When consumers hear about farmed animal welfare reforms, such as McDonald’s commitment to using only cage-free eggs or California’s Prop 2 ballot measure banning cages and crates for farmed animals, does it make them inclined to eat animal products more or less often?
Two previous studies examined the relationship between media coverage of animal welfare issues and large-scale demand for animal products.
The first study, carried out by agricultural economist Jayson Lusk in 2010, found that media coverage of the Prop 2 ballot initiative in California, which banned battery cages for egg-laying hens among other things, did not change overall demand for eggs. It did, however, significantly increase the demand for cage-free eggs and decrease the demand for conventional eggs from caged hens.
The second study, conducted by agricultural economists Glynn Tonsor and Nicole Olynk, also in 2010, found that media coverage relating to pig and chicken welfare (including coverage of legislative and corporate policy initiatives and undercover investigations) decreased the demand for pork and poultry over a 10-year period.
Mercy For Animals recently conducted a small-scale study to determine whether and how people’s intention to eat egg and pork products changed in response to reading an article about policies and legislation aimed at improving the welfare of egg-laying hens and pigs in factory farms.
We recruited 1,600 people on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk participant recruitment platform. Participants were randomly assigned to one of six articles:
- An egg policy article that discusses the policy commitments of major companies to transition egg-laying hens in their supply chains from caged to cage-free environments
- An egg legislation article that discusses the legislation implemented by many U.S. states banning the use of barren battery cages
- A pork policy article that discusses the policy commitments of major companies to transition the pigs in their supply chains from gestation crates to crate-free environments
- A pork legislation article that discusses the legislation implemented by many U.S. states banning the use of gestation crates
- A control policy article (for eggs and pork) that discusses the policy commitments of major companies to transition from plastic bags to paper bags
- A control legislation article (for eggs and pork) that discusses the legislation implemented by many U.S. states banning the use of plastic bags
After reading the articles, participants were asked to think about the quantity of eggs or pork that they ate at the time and whether they intended to change their egg or pork consumption over the next few months. Participants who read the egg-related articles were asked about their egg consumption, and participants who read the pork-related articles were asked about their pork consumption.
We also asked participants to rate how positively or negatively they viewed the conditions in which egg-laying hens and pigs are raised.
Policy Reform Articles
Participants who read the article about the enactment of cage-free egg policies were more likely to say they intended to reduce their egg consumption than participants who read the control article, but the difference did not reach statistical significance (g = 0.12, p = 0.24, 95% CI [-0.08, 0.32]).
Similarly, participants who read about corporate policies to do away with gestation crates were more likely to say they would reduce their pork consumption than the control group participants (g = 0.18, p = 0.08, 95% CI [-0.02, 0.38]).
The overall results for the pork and egg articles indicated that participants who read articles about corporate policy changes to eliminate battery cages or gestation crates were more likely to intend to reduce their consumption of animal products than participants who read the control articles (g = 0.15, p = 0.03, 95% CI [0.01, 0.29]).
Legislative Reform Articles
We found similar results for participants who read the legislative reform articles, but the effects were even greater.
Participants who read the article about legislation banning battery cages were more likely to say they would decrease their egg consumption, and participants who read the article about legislation banning gestation crates were more likely to say they would decrease their pork consumption than participants who read the control articles (eggs: g = 0.40, p < 0.001, 95% CI [0.20, 0.60], pork: g = 0.28, p = 0.004, 95% CI [0.09, 0.48]).
Participants who read about legislative reform indicated a stronger intention to reduce their egg and pork consumption than participants who read about corporate policy reform.
Ratings of Living Conditions
When asked how good or bad the living conditions are for egg-laying hens, participants who read the corporate policy article or legislative reform article rated the living conditions more negatively than participants who read the control articles (policy: g = -0.25, p = 0.01, 95% CI [-0.45, -0.05], legislation: g = -0.46, p < 0.001, 95% CI [-0.66, -0.26]).
Similarly, participants who read the corporate policy article or the legislative reform article on gestation crates rated the living conditions for pigs more negatively than participants who read the control articles (policy: g = -0.52, p < 0.001, 95% CI [-0.72, -0.32], legislation: g = -0.51, p < 0.001, 95% CI [-0.70, -0.31]).
The results of this study suggest that reading about a corporate policy change or legislative reform that improves conditions for farmed animals makes consumers more interested in reducing their consumption of the related animal products. This finding is in line with those of Tonsor and Olynk. Together, these studies suggest that corporate policy changes and legislative reforms not only directly benefit farmed animals, but also indirectly benefit them by slightly lowering demand for the related animal products.
The results of this study could be amplified by social desirability bias, which would cause people to say they would reduce their animal product consumption or rate factory farm living conditions more negatively just because they think it’s the right thing to do. In addition, self-reported measures of intended dietary change have been found to be unreliable. Nevertheless, this study provides a good starting point upon which future research can build and improve, and is one more piece of evidence that helps us understand the impact of media concerning animal welfare reforms.