Impact of Broiler Production System Practices on Consumer Perceptions of Animal Welfare10 January 2014
A survey of Dutch university students offers an interesting insight into consumer perceptions of animal welfare regarding broiler production. There were differences as a result of gender and experience of farming but the attribute most highly ranked and consistently was outdoor access for the birds.
This research at Wageningen University in the Netherlands explores the extent to which different farm management practices influence the perceived animal friendliness of broiler production systems, and how this differs between individuals.
In Poultry Science, Janneke de Jonge and Hans van Trijp explain that, using a conjoint design with paired comparisons, respondents evaluated broiler production systems that were described on the basis of seven animal welfare-related practices.
Two hundred nine students (59 per cent were women, 91 per cent consumed meat) at a Dutch university participated in the survey on a voluntary basis.
The seven broiler system attributes were selected to reflect those that:
- have been identified to be linked to broiler welfare in the animal science literature
- are applied in existing animal welfare certification schemes to discriminate between lower and higher animal welfare standards, and
- are perceived by consumers to be important and insufficiently met in conventional production systems.
They found that practices in the area of outdoor access, stocking density and day-night rhythm were overall perceived to have a larger impact on perceptions of animal friendliness than other practices, such as transport duration or the type of breed used.
Individuals differed regarding the extent to which they believed the different farm management practices influenced the animal friendliness of the production system. Differences between individuals regarding their knowledge about and familiarity with livestock farming, degree of anthropomorphism, and their moral beliefs regarding animal welfare partly explained the relative importance individuals attached to farm management practices.
The findings highlight some interesting differences between expert (i.e. animal science-based) and consumer perceptions of animal welfare, remark de Jonge and van Trijp in their discussion. For example, the type of breed that is used is seen by animal scientists as one of the most important factors that influence animal welfare, but comes out as among the least important attributes in the current study.
The Wageningen researchers add that, although they found that individual background characteristics can to some extent predict consumers’ animal welfare perceptions and salience of broiler production practices therein, the effect sizes were relatively small.
They also found that some attributes are ranked in the same position by the large majority of respondents (e.g. outdoor access ranked first), whereas other attributes are ranked differently by different respondents (e.g. day-night rhythm or slaughter method). Some differences were observed between genders in terms of their views on animal welfare priorities.
De Jonge and van Trijp concluded that the insight they obtained on animal welfare-related farm management practices in the consumers’ minds, most strongly contribute to animal welfare, and the existence of differences between consumers, can be helpful in the development of animal welfare-based certification schemes that are appealing to consumers, as well as the positioning of welfare concepts in the market.
de Jonge J. and H.C.M. van Trijp. 2013. The impact of broiler production system practices on consumer perceptions of animal welfare. Poult. Sci. 92(12):3080-3095. doi: 10.3382/ps.2013-03334
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