Results from research conducted by the University of Florida and four other universities aims to help local and organic producers better communicate with consumers and dispel some of their misunderstandings, according to a news release.
Also involved in the study were the University of Connecticut, Texas A&M University, Purdue University and Michigan State University. They published their findings in the May issue of "International Food and Agribusiness Management Review."
The online survey involved 2,511 people in the United States and Canada in 2011.
It found that 17 percent of consumers used the terms local and organic interchangeably.
“If consumers can distinguish between local and organic, then by buying organic, they will be able to reduce their exposure to synthetic pesticides,” Hayk Khachatryan, with the Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka, said in the release. “However, there is no guarantee that organic is grown locally. Before reaching the consumer, organic produce may travel long distances, which involves some level of environmental footprint.”
Along the same line, locally produced food may not be the most sustainable choice if it can be grown elsewhere and transported for less, according to the release.
The survey also found that 22 percent of respondents said they believed that local meant non-genetically modified or that it didn't contain GMOs—genetically modified organisms.
Exact figures for local food production is difficult to determine because of differing definitions.
But a U.S. Department of Agriculture study pegged U.S. production at $4.8 billion in 2008.
Clouding the perception of local is Canada is changing its definition of local.
Interim rules define it as food produced in the province or territory in which it is sold or food sold within 50 kilometers—about 32 miles—of the originating provide or territory.
Organic, on the other hand, must meet a set of strict USDA or similar Canadian Food Inspection Agency guidelines and then be verified by a third party. Essentially, organic means it has been produced without synthetic inputs, sewage sludge or GMOs.