External cost. It’s when “producing or consuming a good...imposes a cost on a third party.” It’s a definition begging for our consideration, as we choose the food we are going to consume. Who pays the cost of conventional agriculture? Who funds the subsidies that prioritize GMO corn and soy, fueling factory farms and environmental degradation? It isn’t the farmers, the factories, or the government. Who covers the rising health care costs in a disease-laden society, and the increasing rate of climate-induced natural disasters? The burden of these externalized costs is laid directly on taxpayers—on every one of us. It’s also exacted from those with no consent at all, so who else pays the cost of conventional agriculture?
Neonicotinoid insecticides are one of the most common pesticides in use, often coating the seeds of crops before they’re planted, making them a systemic poison that spreads into all parts of the maturing plant. They easily spread into the nontarget environment by way of soil, water, and the pollinators that consume them. They’re known to be dangerous to bees, and the EPA has recently announced that “risks posed to certain birds from eating neonic-coated seeds exceeded the agency’s level of concern by as much as 200-fold.” Neonicotinoids target the nervous system of insects, binding to acetylcholine receptors. In our bodies, acetylcholine receptors play a vital role in brain function, including fetal development, muscle contraction, learning, and focus. This raises questions regarding the potentially detrimental consequences neonicotinoids pose to human health. Emerging research suggests their possible implication in an increased risk of central nervous system disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Yet so far, the use of neoniccoated seeds continues to be widespread in the U.S.
Nitrogen-based fertilizers are a primary source of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O), and the corn belt of the American Midwest uses large quantities of these fertilizers to grow crops for fuel and animal feeding operations. The climate impact is now greater than expected, as a study at the University of Minnesota found that N2O emissions in the region “were underestimated by around 40 percent.” The bad news gets worse when you consider that nitrous oxide is up to 300 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide over a 100-year time period. It’s a cost that is transferred far beyond the produce aisle to non-organic dairy, meat, and eggs. It’s a cost that threatens the future of economic stability, as our economy cannot thrive amid environmental destruction. The words of Wendell Barry sum it up perfectly: “Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”
Apples are delicious, nutritious, and kids want to eat them. What else could you ask for in an after-school snack? Unfortunately, if you’re buying conventional apples, you’re also asking for extra pesticides. According to the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen 2018 list, 90 percent of apples tested had pesticide residue, and that’s after washing! One of these is thiabendazole, a developmental and reproductive toxin, as well as a probable carcinogen; definitely NOT after-school snack material. Sweet peppers, peaches, and snap peas have something in common besides being tasty fruits and vegetables your kids are likely to enjoy. It’s chlorpyrifos, a type of organophosphate pesticide that was almost banned by the EPA in 2017 because of its potential to cause neurodevelopmental harm to children. Before the ban could be enacted, however, it was overturned by the current administration.
Organic agriculture adds value throughout its systems. Organic soil is healthier soil and healthier soil grows more nutritious plants and builds topsoil. Organic farms foster biodiversity. Organic standards and regulations provide greater transparency in the supply chain. And organic farms bolster the economies of the communities where they are located. At Natural Grocers, we have always only sold 100% USDA certified organic produce and will continue to choose certified organic grocery products in our expanding house brand because we vote for a world in which regeneration is possible.