Consumers say they will pay more for “safe” meat, but will they? 

Food Safety Consortium researchers at Kansas State University asked consumers about their interest in “safe” meat. The study specifically looked at meat treated by irradiation or steam pasteurization.

“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 the only information was a statement that irradiation is used to kill bacteria,” he notes.

Households in eight states were surveyed. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they would choose the treated product if sold at the same price as a standard product. If it cost more, 55 percent said they’d choose the treated product. Consumers willing to pay more said they’d pay an average premium of 22 cents to 26 cents per pound. Women were a bit more willing to pay extra than were men; and households.

The survey also found that some consumers are more concerned about irradiation than steam pasteurization. If steam pasteurization was taken out of the picture and they had to choose between a standard product and an irradiated product, the standard version would win out. 

While steam pasteurization had a lower rejection rate, people who would purchase a treated product placed a higher value on irradiation. Households with children were more likely to choose the safer product.

Consumers who understood that careful handling and cooking could reduce risk were less willing to pay for treated products. “They are aware that there’s a substitute; instead of paying for some one else’s treatment, they know they can do something at home,” says Fox