Are You Confusing Local Food With Organic Food?

organic-tomatoLocal and organic products have seen increasing consumer demand over the last decade with sales of organic products reaching $26.7 billion in Canada in 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association, which promotes organic food producers and related industries. And in the United States, sales of organic products increased by 11.5 percent in 2013 to $35.1 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association. Organic sales account for more than 4 percent of total U.S. food sales, according to industry statistics tracked by the USDA. But consumers arent really clear on the difference in what theyre buying. In fact, nearly one person out of five still confuses the terms.

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.

The Findings

  • 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.

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