Study: Guilt rarely reduces consumers’ meat consumption

Healthy choices, animal welfare remain a major consideration when deciding what to eat.

Consumers that feel guilty about eating meat choose healthier approaches to preparing animal proteins over plant-based alternatives, according to a new study published in theJournal of Consumer Psychology.

“This research shows that the guilt feeling rarely reduces consumers’ meat consumption. This is because along with a wide range of benefits, meat eating is thoroughly ingrained in our culture, thus not easily given up,” Sunyee Yoon, Ph.D., lead author of the study and an assistant professor of marketing in the University at Buffalo School of Management, explained.

“Instead, consumers tend to choose a meat dish that’s prepared in a healthier way since the health benefits of meat provide a strong excuse for consuming meat.”

About the study

The research project, which was specifically focused on identifying why the rate of meat consumption has remained steady despite growing interest in animal welfare and plant-based proteins, first sought to elicit guilty feelings about meat eating in study participants.

“In this research, participants were induced to think about the animals' humanlike emotions and characteristics,” Yoon said. “When consumers face humanized animals, they reported a high level of guilt about eating meat because animals are perceived to have the capacity to suffer.”

Participants were given the choice between two meat dishes (for example, grilled chicken vs. chicken nuggets) and two non-meat options (grilled veggies vs. teriyaki stir fry). Sometimes, the choice was hypothetical. Other participants chose between real food items.

Most meat-eating consumers selected the healthier meat option over the unhealthier alternative, unless they were told the meat producer was certified for its humane treatment of animals. In that case, no difference was seen.

“When they believe that the animals were happy and humanely treated, consumers more freely chose a meat dish that was cooked in tastier way because the need to justify eating meat is lessened,” she added.

Poultry companies should emphasize animal welfare practices and certifications on product packaging and in advertisements to allay consumer concerns about animal welfare, Yoon noted.

Par Elizabeth Doughman (12/05/2021)

Elizabeth Doughman is the Managing Editor of Poultry Future.

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Photo : Harry Don (Pexels)