The Organic Food Subsidy Myth

Over at, Balyen Linnekin offered a thoughtful response to the recent Stanford review showing little difference in the nutritional content of organic and non-organic food.  However, toward the end of the article Linnekin repeats a claim about organics that I’ve heard many times:

Finally, consider that organics critics like Cohen and Bailey attack the high cost of organic food while failing to mention that conventional food production—from soy and sugar to beef and dairy—is highly subsidized. Organic food production, on the other hand, is not.

First, for many, many food products including virtually all fruits and vegetables from tomatoes to spinach to oranges to apples, there are no regular government subsidy programs - organic or not.  Thus, government subsides cannot explain the high price of organic lettuce compared to non-organic lettuce. 

Here is a part of what I had to say about the issue in my forthcoming book, The Food Police (footnotes omitted):

We’re often told organics don’t get government subsidies, but that’s a fabrication.  In Europe, organic farmers are subsidized like all other farmers.  In the U.S., there are programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program that pay producers to transition from conventional to organic.  There are other programs that use federal monies to help organic farmers pay the cost of certification.  Organic farmers can receive government-subsidized crop insurance just like non-organic farmers.  Organic milk is subjected to many of the same complex price-support rules imposed by the government on non-organic milk. Hundreds of millions of tax dollars are spent on research and education into organics and on marketing and monitoring programs.  The food police tell us that the growth in organic food demand is the free market working at its best, while using the taxing power of the state to manipulate the market by subsidizing organic production, marketing, and research activities.  You can’t have your organic-is-libertarian cake and eat it too.