Last week, I spoke at the second annual Animal Welfare Symposium, held at the University of Arkansas. The event focused on animal husbandry topics such as state laws regarding animal welfare, consumer perceptions, educating the public and improving modern agriculture practices. One of the featured speakers was Candace Croney, Purdue University associate professor of animal sciences, who spoke about the factors impacting public perceptions of animal welfare and animal rights.
“What we are seeing is that more and more people are concerned about animal welfare issues,” says Croney, who shared a roundup of statistics to prove her point.
- A survey showed that 64% of people support “passing strict laws concerning the treatment of farm animals.”
- In order to qualify as “ethical food,” animals should be treated humanely, say 91% of people.
- 73% of women and 65% of men have more confidence in food sold in grocery stores that actively support ethical and sustainable farming practices.
- Half of all those polled believe animal care is important when deciding which food to buy, which brands to choose and where to shop.
- Another 64% believe that farmers and food companies put their own profits ahead of treating animals humanely.
- 40% of people believe ethical and moral considerations should be primarily used to determine how to treat farm animals.
- The majority, or 81% of people, believe animals and humans have the same ability to feel pain.
- 75% of people surveyed would vote for a law that would require farmers to treat animals more humanely.
“What we are finding, if you look at the patterns in the data sets, is that there are areas of disconnect between animal agriculture and consumers. The definition of animal welfare is different between consumers and farmers. Farmers view welfare as meeting animals’ basic needs for food, water and shelter, while consumers define animal welfare in terms of letting the animals live natural lives and giving them quick, painless and humane deaths,” says Croney.
So, what do consumers really want?
“Consumers want cheap food, safe food and food that tastes good, and that’s exactly what producers do. So, why do we have an issue?” she asks.
She says agriculture needs to do a better job of addressing the issues. When consumers ask about animal housing, agriculture responds with messages of nutrition, affordability, food access and the economics of standard methods.
“We are speaking Greek, and they are speaking Spanish. When we don’t answer their questions, it makes a lot of folks really mad. We have a perfect storm culminating for U.S. agriculture. If society believes the industry isn’t self-regulating, they will take steps to do it for us. We need to emphasize animal welfare as a key component of ethical, sustainable agriculture. We must take care of people, animals and the environment.”
In a nutshell, Croney says agriculture has to do a better job of simply answering consumer questions, meeting them in the middle and ultimately taking a close look at standard practices.
“Does standard practice automatically make it right? Just because you can do it, does that mean you should?” asks Croney.
That question has the power to change the way farmers and ranchers do business. What do you think of Croney’s statements? Did the statistics she shared surprise you?