As the farm animal care debate ensues, the American Farm Bureau Federation polled consumers on their opinions. In cooperation with Oklahoma State University (OSU), more than 1,000 individuals nationwide were polled by telephone on farm-animal welfare.

F. Bailey Norwood, OSU assistant professor of agricultural economics, says the survey results point to three lessons for the livestock industry.

  • The public cares far more about human welfare and farmers than farm animals. As a social issue, the financial well being of U.S. farmers was twice as important as the well being of farm animals. Human poverty, the U.S. health care system, and food safety were found to be more than five times more important than farm-animal well being.

  • Consumers understand animal welfare is a result of their shopping decisions, in addition to farmer decisions. A majority of consumers believe their personal food choices have a large impact on the well being of farm animals, and that if consumers desire higher animal-welfare standards, food companies will provide it.

    Thus, when consumers choose to purchase traditional meat instead of more expensive meat raised under alternative production systems (e.g., organic meat or free-range meat), they understand their purchase directly determines the level of animal care provided. If consumers are happy purchasing traditional meat, this signifies they approve of the animal care provided on traditional farms.

  • Consumers are much more accepting of the use of gestation crates for sows if given a reason for the crates other than reducing production costs. For example, only 18% of consumers agreed with the statement, "housing pregnant sows in crates is humane." However, when the statement is modified to, "housing pregnant sows in crates for their protection from other hogs is humane," 45% agree with the statement.
Given the difficulty of educating consumers, the use of such crates may always present a public relations problem. Plus, as this question shows, even when educated on gestation crates, they are still opposed by a majority of consumers. However, what the survey does suggest is that efforts by organizations to educate the public are not in vain.
-- American Farm Bureau Federation