COVID-19 & Animals: Chinese Citizens’ Beliefs About COVID-19’s Links With Animal Agriculture
This project was designed to support efforts to improve farmed animal welfare in China by establishing a knowledge base surrounding Chinese citizens’ understanding of COVID-19’s origins and their attitudes towards pro-animal policy and consumption changes.
The project’s methodology replicates an earlier Faunalytics survey of U.S. respondents, in which questions were solicited from animal advocates in order to determine what information would best help animal advocacy organizations (Beggs and Anderson, 2020). Those question ideas were compiled and developed into a set of poll questions, which we have translated for this project for Chinese respondents.
Surveys of Chinese attitudes towards farmed animal welfare have been conducted before (You et al., 2014). However, there are signs that the pandemic has significantly changed Chinese attitudes towards animal agriculture (Xinhua, 2020). The U.S. poll found the U.S. population to be largely oblivious about COVID-19’s links to animals, with only moderate support for pro-animal policy changes. One of the aims of this project was to produce findings comparable with the U.S. poll findings, although limitations in terms of methodology and differences between the survey companies in the U.S. and China mean that the data is not directly comparable. Similarly, Question 5 of the U.S. poll (Reaction To An Argument Connecting Disease And Animal Farming) is not replicated here, given its particularity to the U.S. context. Nonetheless, some basic insights can be drawn from the two sets of data.
Origins of COVID-19
This poll and report use the same sources as the U.S. poll as the basis for what the scientific community understands to be the origins of COVID-19:
- The virus likely originated in a wet market in Wuhan, China (Riou & Althaus, 2020)
- Wet markets, where both live and dead animals from wild and farmed sources are sold, bring humans and animals into close proximity, allowing viruses to jump from species to species, as has been observed in previous outbreaks (Woo, Lau, & Yuen, 2006).
- Most Chinese respondents (around 50-60%) demonstrated a basic understanding of the animal origins of COVID-19. This estimate is based on the majority of respondents having either mentioned animals, animal consumption, or nature as the key reasons for the outbreak, with very few respondents mentioning discredited theories. Moreover, almost two-thirds of respondents recognized that COVID-19 started because wild animals were being sold as food when asked specifically about that.
- However, only 2% of Chinese respondents mentioned the wet market conditions that allowed the virus to jump from species to species, suggesting an incomplete understanding of its origins. Even on simple true/false items, fewer than a third of respondents correctly indicated that the virus spread because animals were kept in very close quarters. This suggests that most Chinese respondents, similar to their U.S. counterparts, have a shallow understanding of the animal origins of COVID-19.
- There is strong support for legislation that would protect both animals and human health. Most respondents (around 60%) support restrictions on animal agriculture and trade to prevent future pandemics. The Chinese and U.S. polls showed similar patterns of support and opposition for legislation related to COVID-19 and animals. For instance, like the U.S. poll, opposition was the strongest (37%) to the proposal of banning any type of animal farming that has been linked to a serious human disease outbreak. Interestingly, the opposition was stronger in the Chinese sample, suggesting that the general Chinese population is more cautious about restricting animal farming than its U.S. counterpart.
- Many Chinese respondents reported intentions to reduce their meat consumption (49%) and donate to animal charities (40%), suggesting that animal product consumption may change significantly because of COVID-19, at least among the younger, urban Chinese population who made up this sample. In contrast, the U.S. poll found that most respondents (56-68%) did not intend to change their dietary or donation behavior at all. It is possible that this stems from a difference in Chinese and U.S. attitudes toward personal responsibility, origins of the virus, or the best solutions. Alternatively, it may reflect a difference in attitudes at the beginning of an outbreak versus many months into it, which might be found in any country. These possibilities may be worth exploring further.
- The vast majority of respondents (81%) believed that animal shelters and sanctuaries should be considered essential services. There was also strong backing for this policy in the U.S. poll.
- Very few Chinese respondents were aware of the threats to life faced by animals used in research (10.6%) or those who depend on tourists for food (18.8%). Again, this mirrors the U.S. poll finding.
- The vast majority of Chinese respondents were aware that cats and dogs are not a major reason for the spread of COVID-19 (94.6%), and that disease outbreaks have been caused by farmed animals before (94.1%). However, the proportions of these in the Chinese poll was smaller than in the U.S. poll, suggesting that the Chinese population is less knowledgeable on these two issues than its U.S. counterpart.
This project was led by Vincent Chow and co-authored by Yassin Alaya and Faunalytics’ Research Director, Dr. Jo Anderson.
Many thanks to The Food System Research Fund for providing a generous grant for the study. Thanks to Eric Zhao and Chloe Dempsey for assisting with translations of the survey questions.