Treated imports could change shoppers' minds on meat

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Allowing imports of products like chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef in a post-Brexit trade deal could negatively impact the UK meat industry, according to new AHDB research.

More than half of 1,000 people surveyed by YouGov said they would buy less chicken and beef in the event of a deal being struck that saw meat treated in this way hitting supermarket shelves.

Although the practices are not currently allowed in chicken and beef production in EU Member States, the research shows the introduction of these imported products could reduce demand for domestic meat.

For chicken, just 28 per cent of respondents said there would be no change at all to the amount they buy and 29 per cent for beef.

Furthermore, if products such as chlorine-washed chicken and beef treated with artificial growth hormones did arrive on the shelves, only around one in five (19%) claim it would not have an impact on how they shop.

Eighty-three per cent of those surveyed said they would pay more attention to labelling, while 81 per cent would be concerned about quality and look more closely at the product. More than three quarters of shoppers would also look more closely at production methods.

But separate AHDB research by Future Thinking shows while people claim provenance (25 per cent), quality assurance marks (13 per cent) and welfare standards (9 per cent) are important to them, what influences them at point of purchase is different – at nine per cent, five per cent and two per cent respectively. Ease, taste and price were found to be the key drivers in store.

David Swales, AHDB Head of Strategic Insight said: “There is an argument that given clear labelling these products would offer consumers more choice but our research shows there is a distinct gap between what consumers say is important to them and what influences their purchase at the fixture. In addition, more than half of shoppers are unclear what current assurance marks actually mean. There is a danger that rather than try to fathom the labels, shoppers may lose confidence in the whole category.

“Also there’s the added complication that if we did import these products, domestically-produced meat would likely be at a disadvantage on price. As a key driver of shopper behaviour, there may be calls for these practices to be introduced in the UK to allow farmers to compete on a level playing field.”

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