Study finds skepticism about organic among consumers

Harris Poll reveals increased environmental awareness, but low willingness to pay more

NEW YORK — A majority of surveyed adults in the United States regards organic as an excuse to charge more for food, according to a new study.

The March Harris Poll of 2,276 adults found that those expressing concern for the environment grew from 31% last year to 38% this year, but 59% of respondents saw labeling foods and other products as organic was an excuse to charge more.

"What surprised us most was that while Americans are showing more concern for the environment, they aren't necessarily willing to pay more to do anything about it," Harris Poll president Mike de Vere said. "While Americans feel better about the economy, many are wary of the 'greenwashing' concept that gives companies a chance to cash in on consumers who want to help the planet but are confused by all the eco-friendly jargon."

More than half of respondents reported thinking organic food was healthier than nonorganic despite research indicating that it isn't, while 41% said it tasted better, but only 23% were aware of the Environmental Working Group's annual list of foods consumers should buy organic due to pesticide levels, known as the "dirty dozen." Also, despite a study in Germany indicating that using the dishwasher used half the energy, one-sixth the water and less soap than handwashing, many consumers still regarded washing by hand as better for the environment.

Respondents were more evenly divided on whether they thought it was easy to live in an environmentally friendly way, with 49% saying it was difficult and 47% saying it was easy, but 63% said they had made an effort to be environmentally conscious, flat over 2012, but higher than the 51% who said the same in 2009. Eighty percent said they would seek out "green" products, but only 30% were willing to pay extra for them, and 60% preferred using environmentally friendly cleaning supplies because of the chemicals in traditional products.

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