Shaping Cultured Meat Attitudes Through Imagery
Cultured meat, or meat grown from animal stem cells, may make it possible for consumers to enjoy animal products without the need for cruel and unsustainable factory farming practices. But even if the technical challenges of producing cheap cultured meat are solved, these products will not be able to replace factory-farmed meat without widespread acceptance by consumers.
Portrayals of cultured meat in the media can do a lot to help (or hurt) its reputation with the general public. This study by ProVeg International looks at how consumer impressions of cultured meat are impacted by different framings in the media. Specifically, the study focuses on whether images of cultured meat associate it with its origins in scientific labs or its end use as a food. The authors surveyed 750 consumers in the U.K., who were presented with either lab-based images of cultured meat, food-based images, or both. Participants were then asked about their impressions of the products in question.
The study’s headline finding is that attitudes towards cultured meat are more positive when consumers are presented with food-based images than lab-based ones. But respondents reported seeing lab-based images in the media more frequently than food-based images, and they felt that lab-oriented images were more representative of these products. This suggests that those in the media who want to promote acceptance of cultured meat should make an effort to include more food-based photos.
Participants who saw food-based images also rated cultured meat as tastier, more nutritious, more appealing, and more affordable than those who saw lab-based images. Oddly, though, those who saw lab-based images tended to view cultured meat as more healthy than those who saw food-based images. The study authors point out that the group viewing food-based photos saw photos of burgers and nuggets, which are not typically considered healthy foods. The lab-based photos, on the other hand, may not be as strongly associated with unhealthy foods.
Participants also responded to a number of other relevant questions. The vast majority either knew nothing about cultured meat or had incorrect impressions about what it is. Additionally, 90% of participants had neither a positive nor negative impression of cultured meat. Most participants said they were likely to try cultured meat, regardless of which images they were shown, and around 40% of both groups said they would be likely to replace factory-farmed meat with cultured meat. This suggests that the public is open to being educated about the benefits of replacing conventional animal products with cultured meat. The study authors say it is “remarkable” for a novel food to enjoy such widespread interest.
Study participants were also asked about their dietary lifestyles. About half of the respondents were omnivores and 40% were “flexitarian” (omnivorous but interested in reducing animal consumption), while vegetarians, pescetarians, and vegans each accounted for less than 5% of respondents. Clear differences were observed in the responses of participants with different diets. For example, “flexitarians” had the best understanding of cultured meat, though vegans were the most likely to report having seen coverage of it in the media. Omnivores knew the least about cultured meat by a substantial margin.
As a result of this study’s findings, ProVeg now recommends associating cultured meat with food rather than laboratories in communications with the general public. One source is this database of images collected by the Good Food Institute. The study also stresses the importance of ongoing public education about cultured meat, since it appears that most consumers know little about it. There are still plenty of technical hurdles that the cultured meat industry must overcome before it can reach mass markets, but advocacy organizations can help pave a path to widespread acceptance by running effective and accurate educational campaigns.