Animal Welfare Quality And Taste Perceptions Of Pig Products
The importance of how foods taste often gets left out of discussions about ethical food choices. The taste of meat – and the taste of potential veg*n replacements for meat – can be a determining factor in individuals’ food purchasing and eating behavior, even more so than ethics. Recent studies are deepening our understanding of this phenomena. For example, here at Faunalytics we’ve covered studies about the link between sensory appeal and reduced meat consumption. However, taste is subjective, and new research is exploring how knowledge about animals’ treatment on farms influences peoples’ perceived taste of meat. This study looked at how pig welfare influences consumers’ perception of the quality of pork products. It also asked consumers to assess whether they feel a responsibility to influence animal welfare through their purchasing and eating behaviors.
The study involved 12 focus groups in three countries (four each in Denmark, Sweden and England) that consisted of individuals who were not particularly knowledgeable about or directly involved in animal agriculture. On some occasions, people in the focus groups showed a “great concern” for animal welfare issues and likewise expressed guilt and frustration about their own eating habits. This is sometimes referred to as the “attitude-behavior gap.” Interestingly, there were some national differences in whether people believed it is their responsibility to influence animal welfare through their purchasing decisions. Swedish consumers believe it is important to act is ways that will influence animal welfare. Danes believe that they should take action but also believe paying a premium price for animal-welfare friendly products may not actually raise the standards of welfare in production systems. English consumers, on the other hand, express little concern over how their buying and consumption behaviors impact animal welfare.
Looking deeper, the interviews also reveal that animal welfare is “a cue for other meat qualities” such as food safety, high price, and eating quality. Again, there were regional differences. For Danes and Swedes, welfare was linked to qualities such as organic status and country of origin. For the English groups, animal welfare was mainly linked to eating quality, with English consumers showing a strong preference for buying premium products that offer a better taste.
While animal advocates may rightly take issue with linking animal welfare to the taste or quality of meat products, this study shows that the perception of animal welfare and what it means for consumers can vary greatly, even from nation to nation. On a practical level, animal advocates should consider a discussion about the link between animal welfare and meat quality as a springboard for deeper discussion about the ethics of meat consumption.