM – Organics International, has attracted a great deal of attention at three big international food fairs. At Green Week, Fruit Logistica and BioFach the facts about the lack of transparency in food pricing were spelled out to politicians and the media. The result: showing side by side the cost of organic and conventional food made it abundantly clear what ecological and social costs are passed on to the environment, society and especially the future – in other words our children and grandchildren. The founder of Eosta, Volkert Engelsman, gets to the core of the issue: “Organic is not too expensive but conventional is much too cheap!“
External costs of 4,800 billion euros a year
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) the external costs in the case of conventional food amount to 2,100 billion US dollars for damage to the environment and as much as 2,700 billion US dollars of extra social costs every year. These huge costs are not included in the price of food. Markus Arbenz, Director of IFOAM Organics International, tells us what these hidden costs really are: nitrates and pesticides in groundwater, loss of species, factory farms and on a global scale the impoverishment of people working in agriculture. His demand: “Instead of making taxpayers, farmers and the environment pay, we need the consistent application of the polluter pays principle.” In view of globalized food markets, product prices have to reflect the true costs in order to arrive at fair prices.
Transparency at the point of sale
The massive figures given above should not be accessible to insiders alone but must be made available to all consumers – that’s the aim of the Nature&More campaign. Transparency can achieve a lot and graphic representation of the figures makes it easier for consumers to decide to spend a bit more on food for the benefit of the planet and later generations. That’s the starting point of the campaign in which so far a couple of German companies and retailers are taking part like Alnatura, Dennree, Grell, Naturkost Nord, Naturkost Erfurt, Naturkost Mäck and Tagwerk. “We need the retailers and the organic customers,” says Engelsman, who is focusing mainly on the German market. Soon campaign material and fruits will be sent to more traders like Naturkost Kontor Bremen, Kornkraft, Elkershausen, Handelskontor Willmann, Ecofit, LPG and Bodan. The Dutch organic supermarket chain Ekoplaza and other retailers participate, too. Eosta will take the campaign to the UK, Sweden, France, Belgium and Denmark also, in the coming weeks.
The responsibility of consumers and traders
Of course, the responsibility lies not only with the customers but also with the trade, and it’s also incumbent on politicians to finally include the consequential costs in calculations.
Engelsman says: “We’re not doing our calculations in the right way if we externalize costs. He calls on the organic industry and all retailers offering organic goods to go on the offensive and reveal the hidden costs and make the true costs transparent for customers. Ultimately, hidden costs create unfair competition. Engelman’s conviction: “If we don’t manage to eliminate what is far from being a level playing field we won’t manage either to give the organic producer the status that he deserves.”
With the help of surveys by the FAO, FAO report "Natural Capital Impacts in Agriculture - 2015", in terms of per hectare and year, not only the input of soil, air and other contributions of nature can be calculated but also the consequential costs that arise when products are produced using the methods of industrial agriculture – from effluent, wage dumping and work-related illness to toxic emissions. It’s a proven fact that there are many pluses in organic agriculture using sustainable methods.
Sustainability flower as a model
With the sustainability flower Eosta or Nature&More has created an information system that has been used for years in its communication. The label has shown so far mainly the benefits created by organic producers in six areas - soil, air, water, climate, biodiversity, social aspects and health. The model is being taken further: in the full-cost calculation the achievements of the organic producer are quantified, monetized and compared with all the costs and consequential costs that arise from the conventional production of fruit and vegetables. So, at a glance the sustainability flower shows the true price of a product. The calculations were carried out independently by the Soil & More Foundation on the basis of FAO figures.
Logical continuation of the Save our Soils initiative
Last year, Nature&More launched the internationally highly regarded campaign “Save our Soils” to address the loss of valuable arable soils. The cost transparency initiative is for Volkert Engelsman the logical continuation of Save our Soils. He says that the issue of loss of fertile soils worldwide and on a large scale has been acknowledged by politicians, research and also consumers. To this can now be added the full-cost calculation - “the true price of food”. “If farmers don’t get for their harvest the price they need, they can’t look after the soil properly and restore soil fertility,” he explains in the interview. He says that every organic farmer is contributing to the environment and society. That has to be rewarded and Nature&More makes that visible in its “Producer-Pass”.
Another thing Engelsman would like to see is a much stronger network with NGOs, personalities from society, art and politics: “We could do much more for sustainability and organic farming worldwide if we asked personalities prepared to help for their assistance. He gives the examples of Julia Roberts, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, who in June 2015 supported the Save Our Soils campaign (see our earlier report).