Research Shows Fear-Based Dietary Messages Don't Work

Fear-based health and safety messages from public health activists and organic produce marketers concerning nonorganic produce could be undermining their efforts in the eyes of low-income consumers, according to peer-reviewed research recently published in Nutrition Today.

Researchers found that when activists or marketers employ

messaging that inaccurately focuses on produce having higher pesticide residues, low-income shoppers don't turn to organic produce, as is the groups' intent. Instead, low-income shoppers are unlikely to purchase produce at all.

Researchers recommend more consistent communication with consumers regarding the health and safety of consuming fruits and vegetables through cooperation among food producers and activists.

An editorial from the Alliance for Food and Farming suggested that not only were fear-based messages backfiring on organic producers, but claims about pesticides and nonorganic produce's impact on health were also often inaccurate, per peer-reviewed research. Manufacturers have to walk a fine line between sharing health and safety-related messaging and not scaring consumers away from the category entirely —

especially low-income consumers, for whom organic produce may be less readily available.

Instead, manufacturers could focus on more positive messaging about the benefits of organic produce without casting a negative light on its conventionally grown competition. That could include how organic farming may be more sustainable and better for the environment,

without harping on how GMO farming may be harmful to the environment. They could also talk about health benefits organic produce offers, without comparing to other variations in the produce aisle.

The same argument applies to fear-based messaging surrounding GMOs and GMO labeling, as well as antibiotics

and hormones in meat and dairy products. Instead of trying to scare consumers away from a competitor, manufacturers can allow the benefits of their products to speak for themselves and demonstrate their own positive impact on a consumer's diet and lifestyle. Fear-based messaging related to antibiotics, for example, could cause consumers to avoid meat and dairy entirely rather than switch to an organic brand, similar to this produce conundrum.