The Demand for Food Safety: An Empirical Analysis of Preferences for Pesticide and Hormone Regulation by Alberta Consumers

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  • The safety of food is a continuing concern for consumers. A Consumer's Association of Canada survey found that 25% of consumers \"worry a lot\" about food safety. When asked about specific food safety issues, 42% indicated pesticides as a major source of concern. Pollution, preservatives and hormones were indicated as concerns by 36%, 25% and 21% respectively * (Consumer's Association of Canada, 1990). A more recent survey found that approximately 30% of Canadians considered \"pesticides in food\" and \"food additives\" as high health risks (Government of Canada, 1993). Most recently a National Angus Reid poll conducted in May 1995 among a random representative group of 1500 Canadians found that 41% had concerns about food safety concerns had increased slightly. An increasing level of concern was seen in all provinces. This was particularly evident amongst women (77%). Canadians with post-secondary (65%) and University education (67%) and those earning more than $30,000 (66%) were more likely to indicate an increasing concern with food safety. A 1994 survey of Albertans (Jardine, et al., 1995) found that approximately 70% of the respondents rated pesticides as a high or moderate health risk. Consumers generally cannot choose their level of exposure to pesticide and other chemical residues in food. Consumers depend on regulatory agencies to ensure that the food supply is safe. The level of food safety mandated by regulatory agencies can be regarded as a public good. Thus, for purposes of public policy it is necessary to determine the level of food safety that consumers desire. Aggregate food consumption data normally do not give an indication of the demand for food safety. Further, increased food safety can be expected to come with a cost, either in the form of lower quality food (e.g. increased insect damage) or higher prices for food. That is, the production techniques used in place of pesticides and hormones may increase the cost of food. What are consumers willing to pay for a higher level of food safety? Will they trade lower quality or higher prices for lower pesticide residues? Contingent valuation (CV) methods can be used to determine the demand for food safety. Contingent valuation methods involve presenting a representative sample of consumers with an array of possible products or programs and asking them to determine the maximum amount they would be willing to pay for each product or program. This approach has been used to assess the demand for differing levels of pesticide residue on applies (Van Raavensway and Hoehn, 1991). Horowitz and Carson (1991) used CV to determine the demand for hypothetical food safety programs. In a later study Horowitz (1994) found that consumers consistently prefer a program to reduce pesticides to a program to reduce automobile exhaust, even when the cost and number of lives saved is identical for both programs. In this study residents of Alberta were surveyed to determine their willingness to pay for the reduced use of pesticides or growth hormones in food production. Attitudes towards food-born health risks were also surveyed. Multinomial logit analysis is used to analyze the effect of demographic characteristics on the probability of respondents choosing to restrict pesticide or hormone use in food production. The effect of increasing cost on these choice probabilities is also examined.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 International