Americans will buy imported meat if assured of standards

USDA should help consumers make more informed decisions


With Congress currently debating the repeal of mandatory country-of-origin labelling (COOL) for meat and poultry — federal law in the U.S. since 2002 — new research from the Sam W. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas shines a spotlight on how COOL labelling affects consumers’ purchase decisions.

In “A COOL Effect: The Direct and Indirect Impact of Country-of-Origin Dis­closures on Purchase Inten­tions for Retail Food Products,” appearing in the September issue of the Journal of Retailing, Marketing Professors Elizabeth Howlett and Scot Burton, along with doctoral candidates Christopher Berry and Amar­adri Mukherjeeshow, show that consumers are more likely to buy meat that is identified as a U.S. product.

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However, in experiments that identified meat as Mexican in origin, study participants found COOL labelling more acceptable if they were assured that standards for handling meat in Mexico are equivalent to those in the U.S. According to Professor Howlett, “Given consumers’ limited knowledge of meat-processing procedures and systems, meat products labelled as having been born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. are perceived to be safer, tastier, and fresher than products from Mexico.”

The authors suggest that retailers could utilize this information to design promotional programs, either to boost sales of meat sourced in the U.S. or to inform consumers that another country’s standards are equivalent to those in the U.S.

They also point out that if the goal of the COOL legislation is to benefit consumers, then it is only partially meeting that objective: “If the USDA is truly striving to help consumers make more informed decisions, it should consider educating consumers about the outcomes of its international processing system audits,” either through more information on packaging or public service announcements.

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