Animal Welfare And Willingness-To-Pay: A Meta-Review
Many studies have shown evidence that the average consumer has limited or no understanding of modern animal-based food production systems and animal welfare levels at such facilities. Statistics from recent years, however, indicate that farmed animal welfare (FAW) is of increasing ethical concern to the European public. Despite the European Union’s attempts to establish international minimally acceptable FAW standards, the often subjective evaluation of animal welfare tends to confuse the public, sustaining the numerous differing opinions on minimal standards. When it comes to actually supporting farmed animal welfare, one of the most important calculations that industry makes is to take into account how much people are actually willing to put their money where their mouths are. Researchers in the UK took on the challenge of combining applicable data on the public’s willingness to pay extra for higher farmed animal welfare products from a large collection of studies – a meta-analysis – in order to analyze it objectively.
The researchers used willingness-to-pay (WTP) as the main indicator in this study. WTP is defined as a measure of how much an individual is willing to pay extra in order to avoid undesirable characteristics of given products. Whereas meta-analysis as a means of looking into gathered data offers an objective method to summarize and evaluate a large body of statistics with the emphasis of including as much relevant research as possible. The study combined data from 54 other studies, originating from 17 different countries. Over half of the included studies were conducted in Europe (56%). Among the researched farmed animals, pigs and egg-laying hens were studied most frequently. Besides ranging across several species, the data also covered several regions, socio-demographic characteristics (i.e. gender, age and income) and population types (i.e. consumers and citizens).
The researchers found that few studies looked into production diseases in intensive production systems, focusing rather on other FAW issues such as overall welfare, free-range produce and animal access to the outdoors. The results highlighted that the overall WTP estimate was a small extra on top of the usual price. Individuals were also shown to be willing-to-pay for improved welfare regardless of the individual welfare aspect or animal type. WTP ranged, in ascending order, from pigs to beef cows. Surprisingly, Northern Europe exhibited the lowest estimated WTP, whereas the value was highest for Southern Europe. The fact that Northern European consumers would pay little extra for higher welfare animal products was attributed to the presence of strict animal welfare regulations nationally and the citizens’ high trust in change via governmental initiatives.
The results also indicate that WTP decreases with age, but increases with income and education. Moreover, both consumers and citizens (i.e. non-consumers) reported positive WTP estimates. The importance of information and access to media is shown by the fact that the highest WTP estimate generating animals are those that have received greatest press attention in recent years. The consistently positive WTP across the studied groups of people reinforces the present negative opinions the public have about modern farming. Reinforcing this, back in 2007 the European Commission reported that 28% of European consumers know next to nothing about the conditions of farm animals in their respective countries. Holding these facts together paint an encouraging picture that a combination of market and government based policy solutions could be the best approach for improving FAW standards, heavily supported by active information provision, of course.
The scientists urge policymakers to ensure that the public’s views, including those of the ever-growing portion of non-consumers, are taken into account when policy changes are considered. In the case of food imports, when local policies cannot ensure standards, the products should at least have appropriate labelling, so that consumers always have the possibility to make well-informed purchases. The results all point towards the necessity to raise the minimum FAW requirements and ensure public awareness on the issues of FAW. Animal rights advocates should take the findings as a positive indication of the universal concern people have for farm animal welfare. The meta-analysis does, however, point out which animal groups are neglected and should attract even more effort towards raising people’s WTP for their welfare: pigs, fishes and chickens. Finally, low-hanging fruit seekers will benefit from the results described in the socio-demographic section of the study.