Welfare Changes Are Great, But Are Consumers Buying It?
While we’d all like to make the most ethical decisions possible, the real world sometimes forces us to make tradeoffs. Ethical goods are often more strictly regulated, or are a product of smaller-scale production, which drives up costs beyond their less-scrupulous competitors. Are we truly willing to put our money where our mouth is? This study surveyed 1000 U.S. consumers to determine their willingness to pay for animal products that are certified to come from higher-welfare sources, as well as their general attitudes towards animal welfare in agriculture.
Roughly half of respondents were male, had a college degree, and/or had a household income under $50,000. Around three-quarters of participants reported buying eggs, dairy, or meat more than once per month. Around 80% of participants reported being either “somewhat concerned” or “very concerned” with the welfare of the animals used for their food.
When asked about support for specific welfare-promoting practices, higher importance was placed on giving animals more space/less confinement than providing pain control when conducting procedures, though both areas were supported by the vast majority of respondents. Roughly 80% of people supported government or independent third-party regulations, compared to the 50% or so that trusted producers to self-regulate. Egg and dairy industries were slightly more trusted than cow, chicken, or pig producers. The majority of consumers report checking product labels for welfare certifications, and the vast majority say that they pay more attention to these labels than they did five years ago. Three-quarters of participants say that knowing an animal was raised without antibiotics and did not suffer is important in their decision-making.
Around 70% of participants said that they’d be willing to pay extra for products that met welfare requirements, but this percentage predictably declined as the price increased. The weighted average price increases consumers were willing to tolerate were $0.79 for eggs, and $0.96 for 1lb of chicken breast. Around 60% also stated that they would be willing to pay an extra $5 or more per entrée at a restaurant that purchased from more humane sources. Participants were evenly split between choosing to pay these increased prices and simply eating less animal-sourced foods. Women reported a higher level of concern for animals used for food, but genders were approximately equal in their willingness to pay extra. Increased income, unsurprisingly, was associated with a higher threshold for more humane products.
For animal advocates, this is mixed news. On the one hand, it’s unequivocally a good thing that more people are paying attention to the ethics of their food and are demanding more transparency and accountability from the industry. However, people are divided on whether to pay more for ethical certification or to simply consume fewer animal products — the latter of which is, of course, a great outcome. Animal advocates should adopt a two-pronged approach: advocating for stricter, independent verification of humane standards on farms while also raising awareness of the unavoidable unethical actions that animal agriculture requires. The transition to a less-cruel society will be a gradual one, and it begins with a population that demands things be done differently, which this study suggests is happening.