Meat Labels and Walking the Walk

Meat labels aren't likely to have much of an impact on consumers, according to Lauren Etter's New Yorker piece "Do People Care Where Their Meat Comes From?" Though surveys indicate that people would pay more to purchase U.S. produced meat, Etter reports that studies show that in reality, they're not likely to put their money where their mouths are.

As Etter puts it, "While people may say that they prefer products labelled with some desirable attribute, a growing body of research calls into question whether people’s behaviors fall in line with their intentions."

A 2010 U.S.D.A study, she notes, shows that country-of-origin labels on shrimp had little to no impact on consumers.Similarly, researchers from MIT and Harvard set up an experiment in 26 grocery stores that showed that fair-trade coffee labels had no impact on price-conscious shoppers.

Commentary

On the face of it, this would argue that it's not worth the extra cost for meat producers to track their product and affix labels. But I see another story here. This also highlights the inability of the market to truly reflect community principles. As a community, we might all agree that we value U.S. produced meat and want to support U.S. ranches, but as individuals, when we vote with our wallets, we're likely to vote against these interests.

It's the same story that has played out again and again with Walmart. The community values the mom-n-pop shops, but as individuals voting with their wallets, they vote against it. Then years later, when tumble weeds roll through Main Street, the same people bemoan the loss of quality service, the decay of the picturesque downtown, and the dearth of quality jobs.

We might be tempted to thumb our noses at those in the community voicing concern. "You talked the talk," we might say, "but you don't walk the walk." But I think we still need to consider whether the talk is worth talking. If we decide as a community that it is, then we need to consider whether we need to make adjustments to the market that make people more likely to walk the walk.
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