Reducing Farmed Animal Suffering With Information About Welfare Labels
As animal advocates, many of us may be uncomfortable with the idea of promoting any kind of meat consumption, even the consumption of higher-than-average welfare animal products. But for those who are concerned with reducing the total amount of suffering animals experience, promoting higher-welfare animal products can be a way to promote the reduction of suffering while most people are not yet ready to give up meat completely. At its best, promoting higher-welfare products can also promote the idea that animals used for food should be given moral consideration, which can in turn encourage more people to care about farmed animals.
Many people who still consume animal products are showing an increasing concern about animal welfare. However, their attitudes towards animals are not always reflected in their food choices. This may be because people often don’t think very closely about what to buy in the supermarket, and instead just get the same things as always by habit. It may also be because raising animals with higher welfare than what is required by law comes at an extra cost, which makes these products more expensive.
This study looked at whether providing information about what welfare labels actually mean for animal welfare would lead people to think more closely about their decisions, and make them more willing to buy higher-welfare products when they understand what they’re paying for. The product types in this study were chicken breast fillets, eggs, and bacon “rashers” (strips), and for each product type there were five selections: no label (least expensive), two welfare labels with different welfare standards and price (the one with the highest standards was more expensive), an organic label which had about as high welfare standards as the most expensive welfare label (most expensive option), and none of the products. One group was given only pictures of the label and the price of the product, while the other was given those together with information about the welfare standards for each option. In addition to seeing if information about welfare labels influenced purchasing intentions, the study also looked at demographic factors such as age, sex, income level, and participants’ animal empathy score, to see whether these influenced purchase intentions.
The study was conducted as a survey, and it is important to note that this means that it can be difficult to know for certain whether participants’ answers in the survey actually reflect decisions they would make in real life, both because the situation where a participant is answering a survey and the one where they are in the supermarket are very different from each other, and because they may answer in a way that they believe is more socially acceptable or desirable in the survey than what they would actually answer if they were completely honest.
The results showed that information about welfare standards had a significant effect on purchasing intentions, making participants more likely to intend to buy higher-welfare products. The study also found that the youngest participants (18-29 years) had significantly higher animal empathy scores than all other age groups, and that women scored significantly higher than men. Those with the highest animal empathy scores were more likely to select the highest welfare selections for each product type, or to choose the “none” option.
It’s worth noting, however, that there was no significant difference in the effect of animal empathy scores on purchase intentions between the group that received information about the welfare standards and the one that didn’t, so the difference in purchasing intentions between the two groups was therefore explained by the additional information one group received. Those over 30 years old were more likely to intend to buy higher-welfare products than the younger participants, perhaps because of affordability. Likewise, household income had a significant effect on purchase intentions of chicken breast fillets and bacon rashers (though not eggs): those with incomes of AUD 0-49,000 were less likely to buy higher-welfare products than those with higher household incomes. Women were more likely than men to intend to buy higher welfare chicken breast fillets and eggs, but not bacon rashers.
The findings suggest that providing information about welfare labels may be an effective way of reducing animal suffering, as it helps people understand what they are paying for and think actively about their purchase. Higher-welfare products mean less suffering for the animals, and consumer demand for them may also make the practices more common. Seeing as information increased intentions to buy higher-welfare products — above the intentions related to high animal empathy scores — it doesn’t seem to be necessary to raise people’s animal empathy to a high enough level in order to make them willing to consider buying higher-welfare animal products.
When provided information about the welfare labeling standards, consumers may be reminded that the products they buy are coming from an animal, and they may begin to internalize the idea that the welfare of that animal matters. The additional information helps them understand why they should buy products from animals with higher welfare, but it may also help them understand that they are paying for a product from an animal. Animal advocates should therefore work to spread information about the welfare standards for different animal welfare labels. To make this as effective as possible, information should be provided as closely as possible in time and space to the point where consumers will be making their purchasing decisions in the supermarket. The study also tells us that special attention should be given to influencing men, both in terms of attitudes towards animals and purchasing behaviour, as they were less likely to buy higher-welfare products and scored lower on animal empathy.