Beliefs About Fishes and Chickens & Their Relation to Animal-Positive Behaviors in China
Animals raised for food generally receive significantly less attention and funding than companion animals (Faunalytics, 2019), and small-bodied animals like chickens and fish are killed in particularly massive numbers. With China’s large population and export market, the slaughter statistics are among the highest in the world, despite lower per-capita consumption: Over ten billion chickens and close to 15 million tonnes of live fish were slaughtered for food in China in 2018 (Faunalytics, 2020). Unfortunately, as in many countries, the welfare of these animals is not well protected by Chinese law. The Animal Husbandry Law of the People’s Republic of China only covers animals classified as livestock and poultry, and contains minimal welfare standards primarily aimed at food safety (World Animal Protection, 2020). Due to the lack of detailed animal welfare standards, China receives a “G” grade for its protection of farmed animals used in farming from World Animal Protection.
A handful of studies have looked at Chinese perceptions and attitudes toward animal welfare, finding that many Chinese individuals are concerned with animal welfare to some extent (You et al, 2014; Su & Martens, 2017). However, to our knowledge there are no studies that examine the relationship between attitudes toward animals and willingness to take action on their behalf. As such, this study builds on the existing literature by documenting in finer detail which beliefs the Chinese public has about small-bodied animals, as well as how these beliefs are related to animal-positive behaviors. Specifically, we examined the relationships between various beliefs and a willingness to reduce consumption of chickens and fishes. Although our U.S. study also examined willingness to sign a petition calling for improved living and slaughter conditions, a petition is unlikely to be used in the Chinese context. As a result, we included a more general measure of support for improved conditions. Answering questions about the relationships between beliefs and these attitudes is a first step toward understanding what drives animal-positive behavior in China. The findings presented in this report may also prove useful to the Chinese animal protection community.
- Large majorities of people pledged to reduce their consumption of fish or chicken. Over 70% of people committed to reduce their fish or chicken consumption, suggesting that advocates seeking dietary change may have considerable success even with limited messaging highlighting the benefits of such a change.
- Some pro-animal beliefs are already common, but there is room for raising awareness on other topics. For example, large majorities recognize the importance of air and water quality to chickens and fishes. However most people do not believe big fish farms are gross or that chickens mind being in a barren environment. More commonly held beliefs likely do not require more information and can be invoked as necessary, but additional advocacy focused on less commonly held beliefs could increase the frequency of pro-animal beliefs among the public.
- The beliefs that had the largest correlations with signing a pledge to reduce fish consumption were that fish can bond with humans, that fish are curious, and that fish are loving. Focusing advocacy efforts on bolstering these fish-related beliefs may be the most effective way to obtain dietary pledges to reduce consumption.
- The beliefs that had the largest correlations with signing a pledge to reduce chicken consumption were that chickens can bond with humans and that chickens are more intelligent than people give them credit for. Those trying to get people to reduce their consumption of chicken may wish to focus on these themes.
- Support for improvements to the quality of life for fishes and chickens is nearly unanimous. Those seeking to improve the conditions of animals have a strong base of support among the public.
- Try messaging around the top beliefs to see if you can improve your advocacy efforts. Based on these findings, messaging around personality, emotions, intelligence, and socialness will likely lead to the best results, even outside the context of diet pledges. Slightly different beliefs were also important for each animal. Therefore, we’d suggest focusing on the strongest messages in each group of beliefs, trying them out, and keeping track of their effectiveness in order to get the best results!
- Consider asking for a diet pledge. These findings suggest that the Chinese public is already open to taking consumption reduction pledges. You may see a significant amount of uptake simply by asking if people would consider reducing the amount of animal products they consume.
- Explore the results from other countries and check back for more recommendations as our program of research focusing on chickens and fishes continues. We have also examined these beliefs in other countries, including the U.S., Brazil, Canada, and India. We will also be using experimental research to provide stronger recommendations about how these beliefs can be leveraged to alter behaviors. Although we have provided preliminary recommendations in this report, an experimental comparison of the most common and strongly associated beliefs is needed to see which can be used most effectively. This research will focus on the U.S., but may have implications for future research in China. Stay tuned for more from our line of research into small-bodied animals!
This project is a collaboration between researchers at Faunalytics and Mercy For Animals (MFA): namely, Zach Wulderk, Jo Anderson, and Tom Beggs of Faunalytics and Courtney Dillard, Walter Sanchez-Suarez, and Sebastian Quaade of MFA. We are indebted to Meredith Hui, Rashmit Arora, Diogo Fernandes, and Vitor Clemente for their assistance with linguistic and cultural translation, and to Cristina Mendonça, Meredith Hui, and Nikunj Sharma for their invaluable feedback.
We’d like to thank the CEA Animal Welfare Fund, the Culture and Animals Foundation, and an anonymous donor for funding this work, and the Tipping Point Private Foundation for funding the report translations.
This research is a replication of Faunalytics’ 2020 report Beliefs About Fish and Chickens & Their Relation to Animal-Positive Behaviors, which focused on U.S. adults’ beliefs about small-bodied animals. For this project, we explored beliefs held by adults in China. We translated Faunalytics’ previous survey for use with a Mandarin-speaking Chinese audience, and confirmed with experts that the questions were culturally relevant. On the advice of cultural advisors, we added two belief questions that were not part of the U.S. survey: “Fish/Chickens are easy to raise yourself” and “Fish/Chickens are aggressive.” These were added to reflect potential beliefs arising from the more common experience of raising chickens at home in China. We examined 7 categories of beliefs: about emotions, suffering, personality, intelligence, socialness, consuming the animal, and an “other” category. There were several beliefs in each category, meaning the full list consisted of 35 beliefs about fishes and 34 beliefs about chickens.
We surveyed 1,033 Chinese adults and randomly assigned them to either the fish or chicken version of the survey. We then asked them to rate their level of agreement or disagreement with each of the beliefs for their assigned animal. These surveys were written in Simplified Chinese, but results will be presented in English for consistency across reports. The survey instrument can be found in its original language on Open Science Framework.
We examined two key outcome measures in order to understand how much each belief was associated with important behaviors related to the welfare of each animal: willingness to take a “diet pledge” and support for improved quality of life. For the diet pledge outcome, each participant was asked if they would pledge to reduce their consumption of their assigned animal. For example, participants assigned the fish condition were shown a prompt that read, “In recent years, many people have begun to reduce how much fish they eat, a pattern that is expected to continue. Will you pledge to reduce your own fish consumption?” Those who agreed were then asked to specify the amount they would limit themselves to and to provide a digital signature for their commitment.
For the support for improvements outcome, each participant was asked if they support improvements to the quality of life of their assigned animal. For example, participants in the chicken condition were shown a prompt that read, “Do you support improving the quality of life of chickens?” Participants were able to respond with “yes” or “no.” Please note that this question differed from the question used in the surveys administered in other countries as a part of this research. Whereas respondents in Brazil, India, Canada, and the U.S. were asked about their willingness to sign a petition to improve living and slaughter conditions on farms, Chinese respondents were asked about their support more generally due to the unlikelihood of a petition being used in the Chinese political context.
The diet pledge and support questions were presented at the end of the survey, where they saw a prompt reading, “Great, thank you! Before you finish, we have a couple of quick requests for you. You don’t have to agree to either, but please answer each question.” We specified that respondents’ participation incentive did not rely on them committing to the diet pledge or supporting quality of life improvements. The two outcome measures were counterbalanced, meaning that half of the participants saw the diet pledge first and half saw the support question first.
Throughout this report, we use the plural “fishes” rather than “fish” in order to acknowledge that we are discussing a collection of individuals. Exceptions are made for English translations of survey questions, which use the plural “fish” to reflect its usage by the majority of the English-speaking public. The appropriate Simplified Chinese wording was used for the survey when it was administered.
All top-line descriptive statistics were calculated using data weighted to match population values for gender, age, race/ethnicity, and region. However, as the differences between the weighted and unweighted data were not large, inferential statistics were calculated using unweighted data to avoid introducing additional sources of variance. Additional information on participant traits can be found in the Supplementary Materials.