What can the green consumer afford?

While the greener minded of us dispose of our rubbish correctly, recycle where we can, even compost and use grey water, there is a tussle in the consumer shopping trolley when it comes to having an organic conscience.

Certainly once upon a time the organic mantra could get your crystals glowing, put you in direct, tuneful touch with whales and leapfrog you to the top of the macramé class. But the growth in consumer demand for organic produce has lead to an organic renaissance in grocery trolleys across the country and at considerable cost to the consumer if they want to tread that green and righteous path.

We heard last week that Woollies is going to phase out caged eggs in favour of free range and barn laid eggs (hopefully they’ll sort their handling and storage too). On face value that may not appear earth shattering but every bit counts. There has been a gesture to organic vegetables for some time although free range and barn-laid eggs are not necessarily organic eggs. But this is another progressive step for the major grocery retailers whose ponderous initiatives can be instigated at a glacial pace.

However, it is the cost discrepancy that new research from IBIS World says is a stumbling block.

According to IBIS World’s Australian model, a trolley full of organic food would cost $213 compared to $125 for a trolley full of conventional food. That’s a 70 per cent premium. While this has decreased since a similar study was taken in 2003 it seems organic meats are the ones that rack up the highest margins with as much as three times the cost of that of conventional meats. Fruit and veggies who have been the organic trail blazers are at a 60 per cent premium, while the bargain appears to be dairy at a 33 per cent premium.

The organic produce benefit claims are: that it is pesticide and GM free coupled with claims of better flavour and nutritional levels. Last month’s release of a study by the British Food Standards Authority (FSA) that proclaimed that organic food doesn’t offer any health benefits nutritionally over conventional foods seemed to have put the mockers on the nutritional supremacy card for organic produce. In response, the Soil Association challenged the conclusions, but the FSA refuted their disapproval because of the level of standard error in the Soil Association’s research. Whatever the outcome there is a real cost to the consumer for the organic premium.

If Kermit the Frog’s lament that being green isn’t easy, then being organic isn’t either if you weigh up the cost.

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