What was traditionally important to consumers when choosing meat – health, safety and taste – is increasingly vying with social, ethical and moral factors, according to the study carried out by Teagasc, Ireland’s agriculture and food development authority.
Researchers from Teagasc questioned 251 consumers across the Republic of Ireland on their behaviour, beliefs and perceptions when buying and eating meat.
They found that Irish meat-eaters are increasingly looking at food labels for information on farm-level production practices as an indicator of quality. This could be a label to indicate free-range enclosures, high welfare standards, the use of organic feed or the absence of hormones and antibiotics during the animal rearing.
Lead author, Dr Áine Regan in Teagasc’s department of agri-food business and spatial analysis said these had become priorities for a “far from […] niche” number of people.
Consumers are 'concerned citizens'
“The study identified that around a third of the study sample could be grouped into a segment of consumers who placed a high priority on the link between these four production practices and meat quality.”
This perception of quality also translates into a willingness to pay more. “This indicates that consumers are not just supportive of animal welfare from a ‘concerned citizen’ perspective; rather, they consider these dimensions as attractive product attributes that influence their assessments of meat quality and are likely to influence their purchasing decisions,” the authors write.
The body suggests that “new forms of engagement and communication” are needed to inform the consumer on animal welfare issues and connect consumers directly with primary producers.
“The consumer’s definition of ‘quality’ is constantly being re-evaluated and redefined,” Regan said. “This has important implications for quality assurance schemes and highlights the need for continuous development of these schemes to align with consumers’ needs and values."
Source: Irish Journal of Agricultural and Food Research
“Ethical, moral and social dimensions in farm production practices: a segmentation study to assess Irish consumers’ perceptions of meat quality”
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1515/ijafr-2018-0002 (2018)
Authors: Regan, Á., Henchion, M. and McIntyre, B.