Farm Workers’ Perceptions Of Animal Welfare In China
In China, some people view animal welfare as a Western concept that is irrelevant when human needs are not fully met. However, the authors of this study point out that the concept aligns with traditional Chinese values of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, which promote compassion for animals. Furthermore, increased animal guardianship and media attention may be changing how China approaches animal welfare issues.
At the same time, China is a major producer and consumer of farmed animals worldwide. As Chinese animal agriculture continues growing and intensifying, it’s important to understand how those in the farming industry think about animal welfare.
This study examined farm workers’ perceptions of animal welfare on two dairy farms in China. The lead researcher lived for several weeks on each farm, where she observed and interviewed farm management and staff. The interviews focused on staff background, what it meant for cattle to live a good life, and their perceptions of animal welfare.
The results exposed a connection between human and animal welfare. Fundamentally, farm workers felt that human welfare is a prerequisite for animal welfare. Workers believed that animal welfare improvements are unnecessary if their own needs (e.g., appropriate nutrition and medical care) are unmet. However, some participants also felt that improving animal welfare benefits humans. For example, a few people shared that “content” cows can improve a farm’s profits as well as its workers’ well-being. Additionally, many workers felt a moral obligation to provide good animal care.
While some workers were unfamiliar with the term “animal welfare,” they often considered, prioritized, and made decisions related to welfare. For example, animal health was prioritized because it aligned with productivity. This included proper nutrition, treatment of injury and disease, and even improving the cows’ mental states (for example, avoiding stressful handling and providing outdoor access). Improving environmental features like cow bedding and barn equipment was also deemed important, but this came with barriers like cost and logistics. For instance, sand was considered ideal for cow bedding but was difficult to access in certain regions.
The authors point out that improving the humane handling of farmed animals can sometimes improve farm productivity, but that high productivity can also lead to welfare problems. As a result, they recommend that animal advocates provide Chinese farm workers with evidence-based insights about animal welfare considerations, especially as they relate to improving farms.
Advocates in China should also make sure that farm workers and managers are educated about animal welfare, as the concept remains somewhat unknown. They emphasize making sure that the definition is understood, as the Chinese translation of “animal welfare” is often interpreted in different (sometimes confusing) ways.
Finally, given the workers’ emphasis on human welfare, it’s important that efforts to improve the lives and well-being of farmed animals in China also consider farm employees — specifically, employees need to be taken care of with proper nutrition, medical care, and living conditions. Similarly, improvements in animal welfare may be especially welcomed if they also improve employee welfare (for example, improving animal management practices in a way that promotes worker safety).