Europe is often cited as the leader in animal-welfare directives, as well as antibiotic use and other emotional food-related issues.

However, a survey of European Union consumers found that 52 percent of European consumers "do not seem to take account of animal welfare when buying food." Those consumers reported that they never or very rarely consider the animal's welfare or protection from which their meat products originate. Looking specifically at other well-established Western nations such as Spain and Finland, the results showed that 62 percent of consumers there never or very rarely consider animal welfare in their buying decisions.

The European Commission paid for the survey which was conducted by Eurobarometer.

More striking still was EU consumers' price sensitivity. For the entire 25 nations in the EU, 59 percent of consumers surveyed said that they would pay a premium of 5 percent or less for eggs sourced from an ''animal-welfare friendly'' production system. Even though many EU consumers believe that laying-hen welfare should be improved, they are not willing to pay more for it. This was especially evident in Italy, where 45 perecent of those polled said they were unwilling to accept any price premium. French consumers voiced similar opposition, 66 percent said they would only accept price premium of 5 percent or less.

"I find the survey results really eye-opening,'' says Kay Johnson, executive vice-president of the Animal Agriculture Alliance. 'Not only do few consumers consider animal welfare when buying food, but there's a very low threshhold in terms of paying for it, she notes. "This price sensitivity comes despite much of their (EU consumers') food having labels that let them use the Internet to track many products back to the farm of origin," adds Johnson. "The statistics are surprising because they indicate that despite strict animal-welfare regulations in the EU, most consumers appear to be ignoring or disregarding the initiatives.'

This reinforces the question of "who's driving the train" on the animal -welfar issue-- consumers or activists? The food industry knows from firsthand experience that it's the activists.

Still, reading the signs of the survey throughly requires you to consider that consumers may simply take for granted that those raising and processing the animals are treating them well and responsibly. And well they should. They don't think they should pay more for that aspect. And they shouldn't. At the same time, activists shouldn't be dictating what should and shouldn't be done within the production and processing system. The industry should police itself-- and do so with a firm hand.

Source: Animal Agriculture Alliance