A new survey of U.S. consumers shows shoppers want food suppliers to be audited by independent third parties to ensure animals are humanely cared for. The survey provides insight for food companies and retailers on the increasing demands of consumers today and their growing desire to buy sustainable, ethical food products.
Lake Research Partners carried out the online survey of 1,000 adult U.S. consumers on behalf of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Seventy-eight percent of survey participants said they believe an objective inspector should be checking on the welfare of animals on farms and certify that they are being treated humanely.
Consumers also are interested in having more welfare-certified products available at grocery stores and said they would be willing to pay more for products that meet a higher standard of animal welfare, according to the survey. Seventy-five percent of survey participants said they specifically wanted stores to carry more welfare-certified eggs, meat and dairy products. Additionally, 67% said they would purchase welfare-certified products even if the price of the product were modestly higher. When dining out, the majority of consumers said they would pay up to $5 more an entree if the food contained welfare-certified animal products.
For food producers and farmers to gain welfare certification, they must meet a set of standards. To receive an Animal Welfare Approved certification — a U.S. Department of Agriculture- approved third-party certification label — farmers must provide pasture access for all animals, for instance. Inhumane treatment of animals such as tail docking of pigs and cattle and beak trimming of poultry is prohibited under the certification.
The USDA provides information on its website on how food companies and farmers can partake in third-party animal welfare audits and receive certain certifications. The agency points out that at the moment, animal welfare guidelines are provided through voluntary third-party audits “rather than legislation,” and that most livestock production industries in the U.S. have developed welfare guidelines in response to consumer concerns over humane treatment of animals. While farmers and food companies may attract more customers by becoming certified in animal welfare, the auditing involved requires financial and human resources.
As consumers increasingly demand higher standards for the food products they buy as well as a higher level of transparency into what goes into those products, some companies and food retailers are taking note. Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods, for example, recently pointed out how animal welfare information is the next big food labeling issue to hit the market. Robb said consumer demands are shifting from ingredient-based transparency to a systems-based transparency, according to Consumer Reports.
The Lake Research Partners/ASPCA survey stated 77% of consumers say they are concerned about the welfare of farm animals and 69% said they pay attention to food labels regarding how the food company raised its animals. And, more consumers are paying attention to this information than in the past — 74% of consumers surveyed said they look for animal welfare information on labels more so today than they did five years ago.