British Report on Consumer Knowledge about Meat Manufacturing

Consumer Attitudes to Animal Welfare, A Report for Freedom Food by IGD

I’ve blogged repeatedly on dichotomous consumer perceptions towards animals, such as consumers freaking out about SaveToby.com even though they would gladly eat Toby if prepackaged in the supermarket. As a result, I’ve asserted that consumers’ willful ignorance of the meat manufacturing process increases consumer demand for meat compared to the “true equilibrium” level of demand if consumers actually understood the manufacturing process.

We get some further evidence of this in this new report about British consumers of meat. From the executive summary:

Consumers are increasingly concerned about the issue of welfare standards of food producing animals. … However, consumers also lack knowledge on the food production system and, while they may express a demand for information on animal welfare, consumers will also voluntarily ignore the information, to avoid the realities of production.

Previous research has shown that consumers regularly over claim their propensity to purchase products with higher standards of animal welfare. Their willingness to pay more for improved animal welfare is in reality sometimes not put into practice. While consumers are more conscious about their food and where it has come from, many still do not use their beliefs within the decision making process.

This new research also reveals that consumers know very little about the supply chain, and in particular they are deliberately ignorant of anything that happens between slaughter and consumption. The only area that consumers do know – and want to know about – is the rearing and living stage prior to slaughter. By feeling that animals have been treated well at this stage, it helps to alleviate the guilt that consumers feel about consumption. This, in turn, drives the demand for higher welfare foods:

[Here's a nice money quote:]

“Higher welfare is about making sure that they can run around, and have a nice life before we

eat them!” Leicester,Mixed Gender, Empty nesters, (BC1)

This raises a conundrum I haven’t been able to solve. Normatively, I want consumers to confront the ugly truth about meat manufacturing, but descriptively, I have no idea how to accomplish this–if consumers aren’t interested, there are very few ways to force them to care. The best I’ve come up with is putting a picture of Bessie on every package of meat containing Bessie, but I don’t think that really hits the nail on the head.