Animal Welfare: Chinese Citizens’ Perspectives
While the Chinese government recently issued guidelines urging citizens to eat less meat, based on both sheer population and increasing economic development, China is and will likely remain the world’s largest consumer of meat and animal-based products. Yet, the development of the concept of animal welfare, particularly in regards to farm animals, in is many ways still in early stages of development in China. This article, published in PLOS One, sought to investigate the societal attitudes of the Chinese public towards farm animal welfare issues and potential legislation.
The authors sought to obtain opinions from people in as many provinces in China as possible and enlisted graduate students to administer a comprehensive questionnaire in their hometowns. A total of 6,006 questionnaires were carried out and included questions on demographic information and four overarching issues: awareness of the concept of animal welfare, opinions on current intensive factoring farming practices, level of satisfaction on legislation on animal welfare, and level of contentment on the market supply of pork and egg.
The findings revealed interesting information about overall attitudes towards animal welfare in China and differences in attitudes based on varying demographics.
- Only a minority of respondents, 36.6%, had ever heard of the concept of “animal welfare.”
- In response to a question about human use of animals, 72.9% of respondents chose the statement “humans should improve the rearing conditions for pigs and domestic fowls to ensure the quality and safety of animal products,” 19.2% chose “pigs and domestic fowls should enjoy happy life and be free from troubles as humans do” and 7.9% chose “pigs and domestic fowls are only beast, and people can treat them as they wish.”
- The majority of respondents said it was either somewhat or extremely inappropriate to rear pigs on the cement floor and to kill fowls near a cage containing other fowls.
- Negative comments by respondents about factory farming slightly outweighed positive ones, and overall attitudes were mixed, as 21.5% of respondents indicated that factory farming is “a very good way of production,” 34.5% said it is “a scientific way of production,” 23.8% said it is “a way limiting the freedom of pigs and domestic fowls,” and 20.2% said it is “a cruel way of production.”
- A little more than half of respondents indicated that they would be willing to pay more for pork reaching the standards of animal welfare. Additionally, 52.6% of respondents claimed to be at least some degree satisfied with pork supply and 56.4% with the egg supply, with largest concerns expressed over price, food safety, and taste.
- Regarding legislation, 81.6% of respondents agree to at least to some degree that it is necessary to establish laws on animal welfare in China and 65.99% agree to at least some degree that laws should be established to compel producers to provide better conditions for farm animals “to help them grow and survive.”
- In general, respondents with higher educational backgrounds, lower ages, more “complicated careers (such as government or NGO),” living in urban areas, and female citizens were more aware of the concept of animal welfare, more likely to agree on the need for laws on animal welfare, more likely to pay more money for products with better animal welfare standards, and more likely to feel satisfied with the current supplies of pork and eggs.
The authors conclude that “it can be found that the majority of the public in China take a stand of weak anthropocentrism–their support for improving rearing conditions of pigs and fowls stems largely from their hope for better food quality and safety of animal products.” They note that public awareness of both the concept of animal welfare and legislation on animal welfare must be greatly enhanced; they also suggest that China could enact legislation like that adopted in the UK to phase out battery cages for egg production, which allowed for transitional periods of structural change in farming systems and enabled consumers to make gradual behavior changes.
Advocates are assuredly aware of the lack of both public awareness and legislation regarding farm animal welfare in China. These findings can accordingly be viewed as hopeful indicators that a majority of Chinese citizens disagree with many factory farming practices and are receptive to establishing laws for farm animals and even paying higher prices for food products holding to higher animal welfare standards. Advocates should also note the ideal demographics for targeting messages around farm animal welfare.