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Pesticide residues in food: attitudes, beliefs, and misconceptions among conventional and organic consumers

Agricultural Communications Documentation Center (ACDC)
Koch, Severine (main author), Epp, Astrid (author), Lohmann, Mark (author), Böl, Gaby-Fleur (author)
Online journal article
Publication Date:
International Association for Food Protection, Des Moines, Iowa
Agricultural Communications Documentation Center, Funk Library, University of Illinois
Subject Term:
behavior, consumers, food safety, perceptions, pesticides, public attitudes, risk communication, organic, health communication, food production, food issues, Germany (Europe)
7 pages., via online journal., Pesticide use and pesticide residues in foods have been the subject of controversial public discussions and media coverage in Germany. Against this background, a better understanding of public risk perceptions is needed to promote efficient public health communication. To this end, this study captures the German public's perception of pesticide residues in foods. A representative sample of the population aged 14 years and older (n = 1,004) was surveyed via computer-assisted telephone interviewing on their attitudes and knowledge with regard to pesticide residues. Based on questions regarding their typical consumer behavior, respondents were classified into conventional and organic consumers to identify differences as well as similarities between these two consumer types. As assessed with an open-ended question, both organic and conventional consumers viewed pesticides, chemicals, and toxins as the greatest threats to food quality and safety. Evaluating the risks and benefits of pesticide use, more than two-thirds of organic consumers (70%) rated the risks as greater than the benefits, compared with just over one-half of conventional consumers (53%). Concern about the detection of pesticide residues in the food chain and bodily fluids was significantly higher among organic compared with conventional consumers. Only a minority of respondents was aware that legal limits for pesticide residues (referred to as maximum residue levels) exist, with 69% of organic and 61% of conventional consumers believing that the presence of pesticide residues in foods is generally not permitted. A lack of awareness of maximum residue levels was associated with heightened levels of concern about pesticide residues. Finally, general exposure to media reporting on pesticide residues was associated with more frequent knowledge of legal limits for pesticide residues, whereas actively seeking information on pesticide residues was not. The possible mechanisms underlying these findings are discussed.