Consumers, Disease Intervention, And Factory Farms
Despite being important stakeholders in the food chain, consumers and the general public know very little about how their food is produced, perhaps especially when it comes to animal products.
As production systems intensify, animals are kept in larger numbers within fewer production units, causing the frequency and scale of diseases to increase. While diseases within these intensive systems are well-controlled compared to smaller-scale production, intensification increases stress and disease pressure in the animals.
While the public’s knowledge about animal welfare in modern farming practices is limited, studies show a growing desire for naturalness, and concern about the use of antibiotics along with an increasing perception that healthier, happier animals produce healthier products. This study confirmed these trends and explored attitudes towards disease interventions in intensive production systems.
Researchers from Newcastle University in the U.K. identified potential predictors in the relationship between consumer behaviors and perceived risks, concerns, and preferences for disease intervention. Through an online survey distributed in five European countries (the U.K., Germany, Finland, Poland and Spain) they investigated attitudes and preferences for interventions regarding chickens raised for meat and eggs, and pigs. Results confirm three things previous studies have shown: a lack of public knowledge of modern farming practices, significant concerns with animal welfare, and a reluctance to change consumer behavior to reflect this concern.
Regarding preferences for disease prevention and intervention, the majority of respondents expressed a preference for proactive, natural interventions like improved housing, enrichment, and hygiene over medicine-based interventions like vaccines and antibiotics. A major concern was the excessive use of antibiotics and the issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), both in regard to animal and human health.
Despite the high reported levels of concern about welfare standards, most consumers are unwilling to pay more to improve these standards. There is a discrepancy between individuals’ attitudes and behaviors as consumers versus citizens. The consumer enjoys meat and low prices, while the citizen has concerns about the treatment of animals in the production of that meat. Researchers call this conflict the citizen-consumer duality, and attribute it to a commonly observed discrepancy between attitude and behavior in people.
Considering that there is so little communication about animal production in mainstream media, it’s only to be expected that the public, including consumers of animal products, are unfamiliar with it. Despite this lack of knowledge, the results of this study support the most recent Eurobarometer survey (conducted twice annually in the E.U.), in which the majority of participants (82%) agreed that farmed animals should be better protected. This is good news for animal advocates who can work to increase public knowledge about issues concerning farmed animal welfare, and also address the discrepancy between attitudes and behavior to help consumers make conscious choices.
This study also provides animal advocates with the most recent information about consumers’ concerns and perceived risks regarding animal production, and the influence of these on consumer behavior. This information can be used to address concerns about policies and communication regarding animal welfare in intensive production systems, and important global issues like antimicrobial resistance.