A recent Colorado State University study indicates that the majority of consumers want meat to be labeled with the country in which it was produced. The study also indicates that a majority of consumers are willing to pay a higher price for meats with that information.
The study, which involved about 275 consumers in Denver and Chicago, indicates that 73 percent of the public is willing to pay more for meat products that are labeled with a country of origin. Country-of-origin labels will be fully implemented into the United States’ food supply chain in the fall of 2004 after the U.S. Department of Agriculture made such labels mandatory in a bill that passed last year.
"This study is significant because it measures, for the first time, if the public wants these labels enough to pay a premium for them," said Wendy Umberger, Colorado State University Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics assistant professor and Cooperative Extension specialist. "About 70 percent of the people who participated in the study also indicated that they’d pay about 19 percent extra for meat with a label guaranteeing it is from the United States."
Country-of-origin labels have been at the center of some controversy within the United States for several years. The implementation of the labels is designed to provide consumers with information about the origin of their food. Consumers in the study said that the labels would allow them to choose meats produced in the United States for food safety reasons as well as provide them with information that allows them to support local economies. The majority of consumers in the study also indicated that they believe meat from the United States is of higher quality.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture strictly regulates meat production and processing within the United States, but imported meats may not meet internal production standards. Meat products produced in some countries are subject to food safety and health-related concerns, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. For example, England has been forbidden from exporting meat into the United States for years, which has allowed the U.S. meat supply to remain free of the disease.
Country-of-origin labels became mandatory with the 2002 Farm Bill. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the implementation of the labels will cost up to $2 billion, but it is unknown how those costs will be distributed.
"This research doesn’t address whether or not consumers will support a high enough premium on products to pay for the implementation of labels and the supporting systems that will need to be in place to certify and trace meat from ranches to grocery stores," cautions Umberger.
The study was conducted with Dillon Feuz, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Chris Calkins, professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, both from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
A full copy of the study is available online at http://dare.agsci.colostate.edu/extension/cool.pdf.