More than half of U.S. consumers (58%) are more concerned about food animal welfare now than they were just a few years ago, according to a recent report, “Animal Welfare: Issues & Opportunities in the Meat, Poultry & Egg Markets in the U.S.” In the report, by market research firm Packaged Facts, "animal welfare" encompasses key areas that include housing, handling, feeding and slaughter.
Packaged Facts said the rising interest in animal welfare issues is due, in part, to consumers' increased concern about the safety of their food and the growing belief that if an animal is raised in healthy circumstances, then its meat and dairy products will be healthier and also better-tasting and more nutritious.
“Although the common assumption that organic standards currently include animal welfare provisions is a misconception, organic foods such as grass-fed beef succeed precisely because of the consumer assumption that organic certification in meat, poultry and dairy case foods is inherently linked to animal welfare,” the report explained.
The research also showed that consumers have different levels of understanding and trust when it comes to product claims associated with animal welfare. Packaged Facts survey data revealed that 19% of consumers have only a general idea of what the term "grass-fed" means, while another 19% reported that they don't have a good idea of what the term "certified humane" means.
Only 33% of grocery shoppers view themselves as well informed about claims such as hormone/steroid/antibiotic-free, cage-free, free-range, pasture-raised and certified humane. However, nearly two-thirds of consumers agree that humane treatment of animals raised for food should be a societal concern and a regulatory issue.
As a result of the rising consumer interest, the firm said food companies spanning the production and delivery spectrum have been taking steps to improve the quality of life of the animals in their supply chains.
“Animal welfare organizations supported by consumers have been a driving force for change, though the decision to improve animal welfare is ultimately left to the individual company, whose response is often grounded in the desire to be competitive in a changing marketplace and proactively responsive to emerging trends,” the report noted.
Despite consumers' varying levels of understanding regarding the relationships between organic foods and animal welfare standards, new standards are being shaped by next-generation consumer expectations, the firm said.