Consumers’ Interpretation of Food Labels with Production Claims Can Influence Purchases

Food labels can help consumers select products with attributes they value that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to verify, such as whether a package of chicken at the grocery store was raised without antibiotics. To make informed product choices, however, consumers must be able to properly interpret food labels. In some cases, consumers may not fully understand a label’s meaning or a food label may conjure perceptions that lack scientific backing or are against scientific consensus. For example, consumers may assume a label about sustainable farming practices means the food is safer to eat, which may not be true. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers recently carried out three studies on food labels to better understand how different labels affect buying behavior.

A Market Transformation: Chicken Products Raised Without Antibiotics

In the United States, antibiotics are used to treat, control, and prevent animal disease. However, the use of any antibiotics may lead to antibiotic resistance, which can in turn make both human and animal diseases difficult and costly to treat. In recent years, consumers have become increasingly concerned about antibiotic resistance and the use of antibiotics in the meat and poultry industry. These concerns have given rise to a market for meat and poultry that are “raised without antibiotics (RWA).” The USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service, which is responsible for the labeling of meat, poultry, and egg products, provides guidelines on labeling meat and poultry products as RWA. The label allows consumers concerned about the use of antibiotics in meat and poultry to purchase products free from antibiotics. Using national household scanner data, a recent ERS report analyzed the market for chicken products with the RWA label.

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