Know your customer: Ethical Consumerism & the Livestock Industry

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By Melissa Beck, Editor

Can we shop our way to a better world? This seems to be the underlying ethos of the ethical consumerism movement. Have you never heard this term? Well, you not alone, I missed it somehow too. Ethical consumerism is voting for social causes, or in some cases voting against social norms with your consumer dollar.

The “ethical consumer” is looking for information to support their purchasing decisions. They want to spend money on goods and services they deem ‘socially responsible’ or ‘ethical’. They base their purchases on perceived values such as food safety and quality, the environment, animal care and welfare (which ranks fairly high on their list), price, taste etc. In short, they make purchases that make them feel good about themselves. They are a growing segment of our consumer base.

Information Gap

Where are they getting their information as to what is ethical in animal agriculture? In a study from Purdue University, (McKendree, 56 percent of consumers reported that they do not have a source for animal welfare information. Close to 20 percent are getting their information about animal welfare from animal activist groups (namely HSUS and PETA). Only 20 percent are getting information from reputable sources like Universities, State or Federal agencies, or agriculture industry groups. Clearly there is work to be done for those of us involved animal agriculture in terms of telling our story and educating the ethical consumer. We have an opportunity in 56 percent of the market share to tell the truth about our animal well-being practices.

Ethical Consumers

Who is the ethical consumer? Based on the above mentioned Purdue study, only 4 percent considered themselves to be vegetarian and 2 percent vegan. So right away we see and area of opportunity for the livestock industry, because the majority of ethical consumers eat meat, eggs, and dairy.

According to Candace Croney, Purdue University, the ethical consumers who identifies with a high level of concern over animal welfare are mostly women, and younger, ranging in age from 25-44, as well as low-income (household incomes of 20,000-59,000).

Another interesting development is that concern about animal welfare is gaining in priority over concern about price. This is the first time this trend has been identified.

What can we do?

Who’s going to fill that gap in reliable information about animal well-being in animal agriculture? It should be us. The boots-on-the-ground producers in animal agriculture. The Purdue study noted that 75 percent of participants hadn’t visited a farm with animals in the past five years. If their only image of what goes on in a livestock operation come from hit-jobs set up by HSUS or PETA, it’s no wonder they are concerned. One place to start is our online presence. We should make our websites more user friendly, present our information in a way our consumers can understand and relate to, and frame our stories in terms of our commitment to social responsibility.

Some of my friends in the industry are doing their part. You may have heard of Dairy Carrie, who farms as Carrie Mess in Wisconsin. I have another friend, Susan Anglin of the Spotted Cow Review, a dairy farmer from Arkansas who allows people to come to her dairy farm to see how they take care of their animals. Another good example is my friend Dr. Janeal Yancey, University of Arkansas, who has the Mom at the Meat Counter blog and conducts ‘Moms on the Farm’ tours annually.

Dairy Carrie once asked a group of Ag Women “Who’s going to tell your story?” I say it should be us. Here is an opportunity, what are we going to do about it?

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