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Is “Local” the Same Thing as “Organic”?

If you are slightly confused about what the difference is between “organic” and “local”, you are not alone.

In a recent study of U.S. and Canadian consumers, which was just published in the International Food and Agribusiness Management Review, it was reported:

– 17% of people believe that foods labeled as “organic” were also grown locally.

– 23% of people believe that local produce is grown organically.

– 40% of consumers think “organic” food is more nutritious than conventional food.

Can organic food be grown locally? Yes.

Can local food be grown organically? Yes.

By definition, however, organic is not local, and local is not organic. They are two completely separate things.

Yet, the fact that approximately 1 out of 5 people is still confused about the meaning of organic vs. local is quite disconcerting.

Organic has USDA-approved rules, certification, and enforcement while “local” has none of those.

What does “local” mean? For the most part, it is whatever a restaurant, farmer, or market wants it to be.

While a copy of the 2008 Farm Bill says that “local” is within 400 miles, I don’t think anyone would consider an apple grown in the suburbs of Boston, but sold at a Washington, D.C. farmers market, to be “local”.  A more generally accepted number of “local” is 100 or 150 miles.

Two possible explanations for the results of this study are the following:

1) In general, people are still very confused about food labels.  After all, many consumers believe that natural is better than organic, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

2) “Local” has become synonymous with sustainability in the culinary world. So, if a farm-to-table restaurant is serving local food, a lot of consumers probably think that it is organic as well and have come to regard the two terms as the same thing.

Now, the statistic of 40% of consumers believing that “organic” food is more nutritious than conventional food is what truly alarms me. Why?

It means 60% of consumers, a majority of people, think that conventionally-grown food is better than organic.

As pointed out in a recent meta-analysis of 343 previous peer-reviewed publications, organic food provides superior nutrition than conventionally-grown food.

And who can honestly say that food that is sprayed with super-toxic chemicals, such as 2,4-D, the primary ingredient in Agent Orange, is better for you than organic?


What the results of this organic vs. local study mean is that the organic industry has a long way to go, in terms of educating consumers about organic and why it is superior to local.

Yet, we are fighting so many battles – GMOs, GMO-labeling, the perception of “natural” being better than “organic”, maintaining organic standards – that brand building of organic has taken a backseat to more urgent priorities.

A few other posts for you to read:

– Click HERE to read why I choose “organic” over “local”.

– Click HERE to read the difference between “organic” and “natural”.

– Click HERE to watch the organic industry’s first ad campaign, which attacks the credibility of “natural”.

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livingmaxwell: a guide to organic food & drink