New Research Finds Vast Majority of Americans Concerned about Farm Animal Welfare, Confused by Food Labels and Willing to Pay More for Better Treatment

ASPCA launches “Shop With Your Heart,” a campaign to help consumers improve farm animals’ lives through more welfare-conscious purchases
July 7, 2016

View the new ASPCA campaign video, “Shop With Your Heart

NEW YORK—Most Americans don’t know the true meaning of food labels like “cage-free,” “free-range,” or “grass fed” and falsely believe that farm animals are protected by laws or independent oversight according to the results of a new national survey [PDF]* released today by the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®).  The survey also showed that, despite their misconceptions, approximately three quarters of consumers surveyed are concerned about the welfare of animals raised for food and are paying more attention than they were five years ago to food labels that indicate how those animals were raised.  

“Americans are increasingly concerned about the welfare of farm animals and want to make a difference when shopping for food, but are understandably confused by a number of misleading or meaningless labels,” said Daisy Freund, Director, ASPCA Farm Animal Welfare Program. “Consumers are willing to pay for more humane options but need help understanding which labels provide meaningful welfare improvements for farm animals."

Key findings of the survey:

  • There are widespread misconceptions about what common labels actually mean for animal welfare: For example, 65 percent of consumers surveyed believe the term “free-range” ensures that the animal spent most of its time in a pasture. But in reality, there is no legal definition of “free-range” for pork, beef or dairy products. On poultry products, birds must have access to the outdoors, but the size, duration and quality of that outdoor experience is not defined.
  • Consumers are confused about how animal welfare is monitored on farms: Nearly half of those surveyed believe that an independent inspector verifies the health and welfare of animals living on most farms. Actually there is no independent inspection or oversight of animal welfare on the vast majority of farms – a fact that sparked concern in three quarters of survey takers.
  • Consumers are willing to pay more for products from farms that were audited to higher welfare standards, and desire more options:  Sixty-seven percent of consumers say they are likely to buy meat, eggs and dairy products bearing a welfare certification label with meaningful standards, even if it meant paying a higher price for those products. In addition, 75 percent of consumers would like stores to carry a greater variety of welfare-certified meat, eggs and dairy.

Given consumers’ high levels of concern about animal welfare and misperceptions about common food product labels, the ASPCA today launched “Shop With Your Heart,” a new campaign to educate consumers and encourage anyone who buys meat, eggs, and dairy to seek out products that carry third-party-verified certifications including “Animal Welfare Approved,” “Certified Humane,” and “Global Animal Partnership” (Step 2 and above). The standards used by these third-party-verified programs represent a spectrum of more humane ways to raise animals – from pasture-based farming to enriched indoor environments – and farms that meet these standards offer animals significantly better lives than conditions found on conventional factory farms. “Shop With Your Heart” also encourages consumers to purchase more plant-based products.

 “Shop With Your Heart” provides comprehensive educational resources including a label guide, a list of welfare-certified and widely available plant-based brands [PDF] and certified farms across the country.

“Our goal is to help consumers help farm animals by aligning their purchases with their values,” Freund said. “We hope that consumers will vote with their wallets and show the food industry that the only sustainable business model is one that accounts for animals’ welfare.”

There are now over 9 billion land animals raised for food in the U.S. each year, the vast majority of which exist in inhumane factory-like facilities. The ASPCA Farm Animal Welfare Program is committed to directing consumers, corporations and lawmakers toward solutions that will improve these vulnerable animals’ lives.

* Lake Research Partners designed this online survey of 1,000 American adults who purchase or consume meat, eggs or dairy products, drawn from a national sample of internet users. The survey was fielded April 1-7, 2016. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 3.1%.