UF/IFAS study: Consumers prefer U.S.-grown organic broccoli

Aug 03, 15 UF/IFAS study: Consumers prefer U.S.-grown organic broccoli

By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As a good source of protein, Vitamin A, calcium, iron and fiber, broccoli is so full of nutrients, some call it a “super food.”

It’s also popular at the supermarket, whether it’s grown in America or overseas. But Americans are willing to pay $1 more per pound for U.S. organic broccoli than that from China and Mexico and up to 32 cents more per pound than that grown in Canada.

UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers conducted a national online survey in 2010 in which they posed questions about organic broccoli to 348 participants. They wanted to know the impact of “Country of Origin Labeling” on the price people were willing to pay for organic broccoli.

Foods sold in grocery stores come in packages labeled “organic,” if it applies. The packages also tell the buyer the country where the food was grown — a concept called “Country of Origin Labeling.” But some consumers remain confused about whether the broccoli they’re buying meets U.S. government standards for organic products, said Zhifeng Gao, a UF associate professor of food and resource economics.

“This information is important because consumers, in theory, can get both organic and country-of-origin information in the same supermarket,” Gao said. It’s also key for organic producers. “This is important for the U.S. organic industry to decide appropriate strategies to compete with foreign organic industries.”

For example, knowing this new data, the U.S. organic industry could put more emphasis on the products’ country of origin, he said. Consumers would then, at least theoretically, pay more attention to that information, he said.

Seen here is a picture of the 20 healthiest foods, including broccoli, in the middle. U.S. consumers prefer organic broccoli over that from overseas, according to a new UF/IFAS study led by Zhifeng Gao, a UF associate professor of food and resource economics. This finding comes despite the fact the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires the same standards for what constitutes “organic,” whether the product is grown in the U.S. or overseas.

As part of the survey, researchers added twists, such as U.S. Department of Agriculture organic labeling information. One group received information about organic food vs. conventional food. Another group received no information about U.S. organic labeling requirements.

Participants who received the organic labeling information read this statement: “The USDA requirements for organic certification are extensive. The term ‘organic’ can only be used to describe an agricultural product sold in the United States if it meets all of these requirements. No matter where a product is produced, the same rules and procedures apply.”

Gao and his colleagues chose broccoli because it’s very popular and is produced in the U.S. and abroad in fairly equal amounts. In fact, organic farming in general is one of the fastest-growing segments of global agriculture during the past decade. In the U.S., organic product sales went up 9.5 percent from 2010 to 2011, reaching $31.5 billion in America. Imported fresh broccoli has increased dramatically since 2000. In 2010, the U.S. imported about 25 million pounds of fresh broccoli from Mexico.

Survey results are published online June 29 in the journal Agricultural Economics.

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