August FooDS - Livestock Antibiotics and Plant vs. Animal GMOs

The August 2015 edition of the Food Demand Survey (FooDS) is now out.

This month, there was a significant rise in willingness-to-pay (WTP) for all food products.  In fact, WTP for all meat products are at their highest levels since we began the survey over two years ago in May 2013.  It is unclear what is behind the price rise, but it was also matched by a rise in reported food expenditures at home and away from home.

Three new ad hoc questions were added this month.  The first was designed to test knowledge of different meat cuts, and it was suggested by David Ortega at Michigan State University.  Respondents had to match pictures of different meat cuts with the animal it came from.  By and large, consumers were able to correctly match up the cuts.  The biggest error was that 6% of people matched ham to cow.

The second question was designed to explore preferences for animal antibiotic policies being pursued by different retailers.  In particular, we asked, “A restaurant is considering different antibiotic policies related to the sourcing of their animal products. Which of the following policies would you support or oppose the restaurant implementing for the farmers who supply their animal products?”

Six statements were provided and participants to responded with "support" or "oppose." Approximately 77% of participants opposed the statement “The farmer can use antibiotics for growth promotion.” About 75% of respondents also opposed the statement ‘The farmer can use antibiotics for any purpose they deem reasonable.”

In contrast, a majority of participants supported the statements “The farmer can use antibiotics for disease prevention” and over 80% supported a policy in which “The farmer can use antibiotics to treat sick animals”.  This latter result is interesting in light of the move by many retailers' "never ever" policies regarding animal antibiotics.  

The last set of questions were designed to measured consumers support or opposition to different breeding techniques used in crop and animal agriculture.  The sample was split in two and half the respondents saw questions about crops and the other half saw questions about animals.  The following figure summarizes the results (the figure shows the wording for the crop question but the animal question was similarly worded).

In general, consumers tended to oppose all the methods mentioned.  This included traditional breeding methods.  For all issues, livestock breeding practices were less supported than crop breeding practices.  The least supported practice for both crops and livestock was transgenics - transferring genes from one species to another.  Gene editing and cysgenic technologies were only slightly more supported.  It should be noted that other research we've conducted has shown much higher levels of support if a reason (any reason) is given for why the crop breeding or genetic modification is performed.  Moreover, it may be possible that opposition to even traditional breeding methods  in this survey is a result of the wording of the question which mentioned gene movement across varieties (or breeds) and a general lack of understanding of genetic reproduction.