Beyond Organic and Fair Trade? An Analysis of Ecolabel Preferences in the United States


  • Philip H. Howard,

    1. Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies
      Michigan State University
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    • We are grateful for the participation of the survey respondents, and assistance from Jan Perez. We also express appreciation to three anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions. Funding for this project was provided by the USDA as part of “A consortium-based program for sustainable agriculture along the Central Coast of California.”

  • Patricia Allen

    1. Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems
      University of California, Santa Cruz
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The success of alternative food initiatives indicates increasing interest in changing the way food is produced, processed, and sold. Ecolabels such as organic and Fair Trade have entered the mainstream marketplace, and other voluntary identifiers on products are emerging to address criteria not included in these successful initiatives. Little is known about consumer interests in these criteria, however. To anticipate the direction of food-system changes, as well as assist food producers to meet consumer demands, we conducted a national mail survey to assess preferences for criteria that go “beyond” (or could complement) organic and Fair Trade. We utilized a forced-choice paired-comparisons question format to rank five possibilities (humane, local, living wage, small-scale, U.S. grown) that might feasibly be implemented by food producers. Local was the most popular choice, although humane also received a high level of support. Multilevel logistic regression indicated that local was preferred by rural residents, and that humane was preferred by frequent organic consumers and high-income households. Survey respondents also chose product labels more frequently than other potential sources of information about their food. Preferences for local and humane ecolabel criteria should be placed in perspective, as consumers expressed much higher levels of interest in the more individualized concerns of safety and nutrition. The results suggest, however, that consumers are interested in a food system that addresses broader political and ethical values, which has implications for production, marketing, and movement building for sustainable food systems.