Beyond organic: consumer interest in new labelling schemes in the Central Coast of California


Philip H. Howard, Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, University of California, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA. E-mail:


Producers are interested in developing labelling schemes that go ‘beyond organic’ to address ethical criteria not included the US Department of Agriculture organic standards. However, consumer interests in labels that are not as widely available as organic in the market are poorly understood. This study reports results of focus-group research and a survey of 1000 households in the Central Coast region of California to determine which standards consumers are most interested in supporting through their purchases. The results indicate that standards for the humane treatment of animals have the highest level of support, followed by a standard for local origin, and for a living wage for workers involved in producing food. Logistic regression analysis suggests that humane is more likely to be chosen by women, European-Americans, younger people and frequent organic purchasers. Locally grown was preferred by older people and households with children. A living wage for workers involved in food production was selected more often by Latinos. Although a characterization of trends is not possible due to a cross-sectional design, the results suggest some potential directions for producers in this region who are willing to supply unmet consumer demands for ethical criteria. There are three basic directions that new and emerging labels may take with respect to US national organic standards: (1) separate from organic; (2) institutionally separate, but tightly integrated with organic; and (3) intended to supplant organic. The success of each of these strategies will depend on how much trust consumers continue to place in government oversight of organic food. The study results also suggest that the movement for a more sustainable food system would benefit from devoting more attention to issues of animal rights and social justice.