In The Undercover Economist Tim Harford wrote about how organic food is used by retailers as a method of price discrimination. They are marked up to a much greater degree than non-organic food because the people who buy them are relatively indifferent to the price.
This can easily be seen from the store locations of organic food sellers Macro Wholefoods. In Sydney they are located in the Eastern suburbs and North Shore, in Melbourne also in the wealthier regions. So at least from the retailers perspective, its a way of getting a better mark up.
Now I’ve always been a little suspicious about some of the claims not just of organic food but food being sold as healthy in general. Its well documented that labels will advertise things that have never had fat in them as say “fat free salt” knowing full well that all salt is fat free. So it was interesting to read about eggs being sold as hormone, anti-biotic and preservative free in the SMH today.
The humble egg is under siege. Take a step back from the free-range versus cage debate and look at all those other labels on your eggs. Antibiotic-free? No hormones? Vitamin enriched? Do they really mean anything?
“With hormones and antibiotics, there is no difference. Every [egg] is the same,” said Anthony Fisk from the Australian Egg Corporation, the egg industry’s peak body.
“There is no difference between eggs in relation to hormones, antibiotics or preservatives. So when they say that, they’re really talking about all eggs … it’s just a way of selling more eggs.”
Macro Wholefoods for example says on its front page of its eggs:
Not only do the chickens freely roam, they are not subjected to growth hormones or fed antibiotics
Which is true. Hormone and anti-biotic free, like all the other eggs on the market.
Research by the Australian Food and Grocery Council found that misconceptions about what went into animal diets was widespread.
One such myth that seems to be widely accepted is that growth hormones are used in the production of chicken. The AFGC’s survey found that 80 per cent of the population believed this to be the case.
“I think it’s one of those historical things, they haven’t had hormones in chickens for the last 40 years and yet they still think they are there and they worry about them affecting the growth of their children and of course it’s completely wrong,” Mr Roberts said.
However I should note that antibiotics are fed to these chickens, its just that you can’t detect traces of it in the meat.
Generally I buy barn laid eggs. I do object to chickens being kept in small cages but by and large I find that free range eggs can have an overpowering flavour. When I was a child we kept chickens that would have qualified as free range and they never tasted strong like that. So although I have no evidence that they do, I have always wondered if the strong flavour on the free range eggs is due to a different diet to make them seem richer and different. Certainly I’m convinced that they’ll try anything to get you to buy stuff particularly anything they can put a big mark up on.