Posted: Thursday, October 07, 2010 12:00 PM
Increase in stories on animal welfare linked to decrease in consumer spending
By TIM HEARDEN
Media attention to animal welfare issues in the past decade has resulted in "significant, negative effects" on U.S. meat demand, a study has found.
The increased scrutiny has particularly hampered the pork and poultry industries, which have been the subject of several high-profile ballot initiatives such as California's Proposition 2 in 2008.
"This should not be interpreted as the beef industry being immune," warned researchers Glynn Tonsor of Kansas State University and Nicole Olynk of Purdue University in their September paper, "U.S. Meat Demand: The Influence of Animal Welfare Media Coverage."
"In particular, this study found increased media attention caused a reallocation of expenditures to nonmeat food rather than reallocating expenditures across competing meat products," the researchers stated in an online summary of their study.
Thus, beef, poultry and pork producers should combine their efforts to combat misconceptions about their industries, Tonsor said in an interview.
"It's a call for collaboration and not competition on this point," he said.
The scientists drew their conclusions after reviewing newspaper and magazine coverage from 1982 to 2008 and comparing it to meat demand for those years.
The number of animal welfare-related print articles, which can be an indicator of overall media trends, has increased for all three industries since 1999. The scientists found nearly 900 articles on poultry handling in 2008, the year California voters passed restrictions on confining farm animals.
Consumer demand would have been 2.65 percent higher for pork and 5.01 percent higher for poultry if media attention in the fourth quarter of 2008 was at the same level as the first quarter of 1999, the researchers assert.
The more intensive scrutiny is perhaps a result of a current "YouTube age," said Janet Riley, senior vice president of public affairs for the American Meat Association.
"We've seen a lot of very graphic videos come out from various sectors of agriculture in the last couple of years," Riley said. "I think what it tells us is we need to make sure we're explaining to consumers the things we're doing to ensure animal welfare so that there's good information out there to counterbalance some of the things that they're seeing."
The study notes that U.S. consumers are expressing an increased interest in production practices, including the treatment of farm animals used for meat, milk and eggs.
Industry groups have noticed the trend, too, and have come up with such best-practices programs as Pork Quality Assurance Plus, which certifies producers who agree to meet certain standards.
The AMI and other groups have also recently adopted aggressive public awareness campaigns to counter groups such as the Humane Society of the United States.
"They're putting out a lot of misinformation about how we raise animals and how we treat them, and some of that is starting to get beyond their membership," said Dave Warner, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council.
Until recently, producers didn't see a need to tell their story to the public, Warner said.
"That's something that's changing a little bit," he said.
U.S. Meat Demand: The Influence of Animal Welfare Media Coverage: www.agmanager.info/livestock/marketing/AnimalWelfare/MF2951.pdf
American Meat Institute: www.meatami.com
National Pork Producers Council: www.nppc.org
Pork Quality Assurance Plus: www.pqaplus.org