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Survey: Nearly one-third of Americans support ban on slaughterhousesSurvey: Nearly one-third of Americans support ban on slaughterhouses

Some respondents initially unaware of what a slaughterhouse is.

Krissa Welshans 1

January 19, 2018

4 Min Read
Survey: Nearly one-third of Americans support ban on slaughterhouses

Approximately one-third of Americans support a ban on slaughterhouses, according to the most recent Oklahoma State University (OSU) “Food Demand Survey” (FooDS). FooDS, a monthly online survey with a sample size of at least 1,000 individuals, tracks consumer preferences and sentiment on the safety, quality and price of food consumed at home and away from home, with a particular focus on meat demand.

Ad-hoc questions in the latest survey were repeated from a survey conducted by the Sentience Institute, an animal rights organization focused on farm animal issues, in October 2017 that showed 42% of Americans support a ban on slaughterhouse.  

“The number frankly seemed outrageous, given that more than 90% of Americans eat meat regularly and it is rather difficult to do so without slaughtering houses,” the OSU researchers noted.

At first the researchers thought the Sentience Institute may be biased in some manner. But, the documentation on the survey seemed both thorough and scientifically valid, they noted. And then there was the hypothesis that perhaps many Americans simply did not understand what a ‘slaughterhouse’ is? To test the reliability of the survey results and if Americans understood the question, FooDS replicated the Sentience Institute survey almost exactly.

What they found was that even more Americans, 47%, said they wanted to ban slaughterhouses. Participants who agreed with this statement were asked a follow-up question: “Were you aware that slaughterhouses are where livestock are killed and processed into meat, such that, without them, you would not be able to consume meat?” Approximately 73% of participants stated that they are aware that slaughterhouses are where livestock are killed and processed into meat.

“Suppose we take the 27.1% of individuals who did not apparently understand what a slaughterhouse is, and we change their answer to the statement ‘I support a ban on slaughterhouses’ from ‘yes’ to ‘no’. That still leaves about 34% of Americans saying they wish to ban slaughterhouses.”

The researchers said there are a number of reasons that this 34% is an overestimate. For example, they said a number of questions that came before this question (e.g., “I have some discomfort with the way animals are used in the food industry”) might cause people to be less pro-meat than they really are.

“Had the survey began with questions like ‘I eat meat on a regular basis’ and ‘Meat is a healthy food’ it is likely the responses would have been different. However, this is not a criticism of the Sentience Institute survey, but a bias inherent in most surveys (including FooDS).”

Yet even after acknowledging these inherent biases, the FooDS researchers said the 34% number is very high, much higher than what was expected.

“This month’s FooDS survey shows, however, that the results by the Sentience Institute survey was not due to a bias sample or flawed methodology. Even though most Americans eat meat, they also do not like the idea of slaughterhouses. This provides a teachable moment on the use of survey responses.”

However useful they are, the OSU researchers said that people will state attitudes in surveys that run contrary to their behaviors in the real world. “That said, surveys can sometimes tell us more about what consumers want in their social and political institutions than their individual behaviors.”

Eating meat

The survey also asked questions regarding eating meat, finding that about 56% of participants stated they strongly agreed with the statement “Whether to eat animals or be vegetarian is a personal choice, and nobody has the right to tell me which one they think I should do”.  Approximately 61% of participants in the Sentience Institute survey stated they strongly agreed.

About 56% of participants stated they disagree with the statement “I support a ban on animal farming”. About 60% of participants in the Sentience Institute’s survey stated they disagree.

Respondents were given the statement: In recent years, scientists and chefs have started using plants to create ‘animal-free’ foods that are very similar to meat, dairy, and eggs in their tastes, texture, and nutritional profile.” Next, respondents were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statements: “...people should eat more of these [plant-based] foods and fewer animal based foods.” Results were similar for both statements to those found by the Sentience Institute. Respondents were given the same statement where the words “people should” were replaced with “I would prefer to”.

Next, respondents were given the statement: “Scientists and chefs are also using technology to grow real meat from animal cells without animal slaughter, by feeding those cells with plant-based nutrients so they grow and form fibers, just like they would in an animal’s body.” Respondents were then asked if “When these foods are the same price as animal-based foods people should eat more of these foods and fewer animal-based foods.” This statement was repeated where the words “people should” were changed to “I would prefer to”.

Lastly, participants were asked: “Suppose a public demonstration against the problems of factory farming occurred near where you live and your friend asked you to come demonstrate with her. If this demonstration fit into your schedule, how likely would you be to join and help demonstrate?” About 12% of participants stated they would be very likely to join, whereas 23% stated they would be very unlikely to join.

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