Labelling wraps organic food in healthy halo, research says

The organic food industry promotes sustainability and avoidance of unnecessary pesticides, and rakes in $30 billion a year.

But Cornell researchers have found consumers automatically put a ‘healthy halo’ on foods that are labelled organic, whether they are actually organic or not.

The researchers decided to conduct the study in response to the high demand for organic foods and the fairly vague reasons for the demand. The organic label draws a thin line between health and marketing, The Atlantic reported.

Cornell researchers asked 115 shoppers to participate in a taste test in the middle of a shopping mall food court.

The participants sampled what were labelled as the organic and non-organic versions of biscuits, potato chips and yoghurt. In fact, both types of food were organic.

The participants then rated the foods on taste, nutritional value, flavour and whether they thought it tasted artificial or not. They were also asked to guess the calorie content and indicate how much they would pay for snack-sized portions of each.

The partakers guessed the organic biscuits, chips and yoghurt had 20 to 24 per cent less calories than ‘regular’ versions.

They thought the organic versions tasted lower in fat and calories and higher in fibre. They were prepared to pay around 16 to 23 per cent more for all three.

But it was harder to fool people who often shopped organic, read nutrition labels, and were more aware with the foods and their marketing strategies.

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