Three US dollars. That’s about how much more you have to pay for a gallon of organic instead of conventional milk in the US. Over the past few years, organic products have increasingly found their way into consumers’ shopping baskets. But what makes them choose organic over highly processed products, and vice versa?
There are reasons to be organic and reasons against being organic. It is not necessarily an either-or decision. Rather, the decision to consume or not to consume organic food is dependent on the economic, educational and social circumstances of the consumer.
According to many researchers, there is a causal connection between organic food and protection of the environment. Many consumers who know about this connection take it as an incentive to go organic. To reduce their carbon footprint, many even rely only on local organic products. Farmers and other producers grow organic food by following country-specific certification norms. They use fewer nitrates in fertilizers, fewer pesticides and fewer antibiotics, compared with conventional-food producers.
According to Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein, chief executive of the German Union of Ecological Food Businesses, the main advantage of ecological farming is actually in the protection of the climate and natural resources such as soil and water; biodiversity; and humane husbandry.
However, depending on educational level and social status, not every consumer actually knows and cares about the connection between the environment and organic food. That is, some consumers choose not to be organic because they prefer sticking with their old habits.
Many consumers in Western societies have not yet been forced to reflect on malnutrition because its impacts are not immediately visible. To them, one reason not to go organic is that organic food differs from the food they are used to. For some, organic food tastes different compared with the flavor-enhanced food they normally consume.
And as organic products generally don’t use preservatives, they are more perishable. Consumers who choose not to go organic therefore feel organic food doesn’t bring them any benefits, no matter what the commercials say.
In turn, other consumers buy organic products for comparably perfunctory reasons. Over the years, marketing experts have discovered the organic culture trend. Ever since, products have been labeled as “organic,” sometimes even when they don’t meet all the certification norms.
Organic products are advertised in conjunction with a healthier way of life, even though there is no scientific proof for this. Moreover, organic food is generally more expensive than conventional food. For these two reasons, organic products have become a symbol for a somewhat classy lifestyle. Therefore, some consumers who choose to buy organic products don’t necessarily have to know about the differences between organic and processed food. Rather, they need to be able to afford it. At the same time, there are consumers who actually care about the production methods behind their food, but their economic situation simply does not allow them to go organic.
Overall, consumers who pay the extra three US dollars for organic milk must first be able to afford it. Then there are the many factors, all known to have an impact on society, that give consumers an incentive to buy organic instead of processed products.