Consumers are torn between buying local and buying organic food, a recent survey shows.

In a study by Mambo Sprouts, a natural and organic marketing company, 36 percent of natural-product consumers said they would choose local produce over organic, while 33 percent said the opposite. The rest were unsure which to choose.

Overall, consumers preferred food that was both local and organic. Respondents felt local food was better for the environment and more sustainable because of the reduced environmental impact of transporting food. They also thought local food was fresher and healthier, even if it was not certified organic, and expressed some mistrust and confusion regarding organic food labeling. Most said they would be more confident about buying organics if stores had their own organic food standards in addition to the USDA organic seal.

Phil Unterschuetz of Wenatchee, Washington, who has supplied organic farm products to growers for 24 years, said he doesn’t see it as a question of either local or organic food. Both center on the issue of sustainability.

"I think that organic production has always been about long-term sustainability in the sense of the global ecology," he said.

Organic production, as it is now legally defined, has a narrower scope than it used to have because it doesn’t necessarily include the concept of sustainability, he noted. "It’s aiming to encourage those things but it doesn’t of itself get there."

He feels that the buy-local movement ties in with the original concept of sustainability. "In my thinking, it’s a further refinement in awareness of what organic’s all about."