Information Availability and Lab-Grown Meat Acceptance
Lab-grown meat (also known as “clean” or “cell-based” meat) is muscle tissue that has been grown artificially from stem cells taken from cows, chickens, pigs, or fish. This type of meat production may provide an alternative to traditional animal agriculture. While it’s still not commercially available, such meat has been slow to catch on in the hearts and minds of consumers, likely due to concerns stemming from disgust or perception of danger. To investigate the effect of information availability on consumer hesitance to try lab-grown meat, the authors of this study conducted an experiment that included both a survey component and a tasting component.
A group of 193 participants representative of the overall Dutch population was recruited to participate in this study. A few days before the study began, each participant filled out a pre-experiment questionnaire about their perspectives on animal welfare, food safety, and environmental concerns. At the beginning of the experiment, participants were provided with another questionnaire that focused on their acceptance of lab-grown meat. The acceptance score was calculated from each participant’s responses to questions relating to willingness to support, taste, buy, and replace traditional meat in their diet with lab-grown meat.
Participants were then divided into three groups, each of which received information belonging to one of three categories: societal benefits (group 1), personal benefits (group 2), or meat quality and taste (group 3). Group 1 was informed that lab-grown meat requires less land, water, and energy to produce than traditional meat. Group 2 was informed that lab-grown meat contains no artificial hormones or antibiotics and that fat composition in lab-grown meat can be composed as desired. Finally, group 3 was informed that lab-grown meat has the same consistency, smell, and taste as traditional meat.
After each group received information, participants repeated the acceptance questionnaire. They were then allowed to taste two samples of cooked meat, one labeled as “conventional” and the other labeled as “cultured.” In reality, both samples were cooked conventional hamburger. The participants then repeated the acceptance questionnaire for a third time.
Based on the results of the questionnaires, the researchers determined that acceptance of lab-grown meat significantly increased after participants received information from any of the three categories. The largest increase in acceptance occurred in the group that received information on the personal benefits of lab-grown meat (group 2). Additionally, the researchers found that acceptance levels in participants generally increased after tasting the “cultured” hamburger. Participants stated that they were willing to pay, on average, 37% more for lab-grown meat. The researchers also found that more-educated individuals were more likely to accept lab-grown meat, and that older individuals were less likely to accept lab-grown meat.
Lab-grown meat is a potential alternative to traditional meat produced in feedlots or factory farms. Although the public has been initially hesitant to accept this new technology, this study found that allowing people to try alleged lab-grown meat and educating them on its benefits increases acceptance levels. Moving forward, lab-grown meat may provide an avenue through which the environmental costs of traditional animal agriculture can be reduced. Animal advocates can use studies like this to better understand how to advocate for this new food product among the general public.