16 November 2001

Survey reveals welfare is a consumer concern

By Marianne Curtis

RECENT surveys conducted by RSPCAs Freedom Food show an increase in consumer concerns about animal welfare since foot-and-mouth.

But 85% of consumers would be worried if British livestock production was replaced by imports.

Speaking at the National Sheep Association conference held in Malvern, Worcs, last week, RSPCA head of farm animals, Martin Potter, said establishing support from consumers was essential for the future of UK agriculture. "This has been neglected in the post-war period.

"Modern consumers have cheap, plentiful and secure food, so are more likely to question how it is produced. Most also live in cities, having no contact with farming, making them more vulnerable to misleading media stories, such as the recent BBC Watchdog criticism of Freedom Food."

Despite this, the sheep industry was positively perceived by consumers, said Mr Potter. "Sheep are regarded as being produced in the best welfare conditions and having a high quality of life."

Recent surveys conducted by pollsters, such as Gallup, on behalf of RSPCAs Freedom Food company showed that welfare falls behind quality, price, taste and safety when customers decided to buy animal products. But the proportion concerned about animal welfare had increased since F&M, said Mr Potter.

"When asked whether animal welfare was more important to them after the F&M crisis, 60% of respondents said yes. More than half of consumers were also prepared to pay 10-15% more for meat reared to high welfare standards."

But it was often difficult for customers to identify such products as labels were confusing, he added. "Supermarkets confuse customers with labelling to retain purchasing and marketing flexibility."

Despite a reported increase in consumer welfare concerns, many remained supportive of British livestock production, says Mr Potter. "When asked about difficulties facing farmers, consumers placed supermarkets and importation of meat from abroad, where standards are lower than in the UK, top of a list of five."

Although 85% of consumers said they would be concerned if UK livestock production disappeared to be replaced by imports, 72% believed they had no influence over the future of British livestock farming.

"Consumers are so removed from livestock production, many believe they have no influence on its future either through eating habits or product choice when shopping. There is a big educational job to do." &#42

Consumers believe sheep are produced in the best welfare conditions, says Martin Potter (inset).

RSPCA SURVEY

&#8226 Supports UK livestock production.

&#8226 Must educate consumers.

&#8226 F&M welfare concerns.