With the rise in demand for “green” restaurants and products, it should not come as a surprise to learn that consumers today are more willing to pay extra for safer food. A study conducted by Brian Roe, Professor of Agriculture at Ohio State University, and Mario Teisl, Professor of Economics and Policy at the University of Maine, proved just that.
Instead of concentrating on reducing foodborne illnesses and deaths, Roe and Teisl’s study differs from traditional food safety studies in that they focused on the dollar amount consumers were willing to put into improving food safety.
Currently, research, programs and legislation are used to eliminate pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7 from food – assigning values to measures that reduce deaths and illnesses to prove their effectiveness. The total cost for preventing illness and death is ideally lower than the total cost of a person missing work and paying for a doctor when ill.
However, Roe and Teisl argue that the far-fetching goal of total eradication will never be attained, so it’s more important to focus on treating products to lessen the probability of carrying foodborne pathogens. The cost comparison method used in their study focuses on the cost for treating food for pathogens versus the pain, suffering, worry and non-economic factors resulting from being ill.
And Roe and Teisl’s research backs this up. Their study concluded that 60 percent of consumers were willing to pay a modest increase in price for food that had been treated for pathogens – an estimated $305 million total increase divided among Americans.
“If the food industry were forced to put technology in place that lowered the presence of E. coli and that ramped up prices to the extent where everybody had to pay about a dollar more out of pocket each year for hamburger, we’re saying that, according to this model, that would be about an equal tradeoff for the U.S. population,” said Roe. “And if the technology costs only about 10 cents per person instead, that would seem like a good deal to most people.”
The savings extend to the food industry, insurance companies and government agencies – as fewer consumers need to be compensated for food-related diseases and death.
Consumers have already asked for more “green” from restaurants, and according to Roe and Teisl’s research, they are also signaling to the food industry that safer products are worth the extra money.