Is Safer Food More Expensive?
Because food safety and the economics of food policy go hand in hand, cost and perceived value of food are inseparable components of the mass food market.
Currently, the food market and the government address food-borne illnesses by investing money in research, programs, and legislation that aim to eradicate pathogens like E. coli. They then decide if this is cost effective by assigning a value to how many illnesses and deaths are stopped by preventative rules.
This means that all of the research and legislation costs that go into producing safer food must be less than all the expenses that consumers would spend should they come down with a food-borne illness - expenses like doctor's appointments and time missed from work.
A New Way To Treat Food Safety
However, Ohio State University professor of agriculture, environmental and development economics Brian Roe says that there is a better way to judge how much safe food costs. Instead of creating systems that try to eliminate entire diseases, he says food should be treated with scientific processes to lessen its probability of carrying food-borne pathogens before it's sold to consumers.
The study, led by Roe, surveyed the United States to see how American consumers would react to this new way of treating food and the costs that would go with it. Instead of balancing research costs with consumer medical costs, the study's plan would require that the money spent on treating food for pathogens before it is sold is less than the amount consumers spend if they get ill.
Treated food is a little more expensive for the consumer than untreated food, but the lowered probability of consumer sickness lowers the overall consumer cost.
Neither the new nor the old system quantifies other less tangible aspects of food-borne illness such as worry, stress, and pain.
Willing To Pay For Safety
Even though the burden of funding for preventative treatment of food is placed on the consumer, the study finds that consumers are 60 percent more likely to pay a modest increase for food that reduces their risk of getting sick.
For instance, it would cost consumers pennies more to buy treated hamburger that has a much lower chance of carrying E. coli than regular hamburger.
Even if consumers buy this more expensive product, it will only cost each consumer about a dollar each per year. That extra change from the treated food raises enough money to make treated food affordable and is considerably less expensive than the amount of money it would take to research and implement pathogen eradication.
Furthermore, safer food saves the food industry, insurance companies, and the government money by requiring less compensation to be paid to consumers who become ill or who are killed by food-related diseases.
Restaurant goers have already proved that they'll pay more to eat in greener restaurants, and now the food industry is given a clear signal that consumers are willing to pay a little more for safer food.
- Study: Consumers Value Safer Food More Than Current Analyses Suggest (The Ohio State University: Research)