Local, organic choices still confuse consumers

05/03/2013 02:18:00 PM
Melissa Shipman

Despite marketing efforts, organic and locally grown produce continue to confuse consumers, according to suppliers.

For one thing, organic produce shouldn’t be seen as being in opposition to locally grown products, according to Simcha Weinstein, director of marketing, Albert’s Organics Inc., Bridgeport, N.J.

Weinstein mentions a 2007 Time magazine article, “Local vs. Organic,” as something that fueled the fire in the early stages of the discussion.

“Since this article, organic and local, at least in the media, have been pitted against one another, as if somehow they are competing food choices and only one option will ultimately rule the day. This creates a false choice for the consumer,” Weinstein said in an e-mail.

In addition, consumers are often still confused by the definition of each category.

Weinstein says it isn’t uncommon for shoppers to assume that food grown locally is also grown organically.

“This is a huge perception problem and one that is easily confounded by the fact that so much of the food you see at local farmers markets is labeled as organic,” he said.

Organic produce has set standards regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, while the definition of locally grown produce is still being debated, though one could appear in the future.

“There is no standard or definition for what constitutes local — at least not yet,” Weinstein said.

Another aspect to consider is regionally grown produce, a slight variation from local offerings.

“If you live in New Jersey and buy corn that is raised in eastern Maryland, it’s not exactly local,” Weinstein said.

“But, it does come from the same Mid-Atlantic growing region and is typically preferred by consumers in that area over corn that was raised miles away out west.”

 

Environmental concerns

Another confusing point in the consumer debate of local versus organic produce comes in the form of which is healthiest for the environment.

Weinstein reports that many eco-conscious consumers choose locally grown produce because it is perceived to have traveled a shorter distance to the market, and thus represent less carbon emissions.

However, this may not always be the case.

“Consider that your average farmers market is supplied by dozens of different farms, each one transporting its own crops to market in a separate truck or van,” he said.

Of course, the emissions produced during the actual farming operations must also be considered.

Weinstein is quick to say he doesn’t mean these comments to discredit the locally grown movement, just to point out the false choice between that and organics.

“The ideal, of course, is to find food that is both local and organic. That is the optimal food system,” he said.

In addition, Weinstein said both systems of production are still in early stages, and neither is currently capable of feeding the entire population.

He points out that more than 10 million Americans alone go to bed each night underfed, a fact that often is not considered when discussing production methods.

“Right now as we focus on the methods such as local or organic, there is a tendency not to bring in the largest factor that impacts how we should raise our food, and that’s the feeding as many people as possible part,” he said.

Weinstein suggests the industry has a lot of work to do in regards to growing healthier food with a smaller carbon footprint, while feeding more people.

“In the end the true measure for a sustainable food system is one that not only works in conjunction with nature, but one that can also feed an entire population,” he said. “I truly believe that the combination of local and organic fits the bill.”



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