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Research: Meat and dairy consumers prioritise animal welfare over sustainability
Siân Yates

Siân Yates

20 May 2024

Research: Meat and dairy consumers prioritise animal welfare over sustainability

A study led by researchers at various European universities found that the treatment of animals takes precedence over sustainability in driving consumer purchasing decisions. The research, published in the Food Quality and Preference journal, was conducted by the universities of Portsmouth and Newcastle in the UK, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, University of Córdoba in Spain, Mendel University in Czech Republic and Agroscope from Switzerland.

The research spanned across the five European countries mentioned above to identify the attributes that are most important to consumers buying meat or dairy products. A total of 3,192 participants took part in a survey, where they were asked to rate the importance of 18 different factors when shopping for meat and dairy products on a scale from 1 (not at all important) to 5 (extremely important). The factors included taste and quality attributes such as freshness, healthy eating, nutrition, price, processing, special offers, convenience of use/preparation and brand familiarity. It also considered animal welfare attributes such as whether the meat/dairy products are outdoor-reared, free range and pasture-fed, and attributes related to environmental sustainability, including whether the products were locally produced, sustainable packaging, food miles, carbon footprint, or organic, for example, and social sustainability, such as fair trade credentials or whether the producer or farmer was fairly paid. Across all surveyed countries, the findings showed that consumers consistently prioritised freshness, quality/taste and animal welfare as the most important attributes. In contrast, environmental factors such as food miles, carbon footprint and organic production were deemed less important in influencing purchasing decisions. However, sustainability labels were perceived as helpful among consumers. Study co-author Andy Jin, senior lecturer in risk management in the faculty of Business and Law at the University of Portsmouth, said: “Our study highlights the complex interplay of factors that influence consumer behaviour when buying meat and dairy products. Consumers indicated that information related to animal welfare, food safety, and health and nutrition was considered more important than environmental sustainability when making food choices.” Lin added: “The findings demonstrate the importance of labelling strategies that encompass multiple aspects of product attributes, beyond environmental considerations alone. Labels on their own are not enough to change behaviour, especially for consumers who have low or no behavioural intention to buy sustainable meat or dairy products.” “These results should be translated into additional policy measures, such as nudges or behavioural interventions, helping individuals translate their attitudes into behaviour and facilitating the choice of sustainably produced products.”

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