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Organic Foods Are Worth the Cost: Whole Foods CEO

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Consumers are buying more organic food than ever before, spending the extra dollars to eat healthy. According to The Organic Trade Association, sales of organic food totaled $29.3 billion in 2011. But a recent report from Stanford University found that organic food may not be worth the extra cost.

The Stanford scientists studied 40 years worth of research comparing organic and conventional foods and found that organic fruits and vegetables on average were not more nutritious.

The researchers did find, however, that organic foods reduced consumers' exposure to pesticides and antibiotics. Organic foods are grown without pesticides and organic poultry and beef are not fed antibiotics.

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Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods (which sells lots of organic food), disagrees with the Stanford study, and not just because of his job. He tells The Daily Ticker, "I've been an organic gardener all my life…and I can see..the vitality of the food from my own experience of raising vegetables."

Robb also says the authors of the Stanford study did not include more recent original research that found "the nutrient intensity of organic food was 20% to 50% greater" than that of conventional foods. He says over time scientists will conclude that organic food is a better choice nutritionally.

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There are other benefits that draw customers to organic foods, including the treatment of the environment, animals and farmworkers, says Robb. "Our customers value those things."

The organic food market is growing three to four times the rate of the overall food market, says Robb. As it grows, prices at the super market will decline, he notes.

Currently those prices range from parity with conventional foods to 25% higher, depending on the crop and the time of year, says Robb.

That price premium doesn't seem to be hurting Whole Foods stock. It's rallied 40.6% year-to-date, almost three times the gain in the S&P 500.

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