What Motivates Change In The Asian Farmed Animal Industry?
Despite a growing global awareness of the importance of animal welfare, many key stakeholders in the farmed animal industry in Asia fail to take concrete steps to protect animal welfare. China alone is responsible for 40% of the world’s animal agriculture, yet the animal welfare movement in Asia remains under-researched. Understanding the modern motivations of key players in the farmed animal industry to improve animal welfare – and the challenges they face – could help close the gap between knowledge and practice, and encourage engagement in animal welfare initiatives.
The researchers conducted 11 focus groups with 83 participants in China, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand. The four countries were selected for their high economic impact on the Australasian agriculture sector, as well as their diverse social and cultural contexts. Participants included veterinarians, business representatives from the farmed animal industry, government representatives and academics.
Participants were shown the results of previous studies in their region, which listed the five most important motivating factors impacting on ability to improve animal welfare. These results were used to spark discussion about the benefits and challenges of improving animal welfare. Focus group sizes varied from 3 to 14 participants and the main limitation of the study was in the process of translation. Translators were instructed to include sentiments that were true to the participant, so transcription was not necessarily verbatim.
Eight key motivations for improving the welfare of farmed animals were identified and discussed.
- Law – respondents in all countries agreed that the law is the biggest motivator to improve animal welfare standards. However, it was found that the importance of law relies on strong enforcement and is often tied up with company approval. The lack of awareness of various animal welfare laws was also a concern for participants.
- Workplace approval – without the endorsement of a workplace, respondents believed that animal welfare improvements would be impossible to implement. Participants in all four countries shared the opinion that profit is essential to making companies improve animal welfare standards. Some participants claimed that if a company is engaged and gives approval to changes, this could be an even more effective way to improve standards than through the law.
- Personal knowledge – this was discussed as a motivator to improving animal welfare and a barrier. 56% of the respondents held farmed animal industry stakeholders responsible for developing knowledge about animal welfare. It was widely agreed that industry stakeholders need to know the potential benefits to be gained by improving animal welfare. Participants also noted that the benefits of animal welfare improvements aren’t well known among workers in the farmed animal industry.
- Tools and resources – participants in the China and Beijing focus group interpreted this to mean scientific information, while other focus groups associated tools and resources with physical items, such as pre-slaughter stunning equipment. Physical space was also a concern, as well as lack of staff and money to make improvements to animal welfare
- Personal value – Thai respondents were particularly motivated by considerations of personal value, including empathy, responsibility and the desire to reduce suffering. Although participants frequently talked about how their personal values make them want to improve animal welfare, talk of financial benefits often dominated the conversation.
- Religion – reference was made to Buddhism as a personal value in the Thai focus groups and religion was also mentioned in Malaysia. In the past, religion was ranked as the most important motivator in improving animal welfare in previous Malaysian surveys. However, it was found that where Malaysian respondents spoke of religion, they were really talking about the religious beliefs of their customers (around 62% of Malaysians identify as Muslim). Respondents in Malaysia agreed that they equated religion with law, since Sharia Law views religion, state, and government as one.
- Financial benefit – this was not ranked highly in previous studies but was brought up by many respondents in various focus groups this time around. Many participants felt that customers in non-Asian markets would pay more for higher quality products that involve less animal suffering but that same demand does not exist within Asia. Respondents noted that improving animal welfare often means increased production costs, which then raise consumer prices. Participants’ answers suggested that money could be an even stronger motivator than law, especially when there is a lack of law and regulation. Participants in past groups perhaps felt uncomfortable discussing money as a motivator, so this may not necessarily be a new motivating factor. Participants in the current focus group also could have felt more comfortable with reflecting on the needs of other stakeholders in their industry compared with previous studies.
- Food safety – unlike in previous studies, focus group respondents brought up the issue of providing safe food to consumers. While there was skepticism about changing tradition in order to improve animal welfare, participants were much more certain of the need for good food safety. Chinese focus group respondents strongly agreed with the idea that by allocating funds to food safety, governments could make improvements to animal welfare without describing it as such.
By analyzing the relationship between the various motivating factors, researchers found that personal value and knowledge are both required to improve animal welfare. The belief in the requirement of law also motivates stakeholders to make changes. Although it is harder and takes more time to influence stakeholders’ minds and beliefs, this is the most compelling way to change animal welfare standards for the better in the absence of legal requirements. The researchers suggest that animal welfare initiatives should focus on developing both the short term (mostly external, connecting action with rewards) and long term (mostly personal) motivations of stakeholders, for maximum impact.