Consumers’ growing demands for both locally produced and safer foods are in conflict, according to a recent study by a North Carolina State University economist.
Examining the contaminated cantaloupe cases in Colorado last fall and in Indiana this past summer, Steve Sexton concludes that retailers’ dependence on smaller, local producers may come at the expense of food safety.
In a paper published in the University of California’s “Agricultural and Resource Economics Update,” Sexton states: “Growing reliance on local production sacrifices the benefits of specialization according to comparative advantage and scale economies that more concentrated production affords.”
He goes onto state that “food safety cannot improve as retailers make greater commitments to sourcing local products, all else being equal.” Sexton concludes:
“The two demands are conflicting. As local production increases, however, food safety is likely to decline as small firms optimally invest in disproportionately lower levels of food safety than larger firms because of higher average costs of food safety provision and less financial risk from food contamination.
“Local production also sacrifices comparative advantage in the production
and certification of food safety related to agronomic and climatic
conditions that impact handling practices.”