As the debate regarding the necessity of country-of-origin labels for meat continues, researchers at the University of Arkansas have discovered that consumer perceptions are highly influenced by such labels. When provided with information about where animals were born, raised and slaughtered, consumers overwhelmingly chose meat from the U.S.

“The country-of-origin requirement appears to provide consumers with additional information that has both direct and indirect effects on purchase intentions,” says Scot Burton, professor of marketing in the Sam M. Walton College of Business. “The requirement impacts inferred attributes, meaning that meat products from the United States are perceived to be safer, tastier and fresher than meat products from Mexico. Of course, these attributes, in turn, have positive effects on purchase decisions.”

A total of three studies were conducted. In the pilot, 50 U.S. consumers participated in a web-based survey. They were giving country-of-origin details and asked to share their thoughts on the food safety, taste and freshness of meats from Brazil, Canada, China, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Russia, Thailand, and the U.S. Overall, survey participants perceived U.S. and Canadian meat as “safer” than meat from other countries.

In the second study, one group received U.S. labeled chicken and beef while a second group got the same meat with a Mexico label. The participants prefered the U.S. labeled meat.

The final study, researchers told study participants that meat-processing standards in the Mexico were similar to those in the U.S. This did improve some participants’ opinions on the safety and quality of Mexico-labeled meat.

Burton conducted the study with Elizabeth Howlett, professor of marketing, and marketing graduate students Christopher Berry and Amaradri Mukherjee. Their findings were published in the Journal of Retailing.