Animal Welfare is Consumers' No. 1 Concern

Last month the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals went out of its way to ridicule People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Known for shenanigans and frivolous lawsuits, PETA went a step too far with its latest stunt, and the Ninth Circuit took the organization to task.

In 2011, wildlife photographer David Slater left some equipment on the jungle floor and a monkey named Naruto grabbed the camera and took a selfie. PETA brought suit against Slater in 2015 claiming that he had infringed the monkey’s copyright when he published a book containing the famous photograph. 

The parties agreed to settle last year, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to allow it. That’s because the three judges wanted an opportunity to body-slam PETA. “How do we prevent people (or organizations like PETA) from using animals to advance their human agenda,” the judges asked in a 15-page decision. They ruled that not only did PETA lack “next friend” status to bring the lawsuit on behalf of the monkey, animals in general don’t have standing to sue under the Copyright Act. 

While we applaud the court’s dressing-down of PETA, we must recognize the influence they and other like-minded groups have cast on consumers.

A new study, for instance, says Americans care more about animal welfare than children’s education or hunger. Those are the results of the third “Causes Americans Care About” study, conducted by the global communications firm Ketchum.

Responses from 1,000 adults found 41% picked animal welfare as their No. 1 cause. Children’s education ranked second with 38% of respondents, followed by hunger with 33% of respondents.

The study reveals diverging opinions about the cause landscape according to generation, ethnicity and household income. Those 35 and older were more likely to identify animal welfare (43%) as a top cause, while young adults (ages 18 to 34) chose children’s education (44%) over animal welfare (37%).
People with a household income of $49,000 or less have the same list of top three causes as the general population, but those with a household income of $100,000 to $150,000 prioritize the environment over hunger.

Those are a lot of numbers, but the important trend is that animal welfare is not just important—it’s the top cause for nearly half of American adults. The beef industry’s own research, the Beef Quality Audits, determined that “how and where cattle are raised” is increasingly important for consumers. 

For better or worse, perceptions of how you raise cattle have been shaped by activist groups and even marketing professionals working for top food retailers. 
Remaking such perceptions will require producers displaying their commitment to animal welfare and showing consumers the passion that brings the next generation back to the ranch.  

This article was featured in the May issue of Drovers magazine.