An independent international research team has stepped forward with cues and pointers for the fledgling lab-grown meat industry. Authors, Christopher Bryand, and Courtney Dillard say “cultured meat,” as they call it, must confront “some consumer uncertainty.”
But the pair also found enough consumers are willing to purchase the meat alternative to “displace a considerable amount of demand for conventional meat.”
The journal “Frontiers in Nutrition” published the team’s open access research paper in its July edition. Bryand is from the U.K.’s University of Bath. And Dillard is with Oregon’s Portland State University.
Title of their 10-page paper is “The Impact of Framing on Acceptance of Cultured Meat.” They suggest that even before it has ramped up any production, the lab-grown meat business is making a big mistake with its “high tech” framing.
Like the genetically modified organisms that came before it, cultured meat’s birth is in laboratories with midwives being people in white coats. In Petri dishes, the scientists are growing animal cells “in-vitro rather than as part of a living animal.”
Bryand and Dillard say their research involved exposing 480 adults in the U.S. to different ways of framing the “societal benefits” of lab-grown meat.
“We demonstrate that those who encounter cultured meat through the ‘high tech” frame have significantly more negative attitudes toward the concept, and are significantly less likely to consume it.” they write.
“Worryingly,” they continue, “this has been a very dominant frame in early media coverage of cultured meat. Whilst this is arguably inevitable since its technologically advanced nature is what makes it newsworthy, we argue that this high tech framing may be causing consumers to develop more negative attitudes toward cultured meat they otherwise might.”
The UK-USA team said the research on framing of GMO crops and foods should hold “particular relevance” for cultured meat researchers and producers. Mainstream media coverage of GMOs “diverges somewhat from scientific publications,” the paper says. They say events like food scares and staged environmental events drove GMO stores in significant media. And its complexity was “condensed for popular consumption.”
They claim GMO stories originating in the U.S. were more “focused on the scientific-economic elements of the technology” and were generally more favorable than those written by European reporters.
“The Good Food Institute is giving ‘substantial attention’ to the question of what cultured meat should be called, demonstrating that consumers are significantly more like to find ‘clean meat” appealing that other names including “cultured meat’ and “cell-based meat,” Bryand and Dillard report.
The Good Food Institute, located in Washington, D.C., is a 501 nonprofit that promotes plant-based and lab-grown meat alternatives to the products of conventional animal agriculture.
Some focus groups run by academic researchers have found many consumers “reacted with disgust” when exposed to the lab-grown meat concept and said they could perceive few personal benefits.
“Therefore, the framing of cultured meat is likely to have a substantial impact on consumer perceptions, though this has yet to be studied empirically,” say the researchers.
Lab-grown meat stories usually include mention of the product’s benefits, but often includes “science-themed art like laboratory Petri dishes.
The UK-USA team recruited their research participants from Amazon MTurk, a micro-tasking platform used in social research. A description of cultured meat was read to each participant and then asked for a one-word response for what they thought of the product.
After giving their one-word response, the questioner asked for their attitude about cultured meat on a 1-to-5 scale with one being very favorable. Using a similar rating scale, the respondents then scored cultured meat for healthfulness, safety, environmental friendliness, sensory quality, and benefits for society. Finally, the questioner asked how likely it is that the respondent would eat cultured meat.
The project paid 50 cents to each of the participants.
The research project found 64.6 percent willing to give cultured meat a taste, while 18.4 said it was doubtful they’d ever try it. Another 16.9 percent were not sure.
Almost half said they might be willing to purchase cultured meat on a regular basis.
“Overall, this indicates a fairly high willingness to eat cultured meat regardless of framing,” the team reported, “with almost half willing to buy it regularly and eat it instead of conventional meat.
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