Chinese Consumers’ Attitudes Toward Animal Welfare: Behaviors, Beliefs, And Responses To Messaging
Despite being comparatively neglected until recently, the suffering of animals in Asia is starting to command more attention from global animal advocacy activists. In particular, as the largest country in the world by both human and farmed animal population, and among the largest when measured by economy and land mass, China plays a central role here. However, the key question of how best to improve outcomes for farmed animals in China remains difficult to answer, due to the recency of the movement and a comparative lack of research on the topic.
Although China’s per capita meat consumption is lower than most wealthier, Western countries (Ritchie & Roser, 2017), the country’s size and the rapid growth of its meat industry means that it houses and slaughters more farmed animals than any other country in the world (Faunalytics, 2022). Despite this, animal welfare remains a relatively fringe issue in China. Because of the scale of China’s agriculture industry, even small changes have the potential for an outsized effect.
For these reasons, research on animal protection in China is crucial. While previous reports (including Phase 1 of this study) have focused more on China’s animal protection community, this report seeks to shed light on Chinese consumers, and in particular, explore advocate assumptions that we identified in Phase 1.
After seeking input from members of the farmed animal protection community in China, we conducted focus groups regarding the attitudes of Chinese consumers towards meat consumption, the concept of farmed animal welfare, different types of messaging and strategies for encouraging movement growth. Be sure to check out our Chinese / English Guide To Animal Advocacy Terms below as you read along.
- Chinese consumers are interested in higher welfare products not due to animal welfare concerns, but for food quality and food safety reasons. Many participants mention having tried or being interested in various higher welfare products, such as those labeled as “organic” or “village-raised” (tǔ 土). However most justified this choice in terms of the benefits in quality and food safety. Higher welfare products are considered tastier and more fragrant when cooked.In terms of food safety, products labeled as higher-welfare are more trusted, while lower-quality products are associated with a range of concerns, including animals being raised in unsanitary conditions, and the use of hormones, antibiotics, and GM products on farms. Despite this, zoonotic diseases were not mentioned as a food safety concern in reference to farmed animals. Welfare considerations are not necessarily ignored, but are likely to be secondary.
- Although animal welfare is not well understood, most participants were receptive to the idea after watching a short video explaining the concept. Participants had varying levels of understanding of the concept upon hearing the Chinese term for animal welfare (dòngwù fúlì 动物福利), and there were several common misunderstandings. However, once it was explained through a video that illustrated the concept using a framing based on the Five Freedoms (WOAH, 2022), participants generally reacted positively to the concept. By the end of the session, some even reported changes in their beliefs and intended behavior. After viewing welfare-related content, many aspects of animal welfare appealed to the participants, such as reducing cruelty, allowing animals to live according to their natural desires, and reducing antibiotic use on farms. Many participants believed that animals felt pain, that they had a morally valuable existence, and that people had a responsibility or duty to treat farm animals more humanely.
- Most consumers believe that meat consumption is necessary for health, but “health” actually encompasses a wide range of specific concepts. Participants gave many specific nutritional explanations for why they felt it was necessary to consume certain animal products; for instance, to support children’s growth or help with certain medical conditions. For example, beef is viewed as healthy for childrens’ development, but is often avoided by older people or those with health problems.
- Meat is preferred for a variety of reasons, beyond just taste. Participants mentioned the positive sensations associated with high-quality meat products, including being filling, mouthfeel, fragrance, and taste. For example, the term xiāng (香), often translated as “fragrant,” referring to either a good smell or a distinctive taste, is one of the most common words used to positively describe the sensation of eating meat. The concepts associated with these positive sensations were often culturally distinctive, and should be understood by advocates as aspects of food preferred by Chinese consumers.
- Perceptions of the human-animal relationship are distinctive and nuanced. There are different ways that participants conceive of human-animal relationships, and this affects what level of welfare, if any, they feel an animal or animal species deserves. Ideas of emotional connections to humans, reciprocity (helping animals in response to a service they provide), that human and animal welfare are intertwined through ecology and food safety concerns, and the perceived purpose of animals all contribute to the perceptions of human-animal relations.
- Animal welfare was not generally seen as a foreign concept. Contrary to what some China-based advocates suspected in our Phase 1 report, we found that most participants exposed to the concept and details of provisions for animal welfare did not generally see it as something foreign, Western, or associated with foreign values.
- Highlight health, food quality, and food safety when advocating for high-welfare or plant-based consumption
- Many consumers were willing to purchase products associated with higher welfare, but concerns about food quality and safety were generally greater drivers of this consumption than concerns about animal welfare.
- The most promising consumer demographics included mothers and grandparents.
- Mothers appear to be more receptive to animal welfare messaging and more willing to purchase higher welfare products. Mothers were particularly concerned about food safety issues that may affect their children, and were willing to pay for products that were perceived as safer.
- Grandparents also seem to be more receptive to animal welfare messaging. Many have had experience with higher quality animal products in the past, may pay more attention to food quality, and likely have more time to investigate quality products. Although this may not always be true, it’s notable that this contrasts with what advocates shared in Phase 1 of our research. As noted in our previous report, advocates said that older people had been through harder times, and may therefore find it difficult to change their habits.
- For more information, see the “Choosing Your Audience” section of the report.
- When talking about animal welfare, consider using Five Freedoms framing and take care with terminology.
- While the “five freedoms” terminology may not be best suited for Chinese audiences, the concepts of this framework were well-received. The ability to express normal behavior by providing animals with a better living environment particularly resonated with participants.
- Animal welfare ‘dòngwù fúlì 动物福利’ terminology may be misleading to some demographics. Participants associated the term with social welfare benefits (such as welfare payments to lower-income individuals) and more-than-basic treatment of animals.
- Target messaging based on animals’ connections to humans.
- Animals perceived as having connections to humans were valued much more highly than those without. For more details, see the Perceptions Of The Human-Animal Relationship section on the Methods and Results tab.
- While messaging portraying farm animals (pigs, cows, sheep and chickens) and an article discussing a dog were accepted, a message related to crustacean welfare was generally rejected, even by participants who approved of general welfare messages. Sympathy for lobsters was not increased, and may have even been reduced, when an attempt was made to draw emotional connections between a lobster and a dog.
- Provide actionable advice for consumers
- Participants who were relatively unconcerned about lobster welfare were still willing to try stunning lobsters before cooking, to reduce their suffering.
- Represent messages visually to appeal to different demographic groups
- Participants suggested that communicating ideas visually could increase the effectiveness of messaging, but preferred methods may differ according to age group. A grandparent suggested the use of pictures alongside text in a visually appealing way, while a student suggested using cartoon or anime videos.
- Pay attention to specific consumer interests beyond taste.
- Health and food safety concerns about meat can be highly specific, and differ based on individual cases, demographic groups, and user profiles. Features of alternative proteins that address these concerns could be used to improve messaging for alternative proteins, such as protein content, fatty-acid content, and reduced antibiotic use. For more details, see the Influences On Consumption section on the Methods and Results tab.
- Mouthfeel, fragrance, and the physical sensations of meat-eating are important to consumers. For example, many people want meat products to make them feel full and satisfied, while others mentioned enjoying the juicy, oily sensation experienced while eating certain meat products.
- Compare the tractability of distributing media focused on the Five Freedoms animal welfare framing, with a framing focused on food quality and safety.
- The Five Freedoms framing elicited concern for animal well-being, but food safety and quality concerns may be more effective in promoting the consumption of higher welfare products.
- Systematically analyze interest in events and platforms targeting different demographic groups.
- Events such as open medical lectures, farm visits, sponsored sporting events (runs) and food events were mentioned as events that participants may be interested in attending.
- Commonly mentioned online platforms included WeChat, Weibo, Xiaohongshu, and Bilibili, while older participants reported watching more television.
- Look into linguistic and cultural associations that may affect messaging on this topic.
- The concept of animal welfare had some unexpected connotations. Further research is necessary to determine how this concept is understood differently in different Asian countries, and countries with a socialist history.
- Explore the role of group dynamics and social influence on attitudes towards animal welfare.
- We found that different consensus views emerged in different groups, and it seems likely that the social influence of certain group members may have played a role.
- As behaviors around food consumption are connected to social dynamics, individual attitudes expressed in surveys may be different to observed behaviors.
Applying These Findings
We understand that reports like this have a lot of information to consider and that acting on research can be challenging. Faunalytics is happy to offer pro bono support to advocates and nonprofit organizations who would like guidance applying these findings to their own work. Please visit our Office Hours or contact us for support.
Chinese / English Guide To Animal Advocacy Terms
This research was led by Jah Ying Chung (Good Growth), supervised by Dr. Jo Anderson (Faunalytics). Jack Stennett (Good Growth) contributed to analysis and writing. The focus groups were led by moderators from Daxue Consulting with support from lead researcher Jah Ying Chung.
We would like to thank our funders for their generous support of this research: We are grateful to the Culture & Animals Foundation, the Centre for Effective Altruism, and three anonymous donors for their support.