Research was recently done in partnership with three universities in an effort to help local and organic food producers and sellers target their marketing messages to reinforce or dispel consumers perceptions.
Ben Campbell, the studys lead author and a University of Connecticut extension economist, worked with others to survey 2,511 people in the U.S. and Canada in 2011. The study appears in the May issue of the International Food and Agribusiness Management Review.
- 17 percent thought the terms local and organic were interchangeable
- Locally produced food may not be the most sustainable choice if same or better quality produce can be grown and transported less expensively from elsewhere.
- 22 percent incorrectly thought local means non-genetically modified. Now that several states have or are now debating GMO regulations, its essential that consumers know that a locally labeled product does not imply non-GMO.
We are not saying GMO is bad or good, but rather that local does not imply GMO-free, Campbell said.
If consumers can distinguish between local and organic, then by buying organic they will be able to reduce their exposure to synthetic pesticides, added Hayk Khachatryan, UF food and resource economics assistant professor, with the Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka, part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. However, there is no guarantee that organic is grown locally. Before reaching the consumer, organic produce may travel long distances which involves some level of environmental footprint.
While exact figures for locally grown food are tougher to come by, recent estimates indicate sales of local products were $4.8 billion in the U.S. in 2008, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study. One factor contributing to consumers confusion is that Canada is changing its definition of local food. And the definition of local food also varies by jurisdiction in the U.S. Both Canadian and U.S. governments mandate organic production to mean grown without synthetic pesticides, among other things. The USDA organic seal verifies that irradiation, sewage sludge and genetically-modified organisms were not used.