Consumer Disconnect on Animal Welfare - Survey

New research welcomed by the Not for Profit sector has found that many Australians have not visited farms, have a shallow knowledge of modern animal production and are vague about key animal welfare considerations.

The Gate to Plate: Consumers and Animal Welfare national survey, conducted by researcher Dr Tania Signal from Central Queensland University, showed consumers generally do care about animal welfare safeguards, yet they don’t actually spend more at the supermarket to ensure these safeguards.

Dr Signal recommended thorough and sustained education about real-world farming practices and the range of desirable animal “freedoms” to make a long-term difference.

“Animal welfare advocates talk about freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition, from discomfort, from pain, injury and disease, and from fear and distress, along with the freedom to express normal behaviour,” Dr Signal says.

“Yet our survey shows a disconnect as most consumers have only vague notions of what animal welfare actually involves. We need to tease out ‘real’ knowledge from ‘sentimental’ knowledge’.

“Without a mutually agreed upon definition, consumers are less likely to pay for welfare initiatives by purchasing more costly food items, which in turn puts the burden for animal welfare back onto the producer, without offering any financial aid or incentive to improve welfare standards.”

Pam Ahern, the founder and director of Not for Profit farm animal sanctuary - Edgar’s Mission, welcomed the report and agreed that education and informed decision making was key to making a long-term difference.

“We never tell people what to do and we never tell them what not to do, but to think,” Ahern said.

“And people are slowly starting to think about these things.”

She said the blame doesn’t lie with supermarkets or farmers but with the demand of consumers and “voting dollars”.

“Although consumers declare they are willing to pay more for welfare-friendly products, these intentions are not often translated into practice at the shops,” Dr Signal said.

Dr Signal said informed consumer attention should result in better welfare standards, but there is always a trade-off between animal product price sensitivity and perceptions of animal welfare.

“Consumer concern about animals is currently ‘type specific’. However, with sustained education hopefully we can ensure that people grow to care as much about farm animals as they do about their pets at home,” she said.

Dr Signal said consumers appeared to be willing to pay more for high-profile, easy take-home message products such as “Freedom Eggs”.

“Animal welfare is something that consumers are concerned about but they want more information than what is currently available from RSPCA or internet sources,” she said.

The survey included 1606 participates - with 255 from rural areas, 414 from regional and 937 from urban.

Gate to Plate key findings:

  • Animal Welfare is something that consumers are concerned about;
  • AND they want more information from RSPCA and Internet sources;
  • There appears to be a WTP more for high profile, easy take-home message products like “Freedom Eggs”;
  • For the vast majority of respondents “Animal Welfare” is far down their list of concerns;
  • Nearly a third of participants endorsed  “keeping costs low” as a marker of “good welfare”.
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