Perceptions, Attitudes, Interests And Concerns About Clean Meat
Plant-based or clean meat alternatives to animal protein are being hailed as potential saviors of the environment, and can – if widely adopted – reduce the suffering of millions of animals. What’s more, previous studies, including our Faunalytics study of clean meat and consumer acceptance, have shown that people are willing to try cultured meat and incorporate it into their daily lives. This study explores the attitudes of perhaps the most important group of people to adopt clean meat: current meat-eaters.
In the study, participants from the U.K., Portugal, and Belgium took part in focus group discussions (109 people) or online discussions (174 people). Both groups were shown a two-minute video called “Would you eat synthetic meat?” produced by the Royal Institution of Australia, and asked to comment on the video as it progressed. The age range and gender distribution of the participants was normal and both the online and focus groups had similar reactions to cultured meat. None of those taking part in the study had heard about cultured meat or clean meat before. It’s important to note that the study was conducted one year before the unveiling of the first cultured hamburger to the public in 2013.
The initial reactions were of shock, disgust, and fear of consuming a “frightening” or “weird” product, which was most strongly perceived as “unnatural”. For some participants, the fact that cultured meat is created in a Petri dish led to feelings that it was “against nature” and “revolting”. One person stated: “I associate this to cloning, mutation, bottom-line to genetic manipulation because it’s meat production in an abnormal manner.” Another participant referred to how meat-eating was natural: “We are eating meat from prehistory and now we might replace it with something else, something not natural.” Rejection of clean meat and its perception of being unnatural was highest among participants from the U.K.
Most participants did not express an interest in trying cultured meat because they thought it would not taste the same as meat, it would be unhealthy, or it could be even dangerous to consume. Only a small number of participants said they would eat it if it tasted similar to meat and had a similar or a lower sale price. Those who expressed strong disgust were not interested in the benefits of the product to society and some could not continue to watch the video to the end. Upon evaluation, some participants did acknowledge that cultured meat could benefit society by potentially solving food shortages, reducing carbon emissions, and ending animal suffering.
Fears about cultured meat also included concerns about its healthiness and nutritional content. Some participants were worried whether cultured meat could be produced safely, were skeptical about the science behind it, and wanted strict regulations and safety testing before it would be put on sale. Others accepted cultured meat as part of humanity’s scientific and technological progress and that it could contribute to environmental sustainability. Overall, most study participants expressed concern over how cultured meat production could be a risk to the environment and society (for example, the end of rural landscapes and traditional farming).
The study demonstrates how cultured meat as an unknown, new technology can be seen as frightening by meat consumers. The participants here showed that they viewed animal farming and normal meat production as “natural”, whereas the technology required to produce cultured meat was seen as “abnormal” or “unnatural”.
Of course, much has changed since 2013. Cultured meat is now most often referred to as clean meat, and the production process at scale will not involve Petri dishes. Animal advocates should look to this and more current research to assess how opinions around the subject have progressed forward (or not), and to advance their educational advocacy. Both this study and our recent research at Faunalytics demonstrate that we should develop a strategy highlighting the “unnatural” aspects of normal meat production to improve acceptance of clean meat and the methods used to produce it.