Natural, Humane Labels Studied
Natural and humane production methods are not distinct categories of food attributes, and a survey has shown that when promoting a meat product, the rate of return on advertising natural production methods is far greater than humane production methods.
According to North Dakota State University Extension (2006), 53% of consumers are willing to pay 10% more for “natural” beef products. Further, 33-55% of consumers are willing to pay 10% more for meat and dairy produced under “humane” conditions (Market Directions, 2004).
Food safety, nutrition, environmental production, and the humane treatment of farm animals are all important to similar degrees, according to Feedstuffs (2007), though when forced to prioritize, food safety and environment are the most important; food prices are slightly more important than farm animal welfare (Feedstuffs, 2007).
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, beef products labeled “natural” means that no artificial ingredients or added food colors are present, though consumers interpret this to mean that the animal was fed a vegetarian diet, had access to outdoors, and was not administered with hormones or antibiotics.
This study involved giving consumers choices between two products: “certified natural,” which means the cattle were fed a strictly vegetarian diet, without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones, and that the meat underwent minimum processing; and “certified humane,” which refers to ground beef products derived from cattle that were certified as raised and slaughtered under humane processes.
The results showed that consumers value a natural label much more than a humane label. In the simulated shopping exercise, they were willing to pay up to $2.24/lb. more for ground beef labeled “natural,” but only 60 cents/lb. more for ground beef that was “guaranteed humane.” Another interesting result is that the humane label had no value unless the item was also labeled natural. That is, consumers will not pay more for guaranteed humane beef unless it is also guaranteed natural.
In conclusion, there were two major findings: (1) Consumers value a “natural” label more than three times the value of a “humane” label. (2) Meat labeled “guaranteed humane” may not extract any consumer value unless it is also “guaranteed natural.”