Animal Welfare Adds Opportunities For Farmed Animal Sector
Presented at the Banff Pork Seminar 2007 Proceedings, this paper discusses necessary changes to the farmed animal sector in response to consumer concern with animal welfare. The idea of “socially responsible” animal farming necessitates some action on the part of producers, and third party certification and labeling is the proposed approach.
Today’s consumers are interested in environmental performance, animal welfare, food safety and security, and worker care issues. Activist groups are influencing customers and production practices, changing the way farming works. In addition, while Americans spend less on their food than any other country in the world, they demand non-product specific, socially responsible attributes from the food system. These demands are originating from the customer, as opposed to activists.
“Socially Responsible Production”
Successful animal agriculture producers must understand and address consumer questions of trust and values. Where consumers pose questions about compassion and care, the industry must respond similarly, not just provide economic and production related information. A survey conducted by the Animal Agriculture Alliance found that hog farmers, dairy cattle producers and the National Pork Board were the “least believable sources in the treatment of farm animals,” while the Humane Society of the United States was one of the most believable.A Golin/Harris survey found that 51% of consumers have low knowledge about animal care issues and practices, while 50% felt animal care was important in making food purchase decisions. Consumers perceive bigger operations to have worse reputations.
The demand for “socially responsible production” continues to increase, though the industry is mostly self-regulated, not under government auspices. Social pressures are driving animal agriculture to closely examine its production practices.
Options for the Industry to Address Consumer Issues
- Do nothing, let activists define issues for them. Over time, this is not a sustainable approach.
- Self-certification using self-endorsed programs and policies. This is measurable, but not verifiable and consumers are not likely to trust this program.
- Government oversight and regulation. Likely to be “heavy-handed and inflexible.”
- Third party certification and verification. Measurable, verifiable, defensible, and likely to be trusted by consumers. A third-party certification label would likely be effective if the public has knowledge of the program.
Reasons for Third-Party Certification
- Processor or retailer requires it
- Capture additional margin or market share
- Differentiation in competitive markets
- Identify and correct animal welfare challenges before they become an activist issue
- Enhance relationships with processors and food companies
- A producer who owns the processing system wants to differentiate the product from the competition
The demand for socially responsible production practices will likely continue to increase, and eventually become industry standard. The biggest trend in the food system over the next few years will be increased focus and scrutiny regarding how farms operate.