Organic Thanksgiving: what you get for your money

I just came across a less-than-shocking exposé on the “true” cost of an organic Thanksgiving dinner in Smart Money, revealing that you could pay 75% more for your organic feast. The slant of the piece (in a column called “Rip-offs”) is that conventional and organic food are essentially the same — just different lifestyle choices. Therefore, they can be compared on the basis of price alone.

But conventional and organic products are not equivalent.

Take turkeys — the item where there is the biggest price difference in absolute dollars. Nowadays, most turkeys, whether conventional or organic, tend to carry the microbe Campylobacter, which causes campylobacteriosis and can lead to serious medical problems in people with weakened immune systems. (The organic turkey is even slightly more likely to carry it.) So, if you eat a turkey of either kind, you are probably going to be exposed — not necessarily at a level that will lead to the disease, but maybe. Campylobacteriosis is very common in the U.S. though usually undiagnosed — except in those serious cases.

So far, the conventional and organic turkey look pretty similar (and none too good).

But here’s where things get interesting. The microbe in the conventional turkey is far more likely to be antibiotic-resistant than the one in the organic turkey. Why? Well, probably because the conventional turkey is fed a regular diet of antibiotics, while the organic turkey gets none. When bacteria are overexposed to antibiotics, they develop defenses against them.

So, if you need antibiotics for campylobacteriosis that you get from eating a conventional turkey, you just may find they don’t work.

And that’s one reason why conventional and organic turkeys are actually different beasts. My bet is that further research will turn up more.


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