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Environ Res. 2019 Mar;170:320-331. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2018.12.051. Epub 2018 Dec 21.

Reclaimed water and food production: Cautionary tales from consumer research.

Author information

1
Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, University of Delaware, Postal address: 226 Townsend Hall, Newark, DE 19716, USA.
2
Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology, University of Alberta, Canada.
3
Department of Economics, University of Windsor, Canada.
4
Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, University of Delaware, Postal address: 226 Townsend Hall, Newark, DE 19716, USA. Electronic address: messer@udel.edu.

Abstract

Reclaimed water has been identified as a viable and cost-effective solution to water shortages impacting agricultural production. However, lack of consumer acceptance for foods irrigated with reclaimed and treated water remains one of the greatest hurdles for widespread farm-level adoption. Using survey data from 760 participants in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., this paper examines consumer preferences for six sources of reclaimed irrigation water and identifies statistically significant relationships between consumers' demographic characteristics and their preferences for each type of reclaimed water. Key findings suggest that adult consumers prefer rain water to all other sources of reclaimed water. Women are less likely than men to prefer reclaimed irrigation water sources and are particularly concerned about the use of black and brackish water. Consumers who had heard about reclaimed water before are more likely to accept its use. Drawing on evidence from survey and experimental research, this paper also identifies disgust, neophobia and safety concerns as the key issues that lead consumers to accept or reject foods produced with reclaimed water. Finally, we identify avenues for future research into public acceptance of reclaimed water based on our analysis and evidence from prior research.

KEYWORDS:

Consumer behavior; Food labeling; Reclaimed water; Water reuse

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