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U.S. consumers increasingly back animal welfare labels.

More than 60 percent of U.S. consumers favor mandatory welfare labeling on meat and eggs, and many would be willing to pay extra for higher welfare products, according to a new study.

When questioned, 61.7 percent of survey respondents indicated they favored mandatory labeling of pork produced on farms using gestation crates and stalls, and 62 percent said they were in favor of such labeling of eggs produced using laying hen cages.

"The analysis suggests there may be significant support by consumers for mandatory labeling of production practices impacting animal welfare," said Kansas State University assistant professor Glynn Tonsor who, along with Michigan State University professor Christopher Wolf, conducted the study.

The use of gestation crates and stalls for swine, as well as laying hen cages for chickens, has been heavily criticized by some groups for being too restrictive for the animals, said Tonsor. In some states, such concerns have resulted in citizen petitions and legislative bills that establish space and/or movement requirements for sows and/or laying hens.

The typical U.S. consumer--one who favors mandatory labeling--was estimated to be willing to pay 20 percent higher prices for pork and egg products in exchange for mandatory labeling information conveying the use--or lack thereof--of gestation crates/stalls or laying hen cages.

However, the authors believe that the 20 percent estimate may overstate actual demand and note more work is needed before any policy discussions get underway. Among the most pressing issues is the need for a cost-cost assessment, Tonsor said.

"This study raises more questions than it answers, which is a consistent with the current state of knowledge regarding animal welfare concerns and associated changes in the livestock industry," he noted.

"Much research remains that would further improve our understanding of underlying demand for farm animal well-being, the implications for livestock producers, and the ultimate appropriateness of alternative regulatory activity in setting standards for the treatment of farm animals and the provision of such information to the general public."
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Publication:The Food & Fiber Letter
Date:Aug 8, 2011
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