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Why is organic food so *#@! expensive?? | Ali Partovi | TEDxManhattan

August 20, 2019


Translator: Mercia Costa
Reviewer: Denise RQ I’ve invested a lot of my own money
into organic and sustainable farming, and to converting
American farmland to organic, and I’m here to dispel
some misperceptions about organic food. There is this prevailing notion that organic farming is more expensive
and less sufficient, right? And that we need industrial agriculture
and factory farms to feed the world. “Feed the world.” Well, I’m here to dissect
some of the assumptions behind that logic, and to share some information
that leads to a very different conclusion. We all know organic food is expensive. This is a fact. And it’s logical to therefore assume
that it’s for the 1%, the foodie elites, the rich people, not for ordinary people. Well, that’s actually not correct logic,
and I will show why in a second. It also leads us to assume
that if organic food is expensive, organic farming must be more expensive,
which then leads to wonder, surely, it can’t feed the world, and back to concluding
that it’s only for the 1%. Well, those assumptions
actually are wrong as well. The idea that organic food
is only for the rich, only for the 1% is a powerful one, with huge implications
on both business and policy. And we need both business innovation and policy change in this country
to support organic. Think about it, if you are
a business person or a politician, the way to be successful
is to come up with products or policies that cater not to the 1%
but to ordinary Americans. And so we need businessmen
and policy makers to recognize that organic food is not just for the 1%, it’s for everybody,
it’s for ordinary Americans. And the first step in that change
is to change that perception. So, who is buying
this expensive organic food? Who in America is buying it? According to Nielsen and NMI research, three out of every four Americans
have consciously chosen to buy organic food in the past year. Some of them might have only bought
a single organic product, but there is a subset that there are
the so-called devoted organic shoppers, that represent the vast majority of all
organic food consumption in this country. These so-called foodies are not 1%, they are 25%, one out
of every four Americans. Now let’s look at these elite foodies. What does the elite foodie look like? Two out of five of them have
an annual household income of less than 50,000 dollars. One out of five has
an annual household income of less than 30,000 dollars. These elite people are about
20% people of color, and another 15% Hispanic. Six out of ten of them shop at Walmart. How does that profile compare
to the general U.S. population? It’s exactly the same. The general U.S. population is about
two out of five income less than 50K, one out of five income less than 30K. About 20% people of color, 15% Hispanic,
and about six out of ten shop at Walmart. In every respect, the foodie elite who are buying organic
are the average ordinary American. And it’s one out of four Americans, and they’re already buying organic
in spite of how expensive it is. Just imagine how many more Americans
would be buying organic food if it wasn’t so damn expensive. Well, we actually know
some of the answers to that. Walmart asked its consumers and found that 91% of them
would be buying organic. So, why is organic food so darn expensive? It must be because organic farming
is more expensive, right? Not true; organic farming
actually saves a ton of money on a lot of very expensive inputs. Fossil fuel is expensive. Fertilizers are incredibly expensive. The chemicals, the antibiotics
that are used by factory farms. These things are very expensive. Not just their externalized costs, but their actual dollar
costs are very high. Well, so maybe organic farming saves money
but perhaps it produces less food. That’s not necessarily true either. This is not a blanket statement,
it varies by crop and region, but there are lot of ways
in which, when done right, organic sustainable farming
can produce more food. One part of that is crop
and livestock rotations, so that nutrients
are recycled into the soil. Growing multiple crops at the same time,
increasing the revenue of the land. Exploiting natural synergies. One of my favorites examples
of this is sheep and asparagus. Sheep love to graze but they do not like
the taste of asparagus. And so, when the asparagus farmer
has a weed problem, rather than spending a lot of money buying a chemical herbicide
to spray in the fields, they can invite in a sheep farmer. The sheep will clear the weeds. The sheep farmer gets free pasture
for his or her animals, and the asparagus farmer
gets free weed control. And, the sheep add fertility to the soil. You must be thinking: “Well, great, but industrial agriculture,
for all of its ills, surely at least the one thing it has
is that it’s more efficient, right?” I would say that it has
the illusion of efficiency, and it’s a short-lived one. For example, think about the topsoil. America’s topsoil, perhaps the single, greatest
national treasure this country possesses, this rich topsoil, is like a bank account
that we’re drawing on every year. Withdrawing money
and not putting it back in. That’s not efficient. It’s inefficient and unsustainable. Similarly, the way we treat nutrients. Nutrients are supposed
to come from the soil, go through the body of a plant,
into the body of an animal, and back into the soil. We all learned that in high school. And that’s not how the vast majority of
North American agriculture works today. Instead, we’re mining minerals in Morroco,
shipping them across the Atlantic, spraying them on the fields, only to have them wash off
into the waterways, and end up in dead zones,
and places like the Gulf of Mexico. That’s not efficient,
it’s incredibly wasteful. Not just ecologically, but economically. Similarly, what I said earlier
about fossil fuels, antibiotics to feed
the factory farm animals. And all of this to increase
the yield of corn and soy. Crops that humans don’t even actually eat. We’re maximizing
the yield per acre of corn and soy, yet the vast majority of American farmland
does not feed humans. It’s either used to create ethanol
or to feed livestock. About less than 10%
of the corn crop in this country actually goes to feed humans. This is the system
that is supposed to feed the world? Well, it’s actually
not feeding the world today. If you measure, the right way
to measure productivity in agriculture is not the yield of corn per acre
or soy per acre, but the yield of human food per acre. And when you measure how much
human food is produced per acre, America is not a leader. We’re not even average. We’re behind the world average, and we’re behind countries
like India and China, that are making a much better job of
feeding the world population than we are. So, if you were smart, you would realize
what’s really behind that status is the fact that these other countries
consume less meat that America does. And, so, who is going to produce all
the increasing appetite for pork in China, And surely, American industrial
agriculture and factory farms are going to step forward
to supply all the meat. Well, I’m not sure that’s true either. The leading exporter of pork
in the world today is Denmark. Denmark is a country
that has for many years banned the use of sub-therapeutic
antibiotics in livestock. One of the most disgusting and reckless
practices of American factory farms has been banned in Denmark, yet Denmark has continued to maintain
high yields and low prices for their pork, and is the number one exporter
of pork to places like China. Ironically, China has
recently banned pork imports from several U.S. pork producers
because of the use of antibiotics. The real question though is: What’s the most efficient way
to produce food if people are going to eat more meat? Well, if you look at one acre of corn, it can produce about enough corn
to feed one head of cattle. This is an approximation,
this is not very exact math. That same acre-I wouldn’t advocate
planting organic corn to feed the cattle – that same acre can produce about
enough grass to feed one head of cattle. Now, it’s not an exact math. I’m approximating, and there is a lot of other things
that change the equation. Corn is a more efficient crop
in a lot of ways. It’s a wonderful crop,
it allows for a lot more control, it has less seasonality, but it also has a lot of other costs
on the balance sheet. At the end of the day,
it’s not a slam dunk that industrial agriculture is
more efficient, even for producing meat. Now, the truly more efficient way
to feed humans is to use that land to produce crops that people eat, like fruits, vegetables, wheat or rice. But the benefit of growing
meat on pasture is at least those animals
fertilize the land, and if you do a rotation between
those animals and fruits and vegetables, you can actually produce
more off that same land. It must be about the money then, right? These so called evil corporations
like McDonald’s and Monsanto. Perhaps they are shoving
this industrial food down our throats because it’s more profitable, right? Well, that’s actually not true either. In fact, using the techniques
I just described, Farmland LP, – which I’m a very large investor in – converts farms
from conventional crops to organic, and significantly increases their profits. They’ve done a cohort analysis of farmland that they’ve been progressively
converting to organic, and in doing so, significantly
raising the income from the land, from something like 100 dollars
to 450 dollars per acre. You might think: “Well, that’s great
but perhaps it can’t scale.” Well, the answer is actually organic
and sustainable agriculture is scaling. For one thing, Chipotle, which is the closest we have
to a fast food organic company, is the single fastest growing
fast-food company of the past decade. And, more broadly, organic cropland
in the U.S. has grown tremendously, more than tripling
in less than two decades. So, organic saves money,
is less expensive, can produce as much or more food,
is more profitable, and is scaling. Then, what the… why the heck
is organic food so expensive? And the answer is because the demand
for organic food is growing even faster. That graph of organic cropland growing
is still a drop in the bucket, and it pales compared
to the surge in demand for organic sustainable food
in this country. The total amount
of organic cropland in America is about 1% of this country’s
agricultural land. The total amount
of consumption of organic food is between 4 and 5%, and that does not even
reflect the total demand. That’s how much has actually
been consumed. One out of every four Americans
is a devoted organic shopper, and 91% of Walmart customers say they would be interested
in buying organic food. The demand that we need
to satisfy is not just that 5%. But you might wonder
where is that 4 or 5% of organic food coming from
if not from our cropland? It’s being imported. And where is organic food
growing on this planet? In developing countries. 80% of the certified organic farmers
are in developing countries. The country with the most
organic farmers is actually India. So, the poor countries
of the world are feeding the food that the majority
of want to eat. So, I think America should stop worrying
so much about feeding the world, and focus a little bit more
on feeding itself. The solution to this
is actually relatively simple. We need organic sustainably
managed cropland in this country to increase dramatically,
to catch up with the enormous demand. I put my own money where my mouth is, and I’ve invested a lot of money
in Farmland LP as I mentioned, which is converting land to organic, and I think we need both policy change,
and more business innovation to accelerate the expansion of sustainable
organic agriculture in America. Thanks very much. (Applause)

36 Comments

  • Reply Tenzack YOGI October 16, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    The root cause of expensive is brand name(Organic Certification),beaurocratic inspection,tariffs or other hidden reason. Demand/Supply is mostly excuse made by suppliers. Supplier always wanna jacked up the prices wether its organic or gmo. When hurricane hits ur state s, you will know it surely. Goodluck.

  • Reply alton gifford October 20, 2018 at 10:48 pm

    And the farmer took another load away.

  • Reply Jairamhetagriculture& research October 22, 2018 at 8:25 pm

    Available all organic food my store n organic farming my contact
    +916377004009

  • Reply ROBERT ANDERSON December 8, 2018 at 7:18 pm

    THIS VIDEO IS PART SALES-PITCH, PART CLICK-BAIT, FOR GOVERNMENT SUBSIDIZES FOR THE RICH ORGANIC FARM OLIGARCHS. GET READY FOR ANOTHER POWER GRAB, MORE TAXES AND MORE FAILED GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS.

  • Reply Dennis Ryken December 10, 2018 at 2:58 pm

    This guy is a shill for the organic food industry….I worked on organic farms……the pesticides we used are way worse…copper sulfate even killed the bees…..NEVER buy organic..plant a garden

  • Reply Binary Blackhole December 22, 2018 at 2:35 am

    Please don't conflate organic with sustainable. It may have some useful features but it strictly adhering to what is perceived as more natural is not a good way to achieve sustainability. Organic pesticides are often worse than inorganic ones and obstinate on areas like GMOrganisms is foolish. Take the good features and discard the rest, it's not an all or nothing deal.

  • Reply The Great Gatsby January 7, 2019 at 1:31 am

    Sorry, we shouldn't have to "feed the world".

  • Reply Marley January 18, 2019 at 2:45 am

    You know what would be even better for the food system around the world. Eating local. Disbanding grocery chains, getting those who worked in grocery stores to work in the farm fields. Using our subsidy dollars to not fund animal agriculture/factory farming.Getting rid of fast food/proccessed food items from the shelves of stores. Making restaurant culture a culture based around whole food nutrient dense items. This would directly impact the poverty cycle. It would give north americans the needed push to lose weight, get off blood pressure medications, reduce health care debt in the U.S. We would then have extra labour available in our own country to build affordable housing. We would all do better as a whole continent. Then it can affect the entire planet.

  • Reply Mizanur Chowdhury January 30, 2019 at 8:08 pm

    Organic is hoax, no data, no science.

  • Reply Jo Drew February 14, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    This was a brilliant TEDTalk. Most people are befuddled by the cost of organic goods. I happen to be one of those people who eats organic as much as possible and I get questioned by friends and associates about my decision. This has given me the tools to convince intelligently about the costs.

  • Reply Kings WhatsApp Status April 17, 2019 at 5:14 pm

    Nice video

  • Reply Jill Philips May 14, 2019 at 12:02 am

    “ Still no model facts on the best true soil certified for self planting. On Hands with true knowledge.

  • Reply M S June 12, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    5:15.
    Those must be some well-mannered sheep…not to trample the crops.

  • Reply VS Programmers June 13, 2019 at 2:31 am

    Indian is not just a poor country just see in 2 decades

  • Reply Ashok Kheta June 19, 2019 at 8:05 pm

    India should ban all vegetables dipped in colour it's not good for health it gives India a bad name world wide corruption is a backward journey and not a a way to planet Mars , India has to prepare a way to show the world that good ways are possible it's called halal living , organic milky way standard it's starts at home grounds, If Ghandi can drive out oppressors out of India so can India drive out devil's within

  • Reply Dick Hamilton June 20, 2019 at 3:05 am

    … because the price of a thing is whatever enough people are willing to pay?

  • Reply Jackson Kim June 20, 2019 at 8:11 am

    I don't know, Illuminatis..?

  • Reply Kelly Kelrik June 22, 2019 at 7:59 am

    why is youtube recycling 4 and 5 year vids????

  • Reply 1conservative77patriot6 June 25, 2019 at 6:17 pm

    2019 and China just bought Smith foods, largest pork producer in the United States is now owned by China.

  • Reply Jane Self June 27, 2019 at 12:45 am

    Not true.

  • Reply Gothus Touchstone Singularity June 27, 2019 at 7:39 am

    Organic food are the cheapest food there ever is.

  • Reply Joe Stimmell June 28, 2019 at 4:43 am

    This video is full of useless and misleading facts. I dont even know where to begin to debunk. Ali should stick to programming and coding instead of trying to be a biotechnology expert.

  • Reply Derek Azevedo June 29, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    The sheep/asparagus example is nice, but an instant fail in a food safety audit.

  • Reply Sharon DeMedeiros June 30, 2019 at 4:37 pm

    Wow! A notion??? A perception? No wonder people think YOU are elitist. I don't know where you get YOUR notions from, but let me clue you in to the reality of food shopping by the poor. I live on a disability check of about $850. A month. I have had cancer twice and am in poor health due to active Lyme disease. I know how critical it is to eat as healthy as possible. I spend more money on food than I do on rent and utilities combined. Where I live, a pint of organic blueberries costs between 7 and 8 dollars, and is often half mouldy. Organic peaches are practically non existent, and when they are available cost about 2 dollars each. One head of lettuce is $5. Celery is $5. Tomatoes are worth their weight in gold. Every time I go shopping, I leave in tears and frustration, mostly with unhealthy but filling items, and wait for the next illness to appear. There are no justifications as to why the prices are unaffordable that can help me to eat healthy, it's just a fact of life for me and millions like me. The truth is that it IS unaffordable, and you are clueless.

  • Reply vonick1 July 2, 2019 at 5:02 am

    and it cost at least $8,500 to attend a ted talk and can be as high as $17,000.

  • Reply Bernadette Kendell July 7, 2019 at 12:16 pm

    anyone new to farming should learn about Bio-dynamic farming….once you have a calendar for your area,its a very simple way for someone to know what to do and when to do it.Even if you dont have animals….

  • Reply Oma Cool July 8, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    Question…do you atill need manure if you first plant notrogen fixing crops like potatos and peanuts? Is there enough time foe multiple crops? I am obviously n o t a farmer
    Thanks.

  • Reply Oma Cool July 8, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    Nor a typist

  • Reply Satadal Chakraborty July 10, 2019 at 2:53 am

    Hello Mr Partovi, you are right in most of the part
    But sadest news is Indian farmers are now more inclined towards chemical fertilisers & chemical pesticides. This is causing damage for the top soil & microbes…

    I am from an Indian village & witnessing the pathetic change happening…
    Few of my friends & I satrted working with farmers to nake them go back to Organic ( we call it Natural farming 🙂).

    We are a group of software engineers working for this cause.. May be I am going to quit the software job in next 2-3 yrs & will permanently work with farmers to stop this killing chemical fertilizer based farming.

    P.s- every citizen should move toward backyard / rooftop farming to produce organic veggies…

  • Reply liviu bardel July 14, 2019 at 8:04 am

    so good .
    if humans do not become organic . humans will be gone .

  • Reply ipissed July 18, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    E-coli is expensive.

  • Reply 키트리네 July 20, 2019 at 11:32 am

    한글 번역의 상태가..?

  • Reply Tyler Stockdale July 30, 2019 at 7:00 am

    I still am struggling with wrapping my head around this. The organic movement started around the 40's where people wanted to move away from synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
    GMOs hadn't entered the scene until 1994, which is 25 years ago. Information on ethical, environmental and economical impacts of commercial farming has been out there for a long time.
    So why on earth would the US continue pushing commercial agriculture on us? They're also leading the research on said crops. The testing they've done on chemicals shows that they are far below the EPA restrictions. Various other studies show risk factors on things like glyphosate (which isn't regulated), although there isn't enough conclusive evidence to make it a concern to public safety. More than 90% of grocery stores contain "non-organic" food. When supply and demand comes to mind, it's also hard for me to imagine 1/4 of Americans are solely organic shoppers.
    The proposed statistics in this video just don't add up, unless the government is intentionally trying to sabotage itself. We should just ban GMOs like France did. Europe is way ahead of the USA.

  • Reply Sheri U August 3, 2019 at 5:32 pm

    Grow your own food, if you don't have land use your balcony or grow indoors in pots. Grow as much as U can.

  • Reply Vaibhav Buchake August 5, 2019 at 9:48 am

    very nice rendition of organic realities. Good placed statistics and well identified that my country INDIA is feeding the world on exact terms and text.
    im studying heavily about organic farming and agriculture in INDIA by my interest developed in this arena now.

    very apt seminar now i got on youtube of urs and find it useful approach.
    nice words about organic farming, essential awakening is necessary.
    thanku ali

  • Reply Selena Le August 16, 2019 at 10:48 am

    Wonderful Ali , we are friends on facebook

  • Reply Rodney Poole August 18, 2019 at 3:09 pm

    I agree with a lot of what is said in the presentation, except the part as to WHY? Organic food is so expensive compared to the chemical filled gmo bullsh*t they want the public to consume, because its NOT ABOUT MONEY, its about CONTROL of the population at large, and one way to achieve power and control of people or a group of people is thru control and manipulation of the food and food supply. They are actually losing money by farming and supplying the population with food under the current system, it can be done cheaper by moving to an organic system, think about this…..

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