Persuading Asian Farmers To Take Animal Welfare Seriously
Animal welfare is a term that has been common to hear in the West for quite some time: we hear it in the news, we see labels on our food, and we learn about it in school. Part of this is because factory farming has had a longer history here: as farming of animals has intensified, we’ve come to realize that the quality of animals’ lives — not just the number of days they live — is an important ethical factor to consider.
In this study, researchers from the University of Queensland (Australia) investigated what reasons for introducing higher animal welfare standards are most compelling to leaders in the Asian animal agriculture industry. This is especially of interest as most comparable studies focus on Western countries with a substantially different cultural background. Moreover, the study gives some insight into the respective perceptions in Asian countries.
The researchers interviewed stakeholders in six Asian countries: Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh, and China, the biggest animal-producing country in the world. In each country, multiple focus groups (i.e. group interviews) were held in different subregions. Each focus group consisted of industry leaders from different fields (e.g. private industry leaders and government representatives), all with the ability to introduce change in private businesses. To measure the participants‘ perception, the authors prepared a list of potential benefits that could be achieved when introducing higher animal welfare standards. These benefits were summarized in four different categories: Human-focused benefits (e.g. food safety), financial benefits, animal-focused benefits (e.g. to avoid cruelty) and community-focused benefits (e.g. to preserve ecosystems). As the main task of the study, all participants from a focus group had to work together to rank these benefits by their perceived importance and relevance.
Among all types of benefits, animal-focused benefits were discussed the least amount of time. While avoiding cruelty was identified as potentially beneficial in half of the focus groups and equally across all countries, further animal-focused benefits were mostly perceived as such in India and Bangladesh only. In the other countries, the study found that animal-focused benefits were not perceived as highly compelling reasons to introduce change.
Most important for the participants of the study were financial benefits. This was especially true for the focus groups in China and Southeast Asia. The main benefits in this regard were increased productivity, and improved quality of the end products. However, the researchers note that — especially in China — doubt was still present if higher animal welfare would really result in financial benefit.
Overall, the animal industry leaders in China and Southeast Asia were quite consistent in their perception. Substantially differing perceptions could only be observed between the Indian subcontinent on the one side and China and Southeast Asia on the other. The participants in India and Bangladesh identified animal-focused reasons and also human-focused reasons more often as benefits. According to the authors, this higher perception of human- and animal-related benefits is probably caused by the fact that India and Bangladesh are notably less developed countries compared to the other regions in the study; farmed animals are generally more present in everyday life in such societies, and those countries have not intensified their agriculture in the same way that countries like China have. The authors hypothesize that, among other factors, such circumstances make it harder to obtain a level of cognitive dissonance needed to not care about the welfare of farmed animals.
The study also notes that religious beliefs may play an important role in forming the observed perceptions in India and Bangladesh, especially since cows are revered as holy animals in Hinduism, which is the biggest religion on the Indian subcontinent. China and Southeast Asia, on the other hand, showed a higher preference for financial benefits. Besides having other religious beliefs, these regions are more highly developed and have bigger agriculture industries that play a substantial role in the countries’ economies.
This study shows how potential reasons for introducing higher animal welfare standards in the animal industry are perceived in a range of Asian countries. Animal advocates can make use of the results as a guideline to create effective lines of argumentation to convince leaders in those industries to move in the direction of better animal welfare. Also, the study shows the need for more research to highlight the benefits of introducing steps towards higher animal welfare, as doubt is still present among the livestock industry‘s decision-makers. The well-targeted communication of such findings to stakeholders can be an important aspect of advocating for animal rights in animal agriculture industries.