What Do Brazilians Know About The Dairy Industry?
In 2017, 54% of the world’s population lived in urban areas; however, the percentage is even higher in some countries like Brazil where, according to the World Bank, 84% of the population lived in urban areas. Many urban dwellers are not aware of the inhumane practices some farms use to increase animal production and, consequently, produce cheaper foods.
Researchers in Europe and in other countries (e.g., Mexico, Denmark) have conducted yearly studies on consumers’ (people who buy animal products) and citizens’ (people who live in cities or in a specific country) opinions about farmed animal welfare and animal welfare-friendly products. These studies have shown that people are concerned for the welfare of farmed animals, with some showing interest in buying products produced in higher welfare farming systems. The studies also show that, in some cases, people are changing their attitudes towards meat consumption.
However, studies on citizens’ views and perceptions of farm animal welfare within specific geographic locations are limited, particularly in countries with emerging economies like Brazil. This study addresses that gap. Researchers designed a two-part project: first, they explored what Brazilian citizens considered an “ideal” dairy farm and, second, they assessed citizens’ awareness of and position on specific dairy farming practices. In the first part of the study, the researchers interviewed 40 Brazilians (18 years or older) that were not involved in dairy production. They asked open-ended, semi-structured questions about participants’ views on dairy cow welfare, and the first question asked interviewees to describe their ideal dairy farm.
Results revealed that Brazilian citizens’ ideal farm would produce milk without added hormones and antibiotics, allow cows to eat “natural things” (e.g., grass), and avoid using agrochemicals. They also indicated that cows would not suffer during milking, be generally happy, live in comfort, have adequate space and not be confined, and have access to pasture. Interestingly, the interviewees linked management practices to the quality of the product (i.e., milk). They suggested that farmers must treat the cows humanely and that farm staff must be trained to do the same. Generally, interviewees thought family farms are more likely to treat their animals well and that pasture-based systems were ideal for cows and higher milk quality. Many of the interviewees revealed that they do not trust dairy farming practices and believe the industry makes false claims (e.g., cows are on pasture when they are confined).
For the second part of the study, the researchers interviewed 296 people to better understand their knowledge and attitudes about specific farming practices. The first question asked whether interviewees agreed with the statement “an ideal farm should pay attention, among other things, to the welfare of their animals.” If interviewees answered yes to this question, they were asked to describe their expectations for this type of farm. Then, interviewees were asked to indicate whether they were aware of specific farming practices and whether they supported or opposed these practices.
Results showed that citizens were concerned about how cows are fed and kept. They associated healthy animals with access to pasture and comfortable, clean facilities. Regarding animal welfare, interviewees mentioned the importance of ethical management (e.g., avoiding aggressive handling and mistreatment) to ensure a good quality of life. Interviewees also felt that animals should be allowed to perform natural behaviors, not be confined, have access to pastures and open spaces, and engage in a normal life cycle (e.g., “not forced to give birth constantly to sustain milk production”). Again, people associated animal welfare with milk quality and cows’ levels of productivity.
The second part of the study also provided quantifiable information regarding Brazilians’ existing knowledge of dairy farming practices. Only 45% of those surveyed were aware of early cow-calf separation, 32% were familiar with zero-grazing, 21% knew about the culling of newborn male calves, and 15% knew that many animals are dehorned without pain control. Once the practices were described, interviewees roundly rejected them (84%, 85%, 90%, and 89%, respectively). The interviewees already familiar with these practices said that they learned about them mainly from the internet (26%) and on television (21%); only 5% obtained information from animal protection sources.
Overall, this study adds to advocates’ knowledge about citizens’ awareness of dairy farming practices and what they expect from a high welfare farming system. Importantly, the study demonstrates that citizens link animal welfare to milk quality. This link requires further study, as it could greatly inform campaign strategy. The most salient take-home message for animal advocates, though, is that citizens are interested in learning more about how animals are reared and about alternatives to current production systems. In addition, the study reveals the channels people use to get information about animals and animal welfare, which advocates can use to reach citizens in these emerging economies.