The study, called “Is it love for local/organic or hate for conventional? Asymmetric effects of information and taste on label preferences in an experimental auction” was published by Colorado State University researchers Marco Costanigroa, Stephan Krolla and Dawn Thilmanya.
In a presentation about the study, Thilmanya said an auction method was employed in the consumer research. Consumers were first given one pound of non-local, non-organic gala apples. Consumers could then “bid” on organic, non-local apples, non-organic local or local organic apples.
The study found that local and organic apples were both seen as alternatives to the conventional food system.
“Some are not willing to trade local/organic for conventional apples even when they rated the latter as better tasting,” the authors said in an summary about the report.
A distrust in regulatory oversight is a key trigger in the valuation for local and organic, according to the authors.
On a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 meaning “strongly disagree” and 9 meaning “strongly agree,” the mean (average of all scores) response of consumers polled was 4.39 to the statement that “pesticide levels are safe if meet U.S. standards.” The mean response to the statement “I trust U.S. food safety agencies” was 5.21, researchers said.
On the other hand, when consumers responded to the statement that “local produce lowers global warming,” the response was was 6.87 and “eating organic lowers health risks” was 6.27.
When assigning value to the statement that “local farmers are safer than the food marketing system” the mean response was 5.28, compared to 5.95 to the statement that “environmental impact of conventional is greater than organic.”
When presented with scientific information about the tradeoffs between local, organic and conventional, the authors said that consumers either disregarded the information or interpreted it selectively. For example, consumers were told that conventional produce has two to four times more pesticide residue but that no evident threat to consumers have been documented.
In general, that behavior seemed to confirm some consumers bias against conventional production in favor of local and organic, according to the authors.