Human concerns take priority over farm-animal welfare, according to a survey of 1,000 U.S. citizens. The American Farm Bureau Federation in conjunction with Oklahoma State University, conducted a 50-question survey which revealed that consumers considered issues involving the U.S. health-care system, poverty and food safety five times more important than the well-being of animals on farm.
To further gain perspective of the public's interest in and concern about farm animal well-being, F. Bailey Norwood, Oklahoma State assistant professor, points to he calls an "innovative survey question." It found that consumers equated the suffering of one human to that of 11,500 farm animals, indicating that human issues are more pressing priorities.
What's more, the study found that most survey respondents believed farmers should be compensated if they are forced to comply with more rigorous animal-welfare standards.
"While this does not imply that farm animal welfare is not important, it does imply when forming public policy, the interests of farm animals take a backseat to the interest of humans," Norwood wrote in a summary of survey results posted on the AFBF Web site.
He points out that consumers see animal welfare as a result of shopping decisions in addition to product choices. As the survey illustrates, most respondents believe if consumers want more stringent animal-welfare standards, companies will provide it — and charge more for it. Thus, when consumers choose to purchase traditional meat instead of more expensive meat raised under alternative production systems like organic or free-range, they understand that their purchase directly determines the level of animal care provided, Norwood surmises.
The survey did ask a few questions about specific animal well-being issues. For example, involving gestation-sow crates, researchers found that consumers were more accepting of the practice when provided an explanation for its use.
When the survey framed the question as — "housing pregnant sows in crates is humane," only 18 percent of consumers agreed with the statement. When the question was presented as "housing pregnant sows in crates for their protection from other hogs is humane," 45 percent agreed with the statement.
This further verifies that while the activists speak loudly, they don't speak for U.S. consumers as a whole. Still, activists' the battle for the hearts and minds of state and national legislators continues and that cannot be ignored.