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A Comparison of Organic and Conventional Fresh Produce Buyers in the Boston Area

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Food safety concerns and the demand for organically grown produce have increased significantly in the United States over the last decade. Key differences in lifestyle characteristics, food safety attitudes and beliefs, perceived food safety risks, and valuation of health risk reductions between organic and conventional food buyers remain largely unknown, however. To better characterize how buyers of organic fresh produce differ from their conventional counterparts, over 700 food shoppers were sampled from ten major retail stores in the Boston area. Survey results show that self-reported organic buyers are more likely than conventional buyers to engage in a variety of health-promoting and environmentally friendly behaviors. Organic buyers are less trusting of federal food safety agencies than are conventional buyers, and perceive greater benefits associated with organically grown produce than do their conventional counterparts. Further, organic buyers have significantly higher risk perceptions than do conventional buyers for food safety hazards associated with conventionally grown produce. Compared to conventional buyers, organic produce buyers also perceive significant risk reductions associated with switching to organically grown produce and are willing to pay a higher price to reduce perceived food safety risks. Few sociodemographic differences between buyer types were observed, possibly due to how organic and conventional food stores were matched. Survey findings highlight the need for greater public education about a range of food safety issues and farming practices to ensure that consumers are making informed decisions in the marketplace.
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Keywords: Food safety; organic produce; risk perception; survey research

Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: Center for Risk Analysis, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA.

Publication date: 2000-10-01

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