We care about farm animal welfare but it’s out of our hands

Jamieson, J., Reiss, M. J., Allen, D., Asher, L., Parker, M. O., Wathes, C. M., & Abeyesinghe, S. M. (2015). Adolescents care but don’t feel responsible for farm animal welfare. Society & Animals, 23(3), 269-297.

The authors of this paper hoped to create a baseline of attitudes, knowledge and intended behaviour among 14- to 15-year old secondary school attendees in the UK. This study found that adolescents had little detailed knowledge of the breadth of farm animal welfare issues, but they showed some awareness of generic issues such as space allocation for individual animals. They used this to suggest that, in their view, chickens have the worst welfare while dairy cows and sheep have the best.

Despite some concern for animal welfare on farms in a general sense, the adolescents in this study felt they have little personal responsibility to improve it, and a limited ability to make changes through any choices that they might make as consumers. The respondents placed most of the responsibility on the government as the agency with the most power to make changes and improvements.

Consumer power

The students responded positively when asked if it is important to be able to identify welfare standards in the food they ate, but felt that they wouldn’t really be able to do this in practice. This disconnect between alarm about poor welfare on farms and a perceived inability to do anything about it (or, possibly, an unwillingness to do anything about it as they seem to delegating responsibility elsewhere) is concerning to the authors as their future consumer behaviour will not reflect the importance they currently attribute to animal welfare.

The authors suggest that adolescents need help to become aware of their potential power to raise welfare standards through their consumer choices. However, they suggest caution around implementing traditional educational packages to enable this transition – rather a more innovative approach is needed to remove barriers such as disassociation, voluntary ignorance, and perceived lack of personal influence.

World Animal Protection’s view 

We believe that young people have an important role to play, now and in the future, when it comes to buying and consuming high welfare meat and animal products.  Regardless of whether they are buying the products with their own money, or making requests and demands of companies for higher welfare products or brands, they have the power to influence their family and their peers and any attempts to enhance their awareness with regard to their purchasing power is welcomed.