Stemming The Rise Of Pig Consumption In China
China is the biggest consumer of pig products (“pork”) in the world. However, recent safety incidents involving tainted pork have left Chinese consumers with a high level of uncertainty and mistrust regarding the health and safety of pork. This paper, published in Meat Science, sought to determine the impact of information about the benefits and risks of eating pork on Chinese consumers’ attitudes and intentions.
The authors surveyed approximately 900 consumers before and after they were exposed to one of three messages: a positive message extolling the potential health benefits of pork, a negative message about potential human health risks associated with hormones and additives, and a “neutral” message containing text from both the positive and negative messages. In order to evaluate perceived credibility of sources, each message was labelled as originating from the government, a research institution, or the pork industry.
Results showed that participants who received the negative message reported significant negative changes in regards to perception of nutritional value, health and safety, and the price of pork. Those who received the positive message reported significant positive changes in regards to perception of health and safety only. And those who received the neutral message reported significant negative changes in regards to nutritional value. Interestingly, all three groups reported a decrease in intended frequency to consume pork, and those exposed to negative message showed the greatest decrease, at nearly 30%. As far as sources, the perceived credibility of the messages originating from the government and research institutes was rated significantly higher than those from the pork industry.
To explain the overall decline in intention to eat pork, the authors suggest that the “mere exposure to information about pork triggers a kind of rational or socially desirable response in the sense of intending to reduce pork consumption.” Taking a pro-industry stance, they suggest that the government and pork industry should engage in proactive positive communication strategies about pork. But they also warn that such a strategy “needs to be backed up by far more robust hygiene and safety control on the production and processing sites.”
For animal protection advocates, the study provides encouraging evidence that information about health risks associated with meat can significantly impact perceptions and intended consumption of related meat products. Additionally, it suggests that safety incidents can have long-lasting repercussions that advocates could potentially leverage. Finally, advocates working in China should note the findings that consumers are more likely to trust information associated with research institutions and that negative changes in perceptions of nutritional value and health were stronger among female than among male participants.