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WASHINGTON - More than 60 percent of American shoppers believe that organic foods are better for their health, but many of them remain confused about genetically modified foods, according to a new study released by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Prevention magazine.
The report, Shopping for Health 2002: Self-Care Perspectives, Volume 2: Organic Foods and Genetically Modified Foods, also finds that although more shoppers purchased organic foods in 2002 than ever before--particularly organic fruits and vegetables--less than 40 percent purchased the organic version of their favorite foods, possibly due to the high costs of these products.
"The survey reveals that an increasing number of shoppers are buying organic fruits and vegetables because they feel they are better for you," said Martha Schumacher, research manager for Prevention. "But something is keeping them from purchasing the organic versions of other foods. Our findings suggest that price may be the leading reason. With the new organic labeling standards, shoppers will better understand what they're buying. The proliferation of organic foods should help bring prices down to competitive levels."
Fifty-seven percent of shoppers surveyed said they have bought organic foods in the past six months or have used them to help maintain their health, up from 50 percent in 2001.
Organic fruits and vegetables are the most popular products, with 38 percent having bought them in the past six months and 20 percent likely to do so in the future. Also popular are organic cereals/breads/pastas, purchased by 27 percent of shoppers, and organic dairy products, purchased by 26 percent of shoppers.
In addition, more than seven out of 10 organic shoppers purchase organic foods at their regular grocery stores, and 55 percent purchase at their local farmers market.
Geographic differences also play a role in shoppers' use of organic foods to maintain their health. Shoppers from the Northwest and the West are more likely to buy organic foods for health maintenance than those living in the Midwest. More than one-third from the West (38 percent) and the Northeast (35 percent) say they personally use organic foods to maintain their health. Fewer shoppers living in the Midwest (26 percent) say this is true, while more Southern shoppers (31 percent) use these foods for health maintenance.
American shoppers are divided and confused on the issue of genetically modified foods, according to the report. Asked generally whether such foods are acceptable, 37 percent agree, while 46 percent disagree. However, if as in last year?s survey the purposes for genetic modification are included (such as raising crops that are resistant to pests or less costly to grow), acceptance among shoppers increases to between 60 and 70 percent.
Despite these acceptance rates, 65 percent still feel that scientists don't know enough yet to control the effects of genetic engineering, and 60 percent would like to know if the foods they eat have genetically modified components. Younger shoppers tend to be more positively inclined toward genetically modified foods, with 45 percent of generation X and Y shoppers finding these products acceptable, compared with 37 percent of baby boomers and 29 percent of matures.
The report is the second in a three-volume series exploring how dietary concerns influence U.S. shopper purchasing habits. Survey data comes from telephone interviews conducted in February 2002 by Princeton Survey Research Associates with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the total sample.