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Today’s consumers are more conscientious than ever regarding where their food comes from, how it was produced and how it was grown or raised.
In a 2013 poll by the American Humane Association, 89 percent of consumers surveyed stated they were very concerned about farm animal welfare, and 74 percent stated they were willing to pay more for humanely raised meat, dairy and eggs. In fact, participants ranked humanely raised products as highest in importance over organic, natural and antibiotic-free.
But when these same participants were asked how familiar they were with the American Humane Certified label found on meat and dairy products, a majority said they were either only somewhat familiar or had no idea.
Many industry experts attribute this growing disconnect between farms and consumers to the lack of knowledge by the general public on agriculture, technology and farming practices currently used to keep animals, particularly poultry, healthy and safe.
“The demographics have changed. More people live in urban areas and are not involved in food production. Fewer than two in 10 Americans are involved in farming - that means 98 percent just go to the store and purchase their food,” said Dr. Sacit F. “Sarge” Bilgili, professor emeritus at Auburn University’s Department of Poultry Science. “People don’t understand there is a lot that goes into producing food and distributing that food all over the world.”
Recent studies show that one of the most common consumer misconceptions is that conventionally raised chickens are raised in cages or on factory farms in overcrowded conditions. “The reality is, conventionally raised chickens are raised on family farms with strict veterinary oversight by teams of specialists,” said Dr. Karen Grogan, EVP of the American College of Poultry Veterinarians and part-time instructor of population health at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.
“I think the average consumer believes these birds are raised on large company factory farms, and they are not. They are raised on small, family farms where farmers really care about what they are doing and they do a good job,” Grogan said.
According to Tom Super, VP of communications for the National Chicken Council, “Broiler [chickens] are raised in large, spacious barns, and cages are never used. These barns are sophisticated, secure facilities with strictly controlled temperature, humidity and ventilation systems inside – which provide vital protection from the outdoor elements, disease and predators. Inside the poultry barns, the chickens are free to roam, interact and bed down on the litter.
“These chickens are fed a wholesome diet consisting of grains like corn and soybeans – along with nutritional supplements such as vitamins and minerals. Contrary to some myths, growth-enhancing additives, such as hormones or steroids, are never used.”