Consumers Prioritise Animal Welfare over Environmental Sustainability

A study conducted across five European countries has identified the attributes that are important to consumers buying meat and dairy products. The researchers also investigated whether sustainability labels were perceived as helpful.

Food production systems, especially for meat and dairy products, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. This raises an important question as to whether consumers care about environmental sustainability when buying food products.

An online survey was conducted in five European countries (the Czech Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK) as part of the SUPER-G EU Horizon 2020 programme (Developing Sustainable Permanent Grassland Systems and Policies). A total of 3,192 people took part in the survey. The study aimed to investigate which product attributes are important to consumers when buying meat and dairy products and whether sustainability labels for these products are perceived as helpful.

Quality and high animal welfare standards rated as most important product attributes

Across the five countries, respondents expressed similar preferences for attributes for meat and dairy products. Freshness, quality/taste and animal welfare emerged as the most important attributes, while environmental attributes such as food miles, carbon footprint and organic production were the least important. From these results we deduced that environmental attributes are not the primary drivers of food-buying decisions and that consumers perceive animal welfare as a particularly important aspect of sustainability.

Sustainability labels perceived as helpful for decision-making

Consumers across all five countries indicated that they perceived sustainability labels for meat and dairy products as helpful (average scores between 3.7 and 4.1, where 1 = unhelpful and 5 = very helpful). We also investigated which specific information consumers would like to be communicated on these labels.

We found that animal welfare, food safety, and health and nutrition was perceived as the most important attributes, although some differences in preferences emerged between countries. For instance, in Spain and the Czech Republic, food safety and health and nutrition were rated as more important than animal welfare, whereas other countries (Sweden, Switzerland, UK) prioritised animal welfare.


  • Respondents across all five countries perceived sustainability labels for milk and dairy products as helpful.
  • Preferences for different attributes were similar across the five countries.
  • Information regarding animal welfare, food safety, health and nutrition were perceived as most important for sustainability labels.
  • Consumers in Switzerland rated freshness and quality/taste as the key attributes for meat and dairy products.
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