New research from the Center for Food Integrity shows most consumers as twice as likely to believe the Humane Society of the United States and People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals over farm organizations when it comes to humane treatment of farm animals.
The research was released Wednesday at the CFI's Food Summit, held in Chicago.
After HSUS and PETA, farm animal veterinarians, USDA and university experts ranked next, followed by state and national farm organizations and small livestock farmers. Large-scale livestock farmers ranked last in animal welfare credibility.
"The research shows that the closer you are to a profit motivation, the lower your credibility," says Charlie Arnot, CEO at CFI. "Information from an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) was found to be significantly more credible than an association that represents the livestock industry. The closer you are to the money, the less credible your information, which is really why early adopter consumers like information from academics."
The research also reveals that consumers favor more laws to ensure the humane treatment of farm animals in their state. That explains why voters have looked favorably on HSUS-driven ballot drives in California, Michigan and Ohio to reform livestock housing rules.
But there was a significant increase in favorable consumer attitudes toward raising animals indoors to protect from predators and weather extremes. "Those areas were the ones where we saw the greatest increase in attitudes in early adopters," Arnot says.
Even so, farmers and their farm associations appear to have an uphill battle in changing consumer perceptions. "The perception is that because HSUS is an NGO, they are committed to a cause. Source credibility is a crucial issue with consumers," says Arnot.
To overcome the credibility gap, farm groups need to partner with groups outside their comfort zone and continue to drive home messages based not on science but on shared values. "We need to talk about the fact we recognize we have an ethical obligation to ensure our animals are well cared for, so we've moved them indoors to protect them, and that they have adequate vet supervision," concludes Arnot.