May 13, 2022

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. However, to make informed product choices, consumers must be able to correctly interpret food labels. In some cases, consumers may not fully understand the meaning of a label, or a food label may evoke perceptions that lack scientific basis or run counter to scientific consensus. For example, consumers may assume that a label on sustainable farming practices means food is safer to eat, which may not be true. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers recently conducted three studies of food labels to better understand how different labels affect shopping behavior.

A transformation of the market: chicken products raised without antibiotics

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

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