What do you think about slow-growth chickens? If you're like most people I've asked, your answer is probably "what the heck is a slow growth chicken?"
Food retailers, however, aren't wondering because they're being asked by animal advocacy organizations to make new commitments to only buy chicken from slower-growing birds (here is the request in the EU and here is the Humane Society of the United States on the issue).
First, what is slow growth chicken? Here's from my new paper on the topic just released by the journal Poultry Science (references omitted):
The new paper reports on the results of some surveys I conducted late last year with about 2,000 U.S. chicken consumers for a project funded by the Food Marketing Institute, the Animal Agriculture Alliance, and the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research (a fuller, un-gated report of the results is here). One of the main results is that most consumers don't know much about slow growth chickens, and as a result, positive or negative information can really sway people one way or the other.
One group of people were given no extra information. Another group of people received "pro" slow growth information from articles in NPR (as reported by Dan Charles) and the New York Times (as reported by Stephanie Strom), and yet another group of people received "anti" slow growth information from the National Chicken Council.
After receiving this information, consumers made a number of choices in a simulated retail environment showing packages of chicken breasts with different labels and prices. These choices were used to back out consumers' willingness-to-pay for the slow-growth label (at present there is no widely adopted slow-growth label, so I created one myself for use in this study). Here is the distribution of willingness-to-pay ($/lb) for slow growth and organic labels in the different information treatments.
Some of the most interesting results related to the extreme lack of knowledge people have about broiler production in general and slow-grown in particular. For example, here are some results when they were asked what they thought a variety of different labels implied.
The table shows the average beliefs about animal welfare, expense, healthfulness, safety, and taste of different labels. Without extra information, slow growth labels tended to be associated with disadvantageous beliefs. Without additional information, slow growth labels are associated with signaling the lowest safety, taste, and health of the labels considered.
Here's how I concluded the article: