Attitudes Towards Animal Welfare In Developed Countries: A Review
This study’s goal was to assess the level of public support for and knowledge of animal welfare across different demographics in developed countries. The researchers faced a key complication in evaluating support for animal welfare in that there were differing definitions of the term by different demographics and organizations. Also, there is a lack of consensus over the definition of “animal sentience.” While scientists typically regard most vertebrates as sentient, there is less agreement on the sentience of fish and invertebrates.
Firstly, the authors examined veterinary students and veterinarians. Research done in New Zealand shows that female veterinarians were much more sensitive to animal pain than their male colleagues were. But, studies from Britain, Canada, and New Zealand have shown that many veterinarians—over half, in some instances—have inadequate training to assess and treat animal pain. Possible reasons for this inadequacy include difficulties in noticing pain, anesthesia being too time-consuming and expensive, and the unknown long-term effects of painkillers on many species.
The authors also found that veterinarians discriminated based on species. A study of Cornell University veterinary students showed that they were more likely to consider companion animals sentient than they were livestock animals. And it showed that they had a different standard of humaneness for the two groups of animals. Importantly, second and third-year veterinary students were more likely than their fourth-year colleagues to treat animals for pain. This suggests that students’ sensitivity towards animals’ pain decreases as their course progresses.
Secondly, the authors examined farmers. We can generally split the attitudes of this group toward animal welfare into two groups. The authors found that farmers involved in third-party welfare schemes were more concerned with the ethical and moral issues surrounding animal welfare in food production. And they thus tend to pay more attention to animals’ behavior. The opposite was true for farmers involved in third-party quality-assurance schemes; they were more concerned with output and physical health. Compared to the general public, the farmers were more likely to rate animals’ health as “good” or “satisfactory.” And they were more likely to focus on animals’ physical health and productivity when evaluating animal welfare. But, productivity and mental health are not necessarily in opposition. Studies have found that positive human-animal interaction, like petting, improves both areas of concern. Negative interactions, like pushing or shoving, have the opposite effect in both areas.
Among the general public in the E.U., the strongest indicators for concern in animal welfare were age, education, and knowledge of animal welfare. People who are aware of conditions and practices on farms were much more likely to be concerned with the welfare of farm animals than those who were mostly uninformed of such issues. Most people in the E.U. believed that they were sufficiently informed about animal welfare in agriculture. They also expressed a desire for greater transparency from the animal agriculture industry. The authors found formal education to also be strongly associated with concern for animal welfare; two-thirds of E.U. residents educated beyond the age of 20 (possessing a bachelor’s degree or above) reported having some knowledge of animal welfare.
The authors found television to be the most common source of information for animal welfare, followed by the Internet and newspapers. Interest in the topic tends to rise in the wake of a quality-assurance disaster, like an outbreak of salmonella or Mad Cow Disease. In these situations, negative animal welfare information is linked to a drop in demand for meat and other animal products. The demand for animal products produced in accordance with an animal welfare scheme is rising in the E.U.—only 2% reported that welfare is not important at all in purchasing decisions, while 34% reported that it is their highest priority.
The results of this study also suggest that younger people are much more concerned with animal welfare than older people are, regardless of knowledge of animal welfare. But, they are still generally more concerned with companion animals than livestock. In addition, the study showed that women were more concerned with animal welfare than men were. There is rigorous debate over the reasons for this gender difference. Some argue that society conditions men to be more callous toward animals, while others argue that women are more hormonally disposed to empathize with other beings than men are.
Interestingly, the study found religion to be negatively correlated with support for animal welfare. Identifying as a Christian was strongly associated with support for using animals in research. And the correlation was strongest in Protestant sects and weakest in Catholics. Those identifying as non-religious were consistently the most supportive of animal rights.
Personal experience with companion animals had a positive effect on concern for animal welfare. But, the study showed that rural-dwelling people were less concerned with animal welfare than their urban counterparts, despite having greater knowledge of animal agriculture. This could be due to cultural differences. Though it may also be related to rural economies’ dependence on agriculture. Unsurprisingly, the study found vegetarianism and veganism to be strongly associated with a concern for animal welfare.
Overall, the study provides a wealth of interesting and actionable information for animal advocates in the E.U. Understanding which groups of people may be the most receptive to an animal rights or animal welfare message is key to understanding where we can focus our efforts in the most efficient way.
[Contributed by Owen Rogers]