Only a small percentage of U.S. beef consumers changed their buying habits after December’s Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy-positive case in Washington, according to a recent national survey from Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. The study also suggests that consumers put a high importance on BSE — or mad cow — testing of beef in the food supply compared to the emphasis they place on other traits – price, natural or grass-fed beef and traceability of the product through the food supply system.
The study, which confirmed that consumer confidence in the food supply remained high in 2004, found that only 22 percent of a survey population said that they changed their beef purchase behavior after the BSE-positive case. One-third of these respondents eventually returned to their pervious purchasing behavior and confidence level in the U. S beef supply.
The majority of respondents noted that their primary behavior change was to buy different types of beef, such as different cuts of meat or different brands, and another group said they purchased less beef. A very small group of consumers noted that the one incident led them to purchase directly from producers or from natural and organic producers, signaling potential market growth to producers pursuing such niches. Still other respondents reported purchasing more beef than before because of lower prices, and a third of all consumers said they had not changed their behavior at all and some respondents resumed their earlier purchase habits after the initial BSE scare had passed.
"The impact on beef purchases in the United States following the December BSE-positive cow was lower than the impact that other countries have experienced. However, this was one isolated incident. Still, the results of the survey do suggest that the consumers believe that the U.S. Department of Agriculture handled the December case well, and a very small minority have concerns with regulatory and testing policies, a testament to the credibility USDA has with consumers," said Dawn Thilmany, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension economist. "The survey also shows that consumers highly value BSE testing, which could suggest that increased testing may be cost effective in some consumers’ opinions, but information on willingness to pay higher prices for beef tested for BSE is not yet available."
Full text of the study, along with details about consumer’s responses to the survey, can be found at http://dare.agsci.colostate.edu/csuagecon/extension/docs/agmarketing/amr04-01.pdf.