Insights from a systematic literature review
The public are an important stakeholder at the end of the food chain, and as they are the end-users of food products, their opinions need to be taken into consideration in order to produce food that meets their needs. However, they are generally unfamiliar about production practices used in animal production.
Consumer views on production diseases are unknown
Two literature reviews on the public’s attitudes and willingness-to-pay for characteristics of animal products were conducted, including 80 and 54 studies respectively. Both reviews highlighted a research gap in relation to production diseases. In the willingness-to-pay literature, only four studies examined production diseases. Just over 25% of studies examining attitudes included some mention of production diseases, mainly in relation to treatment of animal ill-health. Prophylactic antimicrobial use was identified as a concern, but the public appear to accept the use of antimicrobials to treat sick animals.
Whilst there is a considerable number of studies focussing on consumer willingness-to-pay and public attitudes for improved (i.e. higher than minimum) animal welfare standards, it is not clear whether this relates to the reduction or management of production diseases related to intensive production systems.
Naturalness is appreciated
Aside from the research gap, the literature examined provides insights on the characteristics of animal production which are generally important to consumers. Humane treatment and naturalness are central to attitudes and concerns in relation to animal production. Twenty studies which had examined naturalness indicated it to be important for the consumers and in all of these studies, the public appear to have concerns that some animal production systems may breach this core concept. More traditional, extensive and outdoor systems were viewed as more natural, with resulting perceptions of higher quality products. Despite concerns, the public consider modern production systems to have valuable characteristics, such as improved hygiene.
Consumers associated characteristics such as higher animal welfare with other product attributes such as safety, health and quality although, this may not be the case in reality because the association is based on consumer perceptions. As a result, consumers are willing to pay a small price premium for products produced according to higher than minimum production or quality standards. Both the concerns of production systems and willingness-to-pay a premium for higher quality products are associated with a number of consumer characteristics including gender, age, education and income, and also vary by region.
What can we conclude from this?
Both market-based and legislative solutions would appear to be most practical approach in enabling different public preferences to be identified and taken into consideration. European policy should reflect the regional and cultural differences identified to ensure that consumer preferences are met, so as to ensure that consumers are not priced out of the market, and also to guarantee that the opinions of those who cannot express their preferences through purchasing products alone are met.
The findings of both reviews are currently being used to design a consumer survey as part of the PROHEALTH project, which will specifically focus on consumer attitudes and priorities in relation to interventions and policies to reduce production diseases in intensive animal production systems. This will address the research gaps identified and provide an overview of the consumer perceptions for the questioned interventions.
Published as: Clark, B., Stewart, G.B., Panzone, L.A., Kyriazakis, I. and Frewer, L.J., 2016. A Systematic Review of Public Attitudes, Perceptions and Behaviours Towards Production Diseases Associated with Farm Animal Welfare. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 29(3), pp.455-478.