According to Professor Lynn Frewer of Newcastle University in the UK: “There is a miss-match between the ideal and industry.”
During a presentation at the annual meeting of the Association of Poultry Processors and Poultry Trade in the EU Countries (AVEC), she informed European delegates that what people think they know about the farming industry is not the same as how business is actually conducted.
Consumers often have an idyllic version of the countryside and associate this with farming, she said, when in fact the sector is largely industrialised. Frewer’s research project - Public Perception of Genetically Modified Animals – Science, Utility and Society (Pegasus) - indicated that consumers do not always want to know about the realities of mass farming.
Public perception disconnected
“They didn’t like intensive animal production systems – on the other hand they didn’t know what they were,” she explained. “This is an example of the disconnect between how food is produced and how people think it is produced.”
It was also found that the average shopper showed more concern for animals that were not immediately associated with meat consumption, such as dairy cows and laying chickens.
“Generally, if we look at how much consumers are willing to pay for improved animal welfare, we found most willingness for dairy cows, but then laying hens, and broiler chickens scored quite high.”
Frewer explained that the majority of participants did not view intensive animal production as favourable, with human and animal health, as well as the impact it has on the environment, as major concerns. She said: “The more people expressed concern about intensive production systems, the more negative their attitudes and the less likely they were to buy products of these extensive production systems.”
However, there is an opportunity to address these misconceptions using social media, which is a key source of news for consumers. “Social media has more power than any leaflet or information website,” she said.
AVEC’s annual meeting, attended by GlobalMeatNews, took place in Helsinki on Friday, 22 September.