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Study: Consumers value safer food more than current analyses suggest
Date:2/8/2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio Government regulators could more realistically assess the value of improving food safety if they considered the fact that consumers typically want to avoid getting sick even if it means they have to pay a little extra for safer food, researchers say.

In the world of food regulation, cost-benefit analyses are a primary tool for assessing the societal benefits of mandating more stringent and more expensive processing practices. In most cases, regulators determine a dollar value associated with pursuing new rules by estimating how many illnesses and deaths the safer processing would prevent.

But a recent study proposes a new way to approach these estimates. Instead of focusing on reducing food-borne illnesses and deaths associated with a specific pathogen, why not ask consumers how valuable food-safety improvements are to them? The researchers conducted such a national survey that they designed with the help of an economic model that predicts consumer behavior.

The results suggested that Americans would be willing to pay about a dollar per person each year, or an estimated $305 million in the aggregate, for a 10 percent reduction in the likelihood that hamburger they buy in the supermarket is contaminated by E. coli, said Brian Roe, professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics at Ohio State University and co-author of the study.

By comparison, a 2008 U.S. Department of Agriculture analysis estimated the value of eradicating a specific type of E. coli contamination from all food sources would result in a benefit valued at $446 million.

The problem with the federal estimate, Roe says, is that total eradication of the most common causes of food-borne illness is virtually impossible because of the exorbitant cost required to achieve such a goal. And, he added, the more flexible method of measurement proposed in this study suggests that consumers are willing to pay more than expected
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Contact: Brian Roe
roe.30@osu.edu
614-688-5777
Ohio State University
Source:Eurekalert

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