Why don’t consumers buy the eggs that they voted for?

A survey asks consumers why voters passed Proposition 2 in California at the same time that over 90 percent of eggs sold in the state came from hens in cages.

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The March 2015 Food Demand Survey, which is conducted monthly by Oklahoma State University, posed a question to consumers that really caught my eye.

“In 2008, 63 percent of voters in California voted to ban the use of small cages for egg-laying hens. However, at the time, around 90 to 95 percent of the eggs Californians purchased came from small cages and only 5 to 10 percent were cage free. So, a majority of voters voted to ban a product that a majority of shoppers routinely bought. Why do you think there is such a gap between how people voted and how they shopped for different types of eggs?”

The question was open-ended and respondents could type anything they wanted. Dr. Jayson Lusk, professor, agricultural economics, Oklahoma State University, placed the responses to this question into seven categories. He called the most common response the information hypothesis, mentioned by 29 percent of all respondents and 59 percent of those who answered this question. These respondents assumed that consumers don’t realize that the eggs they are buying are produced by hens housed in cages. So basically, three-fifths of the consumers who answered the question think that most consumers don’t know or don’t think about where the eggs they buy come from and they may think the eggs they are buying are from cage-free hens.

Lusk categorized the other survey respondents' theories for the disconnect between behavior in the ballot box and at the cash register in descending order as the price, consumer versus citizen, availability, apathy, selection and induced innovation hypotheses.

With all the thought and energy that egg producers have expended debating the future of hen housing in the U.S. throughout the past decade, this survey reminds me that consumers are just buying eggs and they probably haven’t given much, if any, thought to where they came from.

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