Humane Society Of The United States Factory Farms Focus Group Report
The report explores awareness of and attitudes toward factory farms, humane treatment of farm animals, food safety, pollution, preservation of family farms, and other issues.
The participants in these focus groups were between 25-55 years of age and were chosen because they are more likely to be flexible in their food choices, and be responsible for food selection choices for their children. Each focus group consisted of 12 participants.
General food discussions:
Unprompted discussions of food concerns focused on the relation to human health, and did not extend to the treatment of farm animals, although when prompted, the issue did come up. Participants were generally not comfortable with their food consumption, but this was much more likely to be focused on chemicals and additives as opposed to animal treatment.
Organic foods – Most were familiar with organic foods and thought that they were both “safer” and healthier, although there was a good deal of skepticism about whether you could trust that the foods were actually organic or just labelled so. Cost is the biggest barrier to greater organic food purchase. Most were familiar with the term “free range” chicken, but did don’t know that the alternative to free range is factory farmed.
Knowledge of factory farms – Very few participants were familiar with factory farming and believed that meat is produced by traditional agriculture. Despite lack of familiarity, participants guessed that a high percentage of pigs and chickens were raised in factory farms. Generally, there was no objection to raising the animals indoors, if the facilities were clean, spacious, regulated and included medical care.
Factory farms and the treatment of animals – Each group was shown the film “Chickens under Contract.” In general, group members would not want their children to have seen the video because it would scare them and they might not want to eat chicken any longer. In general, participants were horrified, but most were not surprised. There was some sense that the “best” farms would not treat their chickens as portrayed on the videos.
Factory farms and personal dietary choices – A common theme among the groups was that discussants did not want to know how food was produced out of fear they would no longer enjoy eating meat. The less that food resembles whole animals, the easier it is for consumers to distance themselves from the process. The bottom line for many was that these are animals, expected to serve people, who are at the top of the food chain.
Economics of factory farms – Several believed that because traditional farmers take pride in what they produce, food from family farms would be more humanely produced and taste better than factory produced food, using farmers’ markets as an example. Despite sympathy for small farmers, may thought that factory farming made sense to feed our population, and the world. Despite criticisms for the factory farm systems, there was little support for outlawing factory farms and people were unlikely to refrain from purchasing factory farmed products.
Environmental impact of factory farming – Participants did not autonomously raise the environmental issues of factory farming, as they perceived farming to be about food, rather than the peripheral effects of production.
Humane treatment of farm animals – This topic was initiated by the moderate, but there was unanimous consent that animals should be treated humanely, even if raised for slaughter. The majority felt that the minimum standards for humane treatment was sufficient food, water, space to move, and a clean environment free from abuse. Although most were against caging pigs or crating calves, they were less sensitive to transport issues. Many indicated they would be willing to pay more for humanely treated animal products, although there were limits.
Farm animals — food or pets? – Pets are generally defined in terms of love and attention, regardless of the animal in question.
Animal protection, animal welfare and animal rights – People associate extremists with the term “animal rights,” although many were able to distinguish between animal protection and animal rights.
The power of advertising humane treatment – Participants felt that advertising could be used to successfully promote the humane treatment of animals, i.e. fast food switching to recycled paper, although there was again mistrust of an label indicating so. Regulating factory farms – There were mixed views on the feasibility of regulation, some indicating that larger farms would be able to pay off inspectors.