Public interest in beef cattle welfare is growing in the U.S. Acknowledging that significant knowledge gaps exist, a team composed of faculty and graduate students at Kansas State University and Michigan State University are collaborating with BEEF magazine in a project focused on beef cattle welfare issues.
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Producer vs. consumer
The USDA-funded project is ongoing, and includes surveys of both beef cow-calf producers and the general public to document perceptions from both the consumer and producer perspectives. This article highlights some preliminary findings.
In December 2013, a nationally representative survey of 2,000 U.S. residents was conducted. At the same time, emails were sent to 15,202 BEEF magazine subscribers requesting they complete a parallel cow-calf-oriented survey. In this article, we present the base differences in some example perceptions uncovered by these preliminary assessments.
One question asked of both producers and consumers was, “What percentage chance do you believe the typical U.S. beef product comes from ___,” where 11 different practices and topics were examined. Tables 1 and 2 summarize producer and consumer responses to these questions.
One trend across all 11 questions that emerges is that members of the public are much more likely to indicate they don’t know the prevalence of industry practices than are beef producers. This isn’t surprising, but it reinforces the notion that there’s a need for ongoing educational efforts to raise basic awareness of production practices within the general public, and to engage more broadly in additional “this is how beef is produced” discussions.
Production vs. operation size
USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates that in 2012, 45% of cattle inventory came from beef-cow operations of fewer than 100 head. Comparing this to producer and consumer survey responses indicates that neither group is aware of the current relationship between volume of production and operation size patterns of the industry.
The public thinks a smaller portion of beef products comes from operations of fewer than 100 cows than USDA estimates. Meanwhile, producers tend to overestimate the portion of production derived from operations of fewer than 100 cows.
A broad question of interest in this project is how subjective perception of “overall care for the well-being” of beef cattle varies between the public and producers. Table 1 suggests the vast majority of producers think most beef products come from operations providing appropriate overall care. Table 2 indicates varied views by the public.
Considering answers only from survey participants providing a response (omitting “Don’t know” responses) reveals that, overall, the public is about evenly split, with 46% (54%) indicating less (more) than half of beef products come from operations providing appropriate overall care. Tables 1 and 2 provide additional detail on specific production practices examined that collectively lead to this broader difference in perceptions.
In coming months, information from a parallel mail-based survey of producers will be added to our broader data set of information. Subsequently, a host of additional and deeper analyses will be conducted. Ultimately, corresponding fact sheets and related results summaries will be disseminated, highlighting the key implications.
Glynn Tonsor is a Kansas State University (KSU) agricultural economist, Christopher Wolf is a Michigan State University ag economist, and Melissa McKendree is a KSU graduate student.
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