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Birds select conventional over organic wheat when given free choice

Authors

  • Ailsa J McKenzie,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Biology, Newcastle University, Ridley Building, Claremont Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK
    • School of Biology, Newcastle University, Ridley Building, Claremont Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK.
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  • Mark J Whittingham

    1. School of Biology, Newcastle University, Ridley Building, Claremont Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK
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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Global demand for organic produce is increasing by €4 billion annually. One key reason why consumers buy organic food is because they consider it to be better for human and animal health. Reviews comparing organic and conventional food have stated that organic food is preferred by birds and mammals in choice tests.

RESULTS: This study shows the opposite result—that captive birds in the laboratory and wild garden birds both consumed more conventional than organic wheat when given free choice. There was a lag in preference formation during which time birds learnt to distinguish between the two food types, which is likely to explain why the present results differ from those of previous studies. A further experiment confirmed that, of 16 potential causal factors, detection by birds of consistently higher levels of protein in conventional seeds (a common difference between many organic and conventional foodstuffs) is the likely mechanism behind this pattern.

CONCLUSION: The results of this study suggest that the current dogma that organic food is preferred to conventional food may not always be true, which is of considerable importance for consumer perceptions of organically grown food. Copyright © 2010 Society of Chemical Industry

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