IT may be more expensive - but that’s what real food costs according to Australia’s organic sector.
Australian Organic, formerly Biological Farmers of Australia, has referenced a Suncorp study showing an average 79 per cent difference in price between organic and conventional produce, to justify the extra cash needed at the checkout.
Australian Organic put the higher prices mainly down to the fact it costs more to produce and distribute organic products.
It also said like standard farming, only a fraction of the retail price is passed onto farmers.
Chair of the Australian Organic Limited board Dr Andrew Monk said organic prices reflect a fair price for farmers who are caring for the environment while producing foods that a growing band of consumers want: foods produced without synthetic chemicals, GMOs, or synthetic weedicides.
“The returns to organic farmers reward them for the great job they do to provide us with products that are produced free of synthetic chemicals,” he said.
“While there are organic farms that match the size of their conventional equivalents, most are smaller and family owned.”
Organic vegetable grower Don Murray said the price difference can be partly attributed to the difference in economies of scale.
“Conventional farmers sell produce by the truckload whereas we sell produce by the pallet load,” he said.
Mr Murray runs Nature’s Haven which farms 160 hectares of certified organic fruit and vegetables in New South Wales and Queensland.
“We hand weed our onions and carrots. Our staff is on their hands and knees across a 10 to 15 acre paddock so depending on the crop, labour costs are 30 to 40 per cent higher than for conventional farms,” he said.
“And then there are the harvesting costs. We can have 10 people in a paddock with wheelbarrows bringing crops in.
“It would be more economical to use a tractor with a boom but when you look at the costs of a tractor and a person on a tractor, for us it's cheaper using a wheel barrow when dealing with smaller quantities.”
Being certified organic brings an additional cost with the outlay involved in adhering to rigid guidelines.
Nutritionist Shane Heaton said its assumed household income is the main determinant of demand for organic food.
“Yet the industry experience is that organic consumers come from all walks of life and all levels of the socio-economic spectrum,” he said.
“The average Australian household spends more on junk food than fruit and vegetables, more on fast food and take-away than fruit and vegetables, more on alcohol than fruit and vegetables and more on recreation than fruit and vegetables.
“Organic food isn’t a luxury, it is how food is supposed to be.”