Personally, when I see an organic label, I’m immediately turned off by it. However, I know that isn’t the case for a lot of people that aren’t as obsessed with conventional agriculture as I am.
In fact, the label for “organic” is so (wrongly) associated with things like increased nutrition, flavor, and health that people’s perception of the actual food can be altered by the label.
Cornell Food & Brand Lab conducted a study to look at just how deep these perceptions of organic went. Here’s what they found:
115 people were recruited from a local shopping mall in Ithaca, New York to participate in this study. Participants were asked to evaluate 3 pairs of products — 2 yogurts, 2 cookies and 2 potato chip portions. One item from each food pair was labeled “organic,” while the other was labeled “regular.” The trick to this study was: all of the product pairs were organic and identical! Participants were asked to rate the taste and caloric content of each item, and how much they would be willing to pay for the items. A questionnaire also inquired about their environmental and shopping habits.
Even though these foods were all the same, the “organic” label greatly influenced people’s perceptions. The cookies and yogurt were estimated to have significantly fewer calories when labeled “organic” and people were willing to pay up to 23.4% more for them. The nutritional aspects of these foods were also greatly biased by the health halo effect. The “organic” cookies and yogurt were said to taste ‘lower in fat’ than the “regular” variety, and the “organic” cookies and chips were thought to be more nutritious! The label even tricked people’s taste buds: when perceived as “organic,” chips seemed more appetizing and yogurt was judged to be more flavorful. “Regular” cookies were reported to taste better–possibly because people often believe healthy foods are not tasty. All of these foods were exactly the same, but a simple organic label made all the difference!
(Source: Science Daily)
They call it the organic “halo.” When given the exact same product, people were convinced that it tasted different, felt different, was healthier, or was worth more simply due to the label.
We know that buying organic isn’t necessary. Organic food is not healthier. Organic farmers use pesticides. Organic food isn’t necessary to protect you from pesticide residue.
This is why education is key.
The study shows that we need to check our sources of information. Our minds can play a lot of tricks on us. Even when we know something isn’t true, hearing something plants a little seed of doubt that can leave us wondering, especially when the activists are so adamant about it. The organic label is the prefect example. We know, based on sound scientific research, that organic food isn’t any healthier (and sometimes less so) than conventional food. Yet, when grocery shopping, the idea might cross your mind, especially when you’re on a health kick. After seeing some people so crazy about it, it makes you start to wonder.
The study is also a nice reminder on why labels matter. Without anything to support the position, consumers attach all sorts of “sunshine and rainbow” thoughts to the organic label. Imagine what types of thoughts they would attach to a label that says “this product contains GMOs.” Even though there is no scientific evidence showing a detrimental effect on humans or the environment, the label suggests that there is one. And by seeing the label, consumers would be left confused and doubt the safety of the product.
But the point is: really why are you still buying overpriced organic food? Maybe it’s because you’ve fallen for the label.