What do U.S. citizens think is the ideal pig farm?

Patrycia Sato, Maria J. Hötzel and Marina A.G. von Keyserlingk (2017) American Citizens’ Views of an Ideal Pig Farm, Animals, 7(8), 64 

In recent years, animal farming has come under increasing scrutiny. Public awareness of animal welfare issues is growing, and while policy changes have been made in the EU, animal farming in the United States is still largely traditional and unregulated. Historically, studies into public perception have focused on countries other than the U.S. This study therefore aimed to examine the views of the U.S. public in relation to the ideal pig farm. Insights gained from the study can contribute to the sustainability of the pork industry, and improve animal welfare. Results from this study indicate that space is viewed as the most crucial aspect that determines whether a pig farm is viewed favourably by the public.

To gain more insight in the view of the U.S. population towards pig farms, the researchers asked participants one open-ended question; “what do you consider to be an ideal pig farm, and why are these characteristics important to you?”. They used an on-line survey to ensure anonymity to reduce the likelihood of respondents giving socially acceptable, rather than honest, answers. The team also wanted to find out if people in the U.S. have different attitudes towards the expression “pig farm” and “pork farm”. Previous research conducted in Denmark, concluded that people think more ‘business-like’ when using the word pork, this study therefore randomly allocated the 200 participants the question either about their ideal pig or pork farm.

An ideal pig farm maximises animal welfare

This was the case whether respondents were asked to comment on the characteristics they desired in a pig or pork farm. Overall, both groups raised similar topics in their answers. Therefore, the researchers concluded that it did not make a difference whether they were asked about a pig or pork farm. From analysing participant’s resposnes, the team identified six primary themes: animal welfare, business operation, naturalness, ethical considerations, the use of hormones, antibiotics and chemical residues, and the environment.

Even though characteristics related to animal welfare were mentioned most often (cited by 74% of respondents), this does not necessarily mean that animal welfare concerns are found most important. When describing a pig or pork farm, most frequently participants described it as a production facility. Space was most often mentioned; 44% of respondents brought this up as a characteristic of the ideal pig farm. The animals must have room to move and express their natural behaviour. In many cases, people considered this as part of their concern for animal welfare. This is potentially a result of successful campaigning by animal welfare organisations. However, they also mentioned it as a prerequisite for producing good quality meat. Environmental factors, on the contrary, were cited by only 13% of respondents. It is worth mentioning that the 14% of respondents that are involved with the pork industry gave similar answers as the other participants.

Interestingly, some welfare concerns were mentioned not nearly as much as others. Concerns related to slaughter were brought up regularly, while issues associated with animal transportation and tail docking, for example, were hardly ever cited. This can be due to a lack of awareness, potentially as a consequence of media attention and campaigners focusing on specific issues. Slaughter can also be a particular concern, since it potentially makes people feel uncomfortable with the idea of slaughtering animals for their own gain.

Previous research has often concluded that food safety is regularly seen as more important than animal welfare. Even so, in real life price might override both considerations and influence consumer behaviour. This study demonstrates participant’s concern for both animal welfare and sanitary conditions. It would be interesting to conduct further research into the influence of these factors on consumer purchasing decisions.

World Animal Protection’s view

For both animal welfare organisations and pig farmers, this research gives insight into the characteristics that people think about when considering what pork to buy. This is valuable information for making the industry more sustainable and humane. Further research is also needed to study the underlying values and beliefs of the U.S. population and their purchasing behaviour.