A number of UK consumers could be willing to pay more to avoid food made using production methods common in the United States but banned in Europe.

Research from the School of Economics at the University of Kent, the University of Reading and IHS Markit, found that UK consumers highly value production that follows food safety standards set by the EU as well as UK produced food.

Willingness‐to‐pay estimates indicate that positive values for food safety are frequently greater than the negative values placed on prohibited food production methods, according to the study published in the Journal of Agricultural Economics.

Researchers examined consumer preferences for four food types made using production technologies currently not authorized in the UK. They are hormone implants in beef; Ractopamine in pig feed; chlorine washed chicken; and Atrazine pesticide in corn production.

Price reductions
Four food products were used to judge consumer attitudes: 500-grams of chicken breast, 250-grams of beef sirloin steak, 1-kilogram of pork loin joint and a 2 pack of corn on the cob. Attributes used included price, country of origin, organic status, food standards and quality assurance. In total, 1,600 survey responses were collected online between December 2018 and January 2019.

For chicken the negative willingness to pay suggests a price reduction of 26 percent, for beef it is 36 percent and for pork it is nearly 60 percent. These reductions are larger than estimates used in models on the economic benefits from removing existing trade restrictions between the U.S. and EU.

In terms of willingness to pay estimates, the RSPCA quality assurance attribute is very highly valued along with the Red Tractor label and EU food safety. A high value is also placed on UK production compared to that from the EU or non‐EU.

Researchers produced willingness to pay results for the three types of meat using a common per unit measure. Results indicate that, per 100 grams, the largest negative estimate is for hormone implants in beef, followed by hormone in pork and chlorine washed chicken.

The work found that while people on average do not like chlorine washed chicken, with some hating it, about 40 percent are positive about it. Findings come as the UK is in post-Brexit agricultural trade negotiations with countries including the U.S. and Europe.

More than a third of respondents think EU exit will have a negative effect on food while a quarter said it would have a positive effect. Forty percent think it will be neutral or do not know.

Professor Iain Fraser, Professor of Agri-Environmental Economics at Kent’s School of Economics, said findings are a strong indicator of the expectations placed on food production by UK consumers.

“Methods of food production that fall short in terms of animal welfare draw a negative response from UK consumers, whilst in contrast the presence of EU food safety standards on packaging results in a positive response from consumers.”

Public view on food standards and trade deals
Meanwhile, the consumer watchdog group Which? has identified food standards as one area the public believes should be a priority when the UK government negotiates trade deals.

During August and September, Which? and research firm Hopkins van Mil, ran dialogues with almost 100 consumers in five locations across the UK.

Participants expressed concern that allowing cheaper imports produced to lower standards could exacerbate existing inequalities and lead to a two-tier system where food produced to higher standards was only available to wealthier consumers.

However, others welcomed wider choice offered by importing food of lower standards providing it is informed by clear labelling and offers something new such as lower prices. The fact that food in restaurants and cafes wouldn’t be labelled and the customer wouldn’t know if they were eating hormone treated beef, for example, was also raised as an issue.

There was a strongly held view that the UK should not accept food from the U.S. that was produced using methods currently banned. Some participants feared that if trade deals allowed imports of products made to lower standards, they would have to spend more time working out what to avoid buying. Others wanted to emphasize that different may not mean lower standards.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)