Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 October 2009
This paper examines whether the dollar value of health benefits that consumers derive from organic food could account for the price premiums they pay. Price and sales data from realized transactions are inadequate to reveal consumer preferences for health benefits. Our exploratory alternative method estimates the value of health benefits to a hypothetical consumer who assesses risks as risk assessors do and values a unit reduction in all fatal risks equally, regardless of the source of any risk. Under these assumptions, our estimates of the value of health benefits derived from substituting an organic diet for a conventionally produced diet approach zero. For a common organic product, apple juice, we estimated the cost of reducing risks by buying the organic characteristic. The cost of averting each adverse health outcome is 27 to 461 times as large as the value of benefits. If the characteristics of our hypothetical consumer match those of the typical consumer, two inferences follow from our estimates of benefits and costs. First, the typical consumer is unlikely to purchase organic food for health reasons. Second, consumers who choose organic food could differ from typical consumers in several dimensions: perceptions of the level of risk from dietary intake of pesticides, perceptions of the nature of adverse health outcomes from pesticides, or in the importance attached to other attributes of organic food. Our analysis is exploratory partially because there are several behavioral assumptions implicit in the values we calculate. Also, we focus on risks that can be quantitatively estimated, measuring the probability of an adverse health outcome with readily accessible data. Currently, only cancer risks can be measured in terms of probabilities from readily accessible data.