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Could a new "low pesticide" label impact consumer choice for apples?

Apple eaters can choose between consuming conventionally and organically produced fruits.  Researchers in the Joint Research Unit for Public Economics and the Research Unit for the Ecological Impact of Innovations in Plant Production, both based in Grignon, have evaluated the impact of information regarding health and the environment on the purchase of apples and the opportunity to create a "low pesticide" logo.

Pommes Ariane (obtention INRA). © WEBER Jean
Updated on 04/02/2013
Published on 04/02/2013

In March 2010, a laboratory experiment was carried out in France which involved 114 people aged between 18 and 69 years who attended several, one-hour sessions.  This sample, representative of the age and socioeconomic status of Dijon's population, was selected at random using a quota method.  The participants, separated at random into four groups which depended on the information that they would be given, were told that the experiment concerned the purchasing behaviour and consumption of apples.

The experiment focused initially on conventional and organic apples, both of the Gala variety.  The participants tasted two apples and delivered a hedonic judgement on both of them.  Further information was then given to them: health impacts, beneficial effects of polyphenols on cardiovascular risks, the polyphenol or vitamin contents of organic apples, etc.

Other information communicated to the participants concerned differences in pesticide residues between conventional and organic apples.  The participants were told that the former presented with lower levels of chemical residues than those required by the regulations, and that these residues concentrate in the skin, while the latter did not contain any such residues.  This information focused on regulatory compliance, and not at all on the health impact of these residues.  Other messages explained that under conventional cultivation, apple trees receive up to 28 treatments with different chemical formulations.  These details oriented the choice of consumers towards the organic apples.
The second contribution of this experiment was to provide an estimate of the social impact of a new, "low pesticide" label, while the AB (Agriculture Biologique, or organic) label is well known and dominates the segment of environmentally-friendly products.  Because this label was virtual, it was not possible to offer such apples to the participants, so their choice could only be hypothetical.  Introduction of this label might increase consumption, because of the better quality compared with conventional apples and the lower prices versus organic apples.  This label could attract new consumers who do not consume non-labelled apples.

The experiment revealed that the simple application of an AB label, without providing additional information, was not sufficient to guide consumer choice.  More specific messages on pesticides may be necessary to inform them, but they are difficult to disseminate in a setting where consumers are saturated by information.  This suggests that the introduction of a "low pesticide" label could be supplemented by a minimal quality standard, imposing the use of fewer pesticides on all conventional apple growers, in a context of limited information for consumers.

This research, which received financial support from the European ENDURE network, opens public debate on the best way to promote "greener" apples that have received fewer pesticide applications.  Despite its limitations, this experiment permitted the ex ante testing of a policy relative to new labelling and, from an economic point of view, provided information on the strategic choices to be made.

Contact(s)
Scientific contact(s):

  • Stephan Marette (+33(0)1 30 81 53 61) Joint Research Unit for Public Economics
  • Guy Millet (+33(0)1 30 81 53 55) Joint Research Unit for Public Economics
  • Antoine Messéan (+33(0) 1 30 81 52 09) Research Unit for the Ecological Impact of Innovations in Plant Production
Associated Division(s):
Social Sciences, Agriculture and Food, Rural Development and Environment.
Associated Centre(s):
Versailles-Grignon

Find out more

  • Stephan Marette, Antoine Messéan, Guy Millet, « Consumers’ willingness to pay for eco-friendly apples under different labels: Evidences from a lab experiment, Food Policy 37 (2012) 151-161.