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Consumer Perceptions Will Determine Agricultural Practices

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Societal shifts will change the way food is grown in the U.S.

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?

Discuss this Blog Entry 10

Tad (not verified)
on Aug 13, 2012

There is a reason that farmers and ranchers respond to animal housing issues by talking about other things like nutrition and affordability. If farmers and ranchers showed the consumer where the vast majoirty of livestock spend their lives day in day out, the consumer would reject their products wholesale. I have worked in cattle feedlots and chicken houses and have no problem with either. I am too much of a slave to free market principles to advocate outlawing these practices. But the vast majority of folks are clueless and farmers are glad to reinforce their ignorance. Show the public the good, the bad, and the ugly and let the marketplace decide who wins and loses.

Anthony Pannone (not verified)
on Aug 14, 2012

You are correct. Everyone read this comment.

Wile E. Coyote Super Genius (not verified)
on Aug 14, 2012

I think we found the answer to that last statement with the "pink slime" issue. The farmers and ranchers need to check the attitude, at the door, and start having a debate with consumers and ANYONE that disagrees with your position. Look at the recent issue of the HSUS and NCBA. ANY group is full of well educated, highly intelligent, moral, individuals most of whom are meat eaters. They refuse to accept the explainations when they are filled with worlds like "can't" and "expensive". My favorite discussion to explain this is the antibiotic issue. "We can't raise livestock without the use of drugs, and if we could it would be too expensive". Who says and who decided?

Anthony Pannone (not verified)
on Aug 14, 2012

Farmers and ranchers have checked their attitudes and are continuing to help other do so.

The anti-agriculturalists need to check THEIR attitudes.

Wile E. Coyote Super Genius (not verified)
on Aug 14, 2012

Anthony, you made my point! I have been performing research, in the Livestock Industry, for over forty years. I am the Director of Research for a 501 (c)(3) non profit corporation that provides education to veterans whom want to farm or ranch. I have solved over eighteen problems facing the production of livestock and developed programs with step by step procedures to eliminate them. I have been involved with the issues and work to try to HELP farmers and rancher raise livestock in an efficient and profitable manner. The Industry is working on data and information that is forty to fifty years old, I am trying to change that.....one day at a time!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Aug 14, 2012

Here is the problem. For the last forty years at least, the animal rights organizations have been propagandizing the public, from kids in school, to working parents, to grandparents, telling them that "people" are abusing animals. It can be dog breeders (puppy mills to the ARs) or egg producers, somehow the photos, videos, and school study units are promoting a NO-animal contact society. When only 2 percent of the entire country are vegans, and they want to control the food and pets of the other 98 percent, something is seriously wrong. I do not think people need to be submitting to this animal rights propaganda...fight back! Do not let them control the issues...it is Un American and Un democratic.

Jordan (not verified)
on Aug 15, 2012

I understand the concerns and passions on both sides of the animal welfare issue and I think the solution lies in giving consumers choices where "humanely raised" products are verified by a third party. While these products may cost more, that increase in cost provides consumers with a peace of mind and can help producers looking for opportunities to add value to their cattle. Simply forcing everyone to comply with humane practices increases costs for consumers who aren't particularly concerned with how animals are raised. Use the government to confirm claims of humane treatment, not to force everyone to do as they say.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Aug 16, 2012

While I have known about the gap between producers and consumers in regards to an understanding AND approval, I was shocked to hear that consumers are in favor of such strict regulation. Yes, we need to have guidelines that require top notch care and standards and yes, we need to put the health and well being of the animals above anything else. But I feel that consumers, in an effort to convey their opinion about production, feel the need to be VERY strict in what they believe is right. I was quite saddened to hear that such a high percentage of consumers believe producers put profit ahead of well being. This is an alarming sign to me that more action needs to be taken and that when we think we've tried everything we can to reach consumers and share our story, we have to try something else and continue working harder to be the voice of agriculture!!!!

Berosky (not verified)
on Aug 25, 2012

WOW!! How worlds differ on the same planet? There you are, discussing how to improve animal welfare. Not bad, not bad at all. On the other side of the equator, here in Africa we are busy trying to combat malnutrition and get impoverished children good sources of protein. If we get an egg - Praise be to God! If we get a piece of meat, then it must be Christmas if not divine intervention. Mostly we rely on insects, they are good sources of protein. My research on food insecurity means nothing when compared to consumer perception. The most painful part is that your veiws are all correct and accurate. Consumers that side will not buy that which was slaughtered inhumanely. What's worse is that they have the buying power and the choice whereas, on the other side of the equator we have neither. I'm not complaining - it's just an obsvervation. The voice of agriculture here shouts, "Produce more... Let there be enough for everyone!!!" On that side the consumers shout, "Produce right otherwise we won't buy!" COMPARE AND CONTRAST.

Rancher, Researcher, Educator (not verified)
on Aug 30, 2012

The statistics provide some powerful numbers. Oklahoma State University professors have found other numbers to similar questions. A great book from a neutral, economic standpoint of both sides of the issues is 'Compassion by the Pound', which I recommend. Everyone wants to see farm animals recieve optimal care; the public, producers, everyone. We provide the best practices we know of to accomplish what has to be done. However, if the general public thinks farm animals aren't being taken care of, they will most likely vote in favor of eliminating practices they think are harmful. However, other research has shown that consumers aren't intrested in completely banning practices. The real question proposed by Drs. Norwood and Lusk which we should be asking is, "Are animals suffering in current practices, and would they suffer less in an alternative practice?" The American Veterinay Medical Association has been conducting studies to evaluate animal welfare implications of several on-farm practices. The results of these studies can be found on the AVMA website.

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