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Study Shows Major Demand for Locally Grown, Fairly Traded, Organic Products

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In the first cross-Canada study of factors that lead consumers to purchase organic, fair trade or locally produced foods, the Montreal organization Equiterre surveyed 1,662 Canadians interviewed by Leger Marketing, in an attempt to identify the major obstacles to what it calls "responsible food consumerism."

A big surprise to the study's authors was the strength of demand for locally grown or produced products, said Frederic Pare, coordinator of Equiterre's ecological agriculture program.

"We already knew there was demand for organic and fair-trade products, but the fact there was such a strong desire for local products and so many people were ready to pay more for them" was a surprise, Pare said in a statement.

The majority of respondents - 85 percent - said buying local foods is important to them, and 77 percent said they make an effort to do so. Also, 72 percent said they are willing to pay more for locally produced foods, partly to encourage local producers (84 percent), partly because of the quality of the products (57 percent) and partly because they felt purchasing local was better for the environment (42 percent).

As expected, cost turned out to be a major factor in why some of us don't choose organic food. For example, 82 percent of respondents said high price was the main obstacle to buying organic.

But uncertainty of whether the products are truly organic was cited as a major obstacle by 41 percent of respondents. And while organics are seen as healthful, ecological and of good quality, they also are associated with some cliché images, the study notes.

Of those interviewed, 42 percent said those who buy organic food are "granola," 42 percent called them "trendy," 39 percent labeled them "vegetarians," and 24 percent said they were "rich."

But though many people want locally produced, organic and fair-trade products, confusion reigns in the food aisles because of a lack of clear labeling. More than 80 percent said the terms "fair trade," "organic" and "origin" should be subjected to mandatory certification.

The study comes just as markets and grocery stores are starting to stock quantities of local produce and as regional hearings by Quebec's legislature committee on the future of agriculture are wrapping up. The committee will be in Montreal this fall to hear submissions from local groups.