Whether it’s sizzling bacon, fluffy scrambled eggs, juicy cheeseburgers, or a crisp Caesar salad, it’s no secret that people love to eat.
And it’s no surprise that the restaurant industry in the US made nearly $746 billion in food and drink sales in 2015, that YouTube food channel subscriptions have grown 280% in the last year, and that cooking shows on TV live on season after season.
What might be a surprise, though, is that, despite our food-crazed culture, the question remains: do we know how our food was raised—and how much do we care?
To find out how much we know and care about where our food products come from, we surveyed more than 2,000 people on their feelings, motivations, and choices when it comes to humanely raised food.
Here’s what we learned.
Do Americans Care About Animal Welfare?
If you ask someone if they care about animals, the answer is yes. Of course, we don’t want to see any creature suffer! Absolutely, we want to save endangered species and see whole shelters of puppies adopted!
Regarding animals specifically raised as food, does our perspective change?
We asked our survey respondents how concerned they were for how livestock is raised, and the results are encouraging. In fact, 70 percent of men and 85 percent of women said they were extremely or moderately concerned. Only about 3 percent of women and 9 percent of men said they weren’t concerned at all.
Animal Welfare and purchasing decisions
Next, we asked our survey respondents how likely they were to put their money where their mouths are. A large majority are concerned about how livestock is raised, but does that concern actually impact their day-to-day buying decisions?
In many cases, it does. Forty-five percent of men and 66 percent of women said they often or sometimes make buying choices based on how humanely the animal was raised.
Although a far cry from the 70 and 85 percent of the respondents who said they were extremely or moderately concerned about how livestock is raised, these percentages show that people definitely do pay attention to the “humanely raised” labels at least some of the time.
ANIMAL WELFARE issues that tug at our heart strings
When we talk about animal welfare, what issues do we really care about? Is it antibiotics or GMOs that scare us toward the humanely raised labels? Is it cages and lack of outdoor time that tug at our hearts? Or is it overcrowding that upsets us the most?
When we asked our respondents, 75 percent said they were very bothered by the idea of animals never going outside, 61 percent were worried about genetic manipulation, and 75 percent were concerned about antibiotic use.
Interestingly, while 40 percent were very bothered by a nonorganic diet, 31 percent were completely unbothered by this issue – the highest percentage for this category.
Where can we find humanely raised food products?
Even if you are deeply concerned about animal welfare and committed to buying humanely raised products, these products may not always be available where you live. After all, parts of the U.S. are still plagued by food deserts – areas where fresh, healthy options are hard to come by.
So where are you most likely to find humanely raised food products? Based on our findings, the states with the most availability are Colorado, Washington, New Hampshire, and Kansas.
However, New Mexico, West Virginia, and Oklahoma report the least availability of food treated ethically.
Why we choose humanely raised products
Those who choose humanely raised meats, eggs, and animal products may do so for different reasons. When we asked our survey respondents why they decided to go humane, the most common answer (63 percent) had to do with animal cruelty. After all, who wants that on their conscience?
Do we understand health food labels?
Overwhelmingly, survey respondents said they care about animal welfare. Many also say that humanely raised labels impact their buying decisions.
But do they understand what those labels mean? How many of us know what the terms “grass fed,” “pasture raised,” “organic,” and “free range” actually indicate?
As it turns out, most of us have a good understanding of the terms “organic” (a government-upheld standard for naturally grown foods that generally means no pesticides or antibiotics, and practices that are better for the planet) and “free range” (which technically means kept in natural conditions with free movement, but can also mean that the animals simply have access to the outdoors).
Conversely, “grass fed” (meaning that grass composes the majority of the animal’s diet) and “pasture raised” (meaning that the animals graze in a pasture for at least part of the day, though they may also be fed grain by the farmer) were much less understood. Only about 30 percent of respondents got these definitions right.
Animal Welfare when Eating Out
Does our concern for humane and healthy animal products continue when we’re eating out – or do we only look at labels while at the grocery store?
According to our results, over half of respondents never choose a restaurant because of their stance on antibiotics, GMOs, and other humane practices. At the same time, only 3 percent said they always choose based on these factors. Thirty-five percent said they sometimes consider these facts, while 8 percent usually do.
Who cares more about humanely raised food?
Regarding professions, those least likely to care about humanely raised food were technical: Architecture and Engineering, Transportation, Law, Construction, and Production.
Across the aisle, Community and Social Services (61 percent) and Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media (58 percent) seem to care very deeply about this issue – making their purchasing decisions based on the issues of antibiotics, animal treatment, and GMOs.
Those in Health Care were also more likely to buy organic and humanely raised products.
What's Health and Conscience Worth?
Finally, we asked our survey respondents to tell us how much humanely raised food was worth to them – and how much they’d be willing to spend on it. Sixty-four percent said they’d be willing to spend anywhere between 5 and 20 percent more, while 24 percent said they would not be willing or could not pay more for these products. Only 11 percent said they would spend 20 to 30 percent more for ethically raised food.
Organic meat contains 50 percent more omega-3 fatty acids, and is linked to lower heart disease, a better immune system, and better brain function. Organic crops (fed to organic animals) provide more antioxidants, with their many benefits. As our survey respondents know and love, humanely raised animal products mean less animal suffering.
From our findings, more than half of us get it – at least to some extent. We care about animal welfare. We make at least some of our choices based on humanely raised labels. And very few of us are totally unconcerned about the topic.
Still, if we want to reap the full benefits of those antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and tastier foods, we have a ways to go.
We surveyed 2,038 people on their thoughts on humanely raised livestock, factory farming, and the benefits of consuming and purchasing humanely raised food.
Looking to beef up your own content? Feel free to share our humanely raised graphics. All we ask is that our farmers (or the authors of this page) receive proper credit by linking back to this page.