Many consumers say they are willing to pay more for meat that has been treated by irradiation or steam pasteurization, according to Food Safety Consortium researchers at Kansas State University, who conducted a survey on the topic.

“I want to emphasize that in this survey, we did not provide any information about irradiation,” says Sean Fox, Kansas State agricultural economist. Other surveys had shown that providing information about the technology was critical to acceptance. “In this survey there was no information other than a statement that irradiation is used to kill bacteria,” he notes.

The survey was mailed to households in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Wyoming. Consumers were asked whether they would buy a standard meat product at $1.69 per pound or a “treated” product at the same price or at 10 cents to 40 cents per pound higher.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents said that at an equal price, they would choose the treated product. Fifty-five percent would choose treated product if it cost more. The survey also found that:

  • Some consumers are more concerned about irradiation than steam pasteurization. They were more likely to buy an untreated product if their other choice involved irradiation than steam pasteurization.
  • While steam pasteurization had a lower rejection rate, people who would purchase a treated product place a higher value on irradiation
  • Households with children were more likely to choose the “safer” processes, children’s presence didn’t influence the family’s willingness to pay a higher price.
  • Those who were willing to pay more were on willing to pay an average premium of 22 to 26 cents per pound.
  • Women had “marginally” higher willingness-to-pay values than men.

Consumers who were aware of the possibility of reducing risk through careful cooking and handling were less willing to pay for treated products. Does that suggest that people who consider themselves to be careful cooks don’t place as much importance on a product’s treatment before they buy it?

“That’s one way of putting it,” Fox says. “They are aware that there is a substitute there, that instead of having to pay for some one else’s treatment, they can do the treatment at home.”