Examining Cross-Cultural Attitudes Towards Animal Welfare
Our perceptions of animals greatly influence how we treat them. Different cultures have different perspectives on various animals, and because of that, building a global animal advocacy movement requires understanding how different cultures’ views vary.
To understand how culture impacts our perception of animal welfare, a survey was conducted with 4,000 adults from fourteen countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, China, India, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Sudan, Thailand, the U.K., and the United States. The survey defined animal welfare as meeting animals’ needs and keeping them healthy, safe, well-fed, and free from pain, fear, and distress.
About three-quarters of respondents said they understood what animal welfare was. Respondents from the U.S., the U.K., the Philippines, Sudan, India, and Australia were most likely to understand animal welfare. Respondents from China, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Pakistan were least likely to understand animal welfare.
While most participants agreed that both farmed and companion animal welfare were important, in most countries respondents prioritized companion animals over farmed animals. However, respondents from Bangladesh, Sudan, Pakistan, and Nigeria prioritized farmed animal welfare over companion animal welfare. The authors name three major factors that cause people in those countries to prioritize farmed animal welfare:
- These countries are heavily Muslim and Islam teaches dogs are unclean.
- People in these countries live close to farmed animals and so are more familiar with them.
- People in these countries believe that if farmed animals have higher welfare they will produce more food and be less likely to die.
Moreover, most people were willing to pay more for animal-friendly products, especially in Chile, Australia, and Brazil. However, only 52.7% of respondents in Bangladesh agreed with this statement. Additionally, 88.9% of participants believed animal protection laws are important with the highest agreement in Chile and the lowest in Bangladesh.
The survey also examined people’s opinions specifically on the welfare of dogs, cows, pigs, chickens, fishes, turtles, kangaroos, and koalas. Respondents generally prioritized human welfare over animal welfare. Respondents from Australia, Chile, and Brazil felt that dog welfare was more important than human welfare. Respondents from Chile also thought that cow welfare was more important than human welfare, and respondents from Chile and Australia thought that koala welfare was more important than human welfare.
Most participants agreed that chickens and fishes, the most-often consumed animals, experience emotions and pain. However, in most countries (except for Thailand), participants were less likely to agree that fishes experience emotions and pain compared to chickens. Most participants also believed that chickens need space to move around, with the highest agreement on this statement found in Chile, Brazil, and Australia. People in countries with recent “cage-free” egg campaigns were more likely to believe that chickens need room to explore.
Participants in this study were largely younger and educated, and may not fully represent the general population in each country. Also, regional cultural differences in each country may affect people’s attitudes toward animal welfare. Nevertheless, the results emphasize that people in both developed and developing countries care about animal welfare.
Across the globe, many people have similar attitudes about animals, showing concern for animals’ welfare and the desire that animals be legally protected. However, research repeatedly shows that different cultures vary in terms of which species they prioritize and the magnitude of their animal welfare attitudes. Advocates should strive to be culturally competent and understand what people in a particular country believe about animals, instead of inappropriately generalizing from their own context.