Several studies indicate that organic food is commonly perceived by the general public to beÂ a health and the environment friendly option, and in many cases concerns about health andÂ the environment tend to be interwoven as a motif for buying organic food.
Health and the Environment
These two concerns can be interwoven in different ways. A typical rationale is that healthyÂ soils, plants and animals are a basis for human health, and that therefore care and concern forÂ any of these environmental factors will also cater for better human health. This way of thinkingÂ is not easily captured by ticking off boxes in a questionnaire seeking to rank distinct motivationsÂ for â€œnature/environmentâ€, â€œanimals/ethicsâ€ or â€œhealthâ€. This also makes attempts toÂ classify some motives as â€œaltruisticâ€ and others as â€œpersonalâ€, â€œhedonisticâ€ or the like moreÂ complex.
Another example of interwoven themes involves â€œsustainable eatingâ€ and â€œhealthy eatingâ€. Â Here interpretations of the first to a large extent coincide with prevailing advice for the latterÂ (see, for example, Torjusen and VittersÃ¸ 1998), and consumer emphasis on issues relevant toÂ either of these motives is often interconnected.
Also, a number of specific issues seem to be connected, by consumers, with both the health and the environmentÂ of human. Examples are again the use of GMOs and the use of pesticides. Â As already discussed above, these relate to several types of consumer concern, among themÂ health and the environment protection.
Regarding the relative importance of the two issues â€“ health and the environment â€“ there isÂ some discussion in the literature. There is an indication, for example, in literature on Denmark,Â Italy and the UK, that the most dedicated, â€œbig-volumeâ€ consumers, who regularly buyÂ organic food, put more emphasis on altruistic motives such as environmental concernÂ though here the reservations mentioned above need to be borne in mind). In accordance withÂ this view, it has been observed in Denmark that health-related motivations seem to have becomeÂ more central for the â€œnewcomersâ€ among the organic consumers who until recentlyÂ bought conventional foods. The Italian studies tend to indicate that health concerns are moreÂ common than environmental concerns, but they also refer to the importance of environmentalÂ concerns, particularly among more dedicated consumers.
Against this, tentative observations in countries like Hungary, where the domestic market isÂ very little developed, suggest that health concerns are dominant among the few pioneeringÂ consumers who are at present able to track down and pay for organic food. It is claimed37 (onÂ the basis of the very limited literature) that consumers of organic food in Central and EasternÂ European countries are mainly vegetarians and/or health food customers. One hypothesis isÂ that, in this region, traditional eating patterns and what are considered â€œhealthy dietsâ€ differÂ more dramatically than they do in Western countries, and that this might have a bearing onÂ the perceptions of organic food and the association of organic food with â€œhealth foodâ€ andÂ healthy diets. It is assumed that this association of organic food with health food and vegetarianÂ food may be one reason why organic products of animal origin play a less important roleÂ in Central and Eastern European countries than in Western countries.
On the other hand, the Hungarian emphasis on health might be the upshot of a general viewÂ of environmental issues: there are indications that consumers in Hungary do not to any greatÂ extent see agriculture as a major polluter of the environment. This is referred to as a possibleÂ reason for not buying organic food. It might be an important factor in countries with similarÂ perceptions about nature and agriculture. Although it involves speculative hypotheses, theÂ discussion of these issues illustrates the general point that general food culture and generalÂ perceptions of health are important background factors for understanding the consumption ofÂ organic food.