Consumers Union has a proud legacy going back more than 80 years, and so it pains us to point out their misuse of basic consumer research.
Even before The Good Food Institute officially started, we’ve known the power words and labels have on public perception. One of our key blogs from 2016 is “Will People Eat Clean Meat.” In that blog, I explored just how sensitive poll reactions are to how a question is phrased — framing and priming are exceptionally powerful.
Polls consistently show that providing no context and using the least-appetizing frame for meat grown outside of an animal (e.g., “lab meat” ) predictably leads to lower — but still solid — consumer acceptance. However, providing context and using more accurate labels (e.g., “clean meat,” which is more accurate for the reasons discussed in this blog) shows high acceptance from the public.
Consumers Union recently proved this point very clearly. In a recent poll, the organization asked (emphasis added), “If you were to see a package for purchase at a grocery store, or another location, containing food that is produced in a laboratory from animal cells to look and taste like meat, how do you think the package should be labeled?” They then went on to ask people what this “laboratory-produced food” should be called.
Unsurprisingly, “lab-grown meat” was the top reply. But even asking people if “food produced in a laboratory” should be called “lab-grown,” only 35% of respondents chose that option.
In case that isn’t clear: Consumers Union asked how “food that is produced in a laboratory” should be labeled, gave “lab-grown” as an option, and yet only 35% chose that option.
Furthermore, the poll questions were not available on their website. When both GFI and a clean meat company asked for the questions, Consumers Union did not supply them. GFI got the questions from a journalist.
And despite the fact that Consumers Union falsely implied that clean meat is not meat (“made to look and taste like” ), only 18% said the meat’s label shouldn’t use the words meat, beef, or pork.
Over the decades, Consumers Union has had an excellent reputation. They have done significant work on behalf of consumers. But with this poll, they misled consumers, the media, and the FDA. Furthermore, the fact that the poll questions were not available online and were not provided when requested is disappointing for an organization that is dedicated to consumer protection.
One final point: clean meat is not lab-grown, as discussed here. At scale, clean meat will be produced in a clean facility similar to a brewery. New types of beer are first developed in test labs, but beer isn’t “lab-brewed.” All processed food begins in a food lab, but we don’t call Cheerios “lab-created Cheerios.”
All nonprofit organizations should be very careful to ensure that we adhere to best practices with our consumer research. We don’t know why CU decided to falsely state that clean meat will be grown in a lab, and we really don’t know why they used such transparent push polling to advance their agenda. But we are disappointed.
Consumers deserve better.