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“Free range”, “organic” and “hormone-free” labels are still tricking people

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Posted February 9, 2017

For some reason, media usually has a negative view towards massive trends. Probably because sometimes they are just silly. But one deserves recognition and respect – eating healthy and caring about the environment. However, as this new study from the University of Adelaide reveals, people still do not fully understand labels and perceive some as meaning “healthy” automatically.

Eggs from free range chickens are perceived to be better for the animals and healthier, but are they really? Image credit: Fir0002 via Wikimedia, GFDL

This problem is evident when it comes to eggs. Dominant “healthy” or “ecological” meaning labels are: “free range”, “organic” and “hormone-free”. They encourage people to choose them and ignore a larger price tag. But do people really know what these labels mean? Scientists conducted a research and found that majority of customers consider products labelled like this to be healthier, safer or better for the environment. And, therefore, they feel better buying these eggs. However, scientists also note that it may be just a clever marketing trick, because these nice words do not mean that eggs will be healthier or more environmentally friendly. It is just how chickens were taken care of in the farm.

However, interestingly, these labels are losing their power. There were numerous researches about how different eggs are from different farms. For example, are free range eggs somehow better than those coming from chickens living in cages. And it turns out, there really is not much of a difference. People are also growing more cynical about it, understanding that labels and packages are mostly here for the marketing. Coming back to the example of free range chickens, who knows that these birds, running in the grass, are kept better? Just because they get to stay outdoors it does not mean that other technological solutions are not used in free range farming. But it is not just about eggs.

In many western countries, including Australia, meat consumption is declining. More and more people start caring about the animals, some are turning vegetarian and rising prices have contributed to that too. Scientists asked some people how they choose meat. Professor Wendy Umberger, author of the study, said: “We found that across meat types, the willingness-to-pay for ‘no added hormones’ is significantly higher than any other claim, and that ‘certified humane’ as well as the ‘free range’ claims were valued relatively more than ‘certified organic’ and ‘antibiotic free’”.  However, this evaluation does not always translate to actually purchasing more expensive meat.

And finally, coming back to eggs, “hormone-free” labels are very interesting. They do attract more attention from people searching for healthier and more environmentally-friendly food and typically cost more. But in reality no chickens in Australia are getting hormones of any kind. This reveals the real power and methods of food marketing.

Source: adelaide.edu.au

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