Consumer Views On Pig Welfare In Europe
The issue of animal welfare standards in food production is complex for many reasons. For example, increased welfare standards in one region, and therefore increased production costs in one region, may lead to cheaper imports of animal products from areas with lower animal welfare standards. Additionally, experts and the public often disagree about which animal welfare policies would be best.
As a solution, many policy makers have turned to a market-driven strategy. This means meat that is produced according to higher welfare standards is labeled accordingly and priced higher. This strategy ensures that the level of consumer demand for meat with higher welfare standards will directly impact how much of this costlier meat is produced.
“Consumer Views on Pig Welfare in Europe,” published by Elsevier in the journal Meat Science, looks at various research studies on market-driven pig welfare in Europe. The authors look for patterns in consumer attitudes across studies to identify the main challenges and opportunities in the market-driven strategy. They note that in order for the market-driven strategy to work, higher-welfare meats must be produced, available, and properly labeled. Also, consumers must care about animal welfare. And they must see themselves as responsible for promoting it through their buying choices.
The authors find that, in general, European consumers view pig welfare as an important issue. For example, one survey found that over 90% of EU citizens said they believed in the importance of protecting farmed animal welfare. And another survey found that over half of Europeans are willing to pay extra for products that meet higher welfare standards. But, in some studies, many consumers ranked animal welfare concerns below pollution, poverty, and other social issues.
The authors note that various studies demonstrated that consumers who wanted better welfare standards tended to associate the concept of “welfare” with both a lack of suffering (e.g., less pain and better mental states) and with naturalness (e.g., outdoor access and space to move around). Also, the authors found that some consumers view pig welfare as a meat quality issue in its own right. Others see it as correlated with the aesthetic characteristics of meat such as enhanced flavor and tenderness. Consumers also vary in how they prioritize animal welfare compared to their enjoyment of the food, its health properties, its safety, and its price. In terms of attitudes toward responsibility, the authors find that consumers see the responsibility for animal welfare as shared between farmers, retailers, politicians, and themselves.
The authors emphasize just how much the wording of questions and the context in which they are asked can affect consumer responses. They conclude that the market-driven strategy may work with consumers who see animal welfare as an important-enough issue for which they are willing to pay more. But this is a particular type of consumer. Consumer characteristics such as nationality often play a role in how they feel about animal welfare. The authors suggest that producers, who want to market their meat as attaining a higher level of welfare standards, should focus on what consumers want most. This means focusing on “happy” animals living as “natural” a life as possible which also translates to a better tasting product.
The issue of farmed animal welfare should be emphasized more in politics and the media to raise consumer awareness. This will enable the market-driven strategy to work. Finally, the market-driven strategy has room for growth and can be effective in raising welfare standards. But the authors note its danger of making people see farmed animals even more as commodities rather than actual animals. Advocates for farmed animals can help by raising public awareness of animal welfare issues in meat production. They should keep in mind the importance of presenting farmed animals as living things rather than just products to be sold.[Contributed by Mona Zahir]