Re: Food Quality
Hi Chris. Interesting post. Especially at this time, since a number of
members of SANET are attending a conference whose subject is close to what
youre talking about. I am copying the beginning of the 'call for papers'
for your information.
CALL FOR PAPERS
International Conference on
AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION AND NUTRITION
Boston, Massachusetts, USA March 19-21, 1997
Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy
Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture
PURPOSE AND SCOPE:
Papers are invited for a conference on how the nutritional value
and safety of food is affected by the methods used to raise it.
We are especially interested in alternative production systems
that can provide more wholesome and healthful foods.
The conference is intended for researchers, agricultural
producers, consumer groups, the food processing and marketing
industry, and agencies concerned with agricultural policy.
o Effects of specific crop production techniques, such as crop
variety, pesticide applications, and amount and type of
fertilizer, on the nutritional value of foods and the
occurence of undesirable substances
o Effects of different livestock production practices on the
healthfulness of meat, milk and eggs
o Health and nutritional implications of reduced-chemical,
organic, and alternative agricultural systems
o Effects of crop production methods on storage qualities and
post-harvest changes in nutritional value
o Nutritional implications of obtaining foods from local
versus distant sources
o Relationship between the quality of the soil and the quality
of the foods produced from it
o Quality in the marketplace: Consumers' perceptions of the
quality of food produced by different methods
o Nutritional and food quality implications of other market
demands on farm products, such as processing
characteristics, appearance, or suitability for long-
o Is there a tradeoff between high production and high
quality, and if so, how might it be avoided?
o The role of government agencies in promoting agricultural
systems that produce healthful and nutritious foods.
Since I am an economist, I certainly can't help with your question from a
hard science perspective. But I can relate our results of our 'scientific'
study of consumers' subjective impressions of organics.
There have been many efforts to quantify nutritional differences between
organic and regular produce. An article by Joan Gussow in last Fall's
Organic Farming Research Foundation Newsletter addressed the issue in an
interesting way...basically saying that the most impt reasons for eating
organic is for the environment (externalities as far as consumers are
Research that my colleagues and I have done, and more recent surveys done by
the Packer magazine as well, suggest that 'quality,' is the most important
reason given by consumers of organics for paying the premium involved. In
this case, quality translates into expectations about the pleasure of
consmuming the food.
While I personally feel that the environmental and ethical reasons justify
the premia, I guess that I think enjoyment of food is important too! So, I
think that you are on to something. There are many consumers out there
whose experience suggests a quality difference between organic and
Moreover, there are chefs of very expensive restaurants who insist on
organic fresh produce as ingredients. One reason given is that flavor is
In the 1991 survey that we did, the most frequent buyers of organic produce
were most likely to give flavor as a reason for buying organic.
There have been double blind tests that try to test the difference, and
these have had pretty indefinite results. Actually, I think Gussow's
article refers to some of these.
I have a hypothesis that one way for smaller producers to survive/thrive is
to emphasize very high quality. As long as it is possible for consumers to
tell the difference easily, they will be willing to pay a significant
premium. Right now, 'organic' is tending to become synonomous with 'high
quality' in the eyes of a sizeable minorty of American consumers. That is
very clear (and statistically significant) in the Packer's 1996 Fresh Trends
Furthermore, I suspect you are correct and that eventually we will be able
to do physical tests that explain why some people with sophisticated
pallettes insist that organics taste better.
Thank you for the stimulating post.
Dept of Ag and Resource Econ
B-311 Clark Blg
Colorado State University
Ft Collins, CO 80523