Animal Sentience And Suffering: Cross-Cultural Perspectives
The “BRIC” Countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — make up about 40% of the world’s population and 50% of the world’s agricultural production. What’s more, research suggests that meat consumption in these countries is on the rise.
As animal advocates call for an end to animal agriculture and a switch to a vegan food system, the authors of this paper note that achieving full veganism is unlikely in the near term. In the meantime, it’s important for advocates to find ways of making the farming industry less gruesome for the animals exploited within it. This includes giving animals the chance to experience positive emotional states throughout their lives.
As many animal advocates are aware, it’s important to get consumers on board when pushing for welfare advancements in animal agriculture. To this end, some scholars have begun to study how farmed animal beliefs differ by demographic (e.g., age, gender, or cultural context). For example, Faunalytics conducted research in 2018 to learn how people’s meat consumption, attitudes about animal welfare, and willingness to support pro-animal political actions differ in the BRIC countries.
In this study, the researchers wanted to examine how beliefs about farmed animal sentience and suffering vary across Brazil, Russia, India, China, and the United States. To do this, they analyzed part of the data previously collected by Faunalytics and explored differences by age and gender. The data was originally gathered through online surveys and included responses from 1027 participants in Brazil, 966 in China, 1002 in Russia, 1004 in India, and 1173 in the United States. The authors specifically honed in on responses to the following survey items:
- “Animals used for food have approximately the same ability to feel pain and discomfort as humans” (measures beliefs about sentience).
- “Eating meat directly contributes to the suffering of animals” (measures beliefs about the link between meat consumption and animal suffering).
Beliefs About Farmed Animal Sentience
Beliefs varied across different cultures, with Brazil (79%) showing the highest and China (34%) the lowest levels of agreement (note: In China, 50% of the participants remained neutral on the statement). Generally speaking, women agreed with the statement more frequently than men, regardless of country. In Russia and India, there was also an age effect — older participants had stronger beliefs about farmed animal sentience than younger participants. This effect might also explain the low rate of agreement in China, since the Chinese sample was much younger on average.
Beliefs About Meat And Farmed Animal Suffering
Beliefs about farmed animal suffering varied slightly less than beliefs about sentience. Participants in India (51%) showed the strongest agreement that eating meat leads directly to animal suffering, while those from the U.S. and China (31% and 30%) showed the weakest agreement. In terms of gender demographics, the highest level of agreement was found among Indian men, and the highest level of disagreement among Russian women.
In the U.S. and China, women tended to agree more with the statement than men. Also in the U.S., older respondents (and particularly men) had higher levels of disagreement. In China and India, however, agreement with the statement increased with age.
Learning From The Data
The authors speculate about some of the cultural contexts that may have led to these results. In India and China, for example, the age effect might be explained by religious practices and traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, which encourage respect for animals. According to the authors, these religious practices are less common among younger people.
The U.S. is one of the highest per-capita meat consumers, and the BRIC countries are rapidly increasing their meat production and consumption. Bearing this in mind, advocates would be wise to gain a strong understanding of the unique cultural dynamics in each of these countries that are propping up the meat industry. This study can inform animal advocacy by showing which farmed animal issues require more education, and how beliefs differ by demographic. When conducting dietary change campaigns, advocates can also attempt to target groups that tend to agree with beliefs about animal sentience and suffering, since these people may be more sympathetic to the idea of farmed animal liberation.