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What’s the Consumers’ Appetite for Animal Welfare Costs?

The ASPCA is increasing its focus on food animal issues with a new promotion called “Shop With Your Heart” — a program to educate consumers on animal welfare-related product labels and encourage shoppers to seek out products that carry third-party verified certifications. The organization says its research shows consumers are willing to pay higher prices for such products.

A nationwide survey was commissioned in advance of the program’s launch. More than two-thirds of the people polled by ASPCA said they are likely to buy meat, eggs and dairy products bearing a welfare certification label even if it meant paying a higher price. A report this week from Marketplace.org doesn’t discuss certification labels but sheds some light on how much consumers are willing to pay when it comes to animal housing.

Despite the wave of companies moving to cage-free eggs, Marketplace reports they aren’t selling very well. An Urner Barry analyst says cage-free eggs sold well last year when they were similarly priced to conventional eggs due to a shortage caused by a massive bird flu outbreak. Now that egg production is back to normal, prices have dropped significantly and cage-free egg sales are suffering.

A spokesman for Big Dutchman, a leading cage-free housing manufacturer, tells Marketplace some producers have delayed or canceled their orders for cage-free equipment as they try to determine if the investment is worth the cost.

Science tells us that no single egg-layer housing system is better than others when it comes to animal welfare. The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply conducted thorough research and concluded there are benefits and trade-offs associated with different housing systems. CFI believes that truly sustainable production systems must be ethically grounded, scientifically verified and economically viable.

Whether eggs come from conventional cage, free-range or enriched colony systems, consumers should be confident that eggs are safe, wholesome and that animals are treated humanely. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

CFI’s annual survey of consumers shows more than half the respondents strongly agree with the statement, “If farm animals are treated decently and humanely, I have no problem consuming meat, milk and eggs.” But only one in four strongly agree that, “U.S. meat is derived from humanely-treated animals.”

See the challenge?

Everyone in the food system needs to embrace this consumer skepticism and increase their commitment to transparency. As we increase both the distance most consumers have from food production and the level of technology used in food production we have to dramatically improve our ability and commitment to build trust. People need to take up the cause within their organizations and become champions for greater transparency, realizing it will ultimately enhance consumer trust.