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Health factors also have an effect on consumer attitudes. More than two-thirds of respondents (69%) “somewhat” or “strongly” agreed that local food is better for their personal health than food that has traveled across the country, despite little or no research documenting such benefits, lead author Rich Pirog of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture contends.
So, are consumers willing to pay more for food from supply chains that emit half as much greenhouse gas as conventional chains? Nearly half of survey respondents were willing to pay a 10%–30% premium, but an equal number of respondents weren’t keen on the idea.
“With the dramatic rise in popularity of local foods, the farmers who grow these foods and the organizations that champion both the farmers and the foods will be called upon to prove the existence of economic, environmental and health benefits stemming from these products, and to ensure their continued safety as part of the food supply,” Pirog says.
The findings show a critical need for more research, he notes.
“Government agencies, universities, health professionals, private companies and nonprofit organizations need to work with farmers growing and processing local foods to develop an appropriate research agenda for these food supply chains,” he says.
In 2001, Pirog led some of the first U.S. research on the concept of “food miles,”—the distance food travels from where it is grown to where it’s purchased for consumption. He also has investigated consumer perceptions of local, place-based and organic foods.
Through its research and education programs, the Leopold Center supports the development of profitable farming systems that conserve natural resources. Center funding comes from state appropriations and from fees on nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides, as established by the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act.