Conflicts between chicken welfare and public health risks in poultry husbandry: stakeholders’ perceptions and moral convictions

Mariska van Asselt

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Societal concerns about the welfare of animals kept in intensive husbandry systems led to the introduction of alternative poultry husbandry systems. Systems offering outdoor access to chickens, are potentially better for chicken welfare, but keeping chickens in these systems is also associated with higher public health and food safety risks for certain hazards, such as Campylobacter contamination of broiler meat, avian influenza introduction, and increased dioxin levels in eggs. Insight into the views of key stakeholder groups – citizens, poultry farmers and poultry veterinarians – concerning poultry husbandry systems may help to develop systems that can count on societal support. The objective of this thesis was to study stakeholders’ views on the conflict between chicken welfare and public health and food safety risks and relevant moral arguments and convictions. The first part of this thesis is based on an online questionnaire, which was filled out by representatives of citizens (n = 2259), poultry farmers (n = 100) and poultry veterinarians (n = 41). The results show that most citizens perceived a system that offers to laying hens outdoor access as the preferred system, while the majority of poultry farmers and poultry veterinarians perceived an indoor system as the preferred husbandry system for keeping hens. Compared to poultry farmers and poultry veterinarians, citizens perceived the issues ‘natural needs of hens’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ as more important, and the issues ‘hen health’, ‘farmer income’ and ‘hens lay many eggs’ as less important.

Citizens perceived hen welfare in organic husbandry systems as being the highest of the four husbandry systems, while farmers and veterinarians perceived hen welfare in indoor non-cage systems as the highest. Differences between the welfare scores could be explained by different perceptions of hen welfare aspects, knowledge regarding hen behaviour and socio-demographic characteristics. With regard to risk perceptions was shown that professionals perceive the public health risks of Campylobacter, avian influenza and dioxin related to keeping chickens in outdoor systems higher than citizens did. In contrast, citizens perceive these risks in indoor systems higher than professionals. Citizens reported higher concerns regarding various factors of risk perception than the two professional groups did. It was suggested that risk perceptions of all stakeholder groups are influenced by intuitive feelings – affect – and underlying values.

When confronted with a practical case representing the dilemma of improving chicken welfare or reducing public health risks, citizens judged the dilemma predominantly in favour of chicken welfare, in terms of leading natural lives. In contrast, poultry farmers judged the dilemma predominantly in favour of public health. Different valuations of moral arguments and convictions, predominantly those regarding the value of chickens and naturalness, could explain the various judgments. It was also argued that the stakeholders’ judgments depend on their context, i.e. whether or not they are involved in poultry farming.

The concerns of the general public regarding chicken welfare and public health seemed predominantly related to naturalness. It is not clear what citizens consider to be natural and how they view an innovative hen husbandry system that takes account of concerns about naturalness, hen welfare and public health. Therefore, we studied citizens views during a farm visit. Two groups of nine citizens visited an innovative laying hen husbandry system with an indoor aviary system and a large covered free-range area. The participants filled out a questionnaire, partly before and partly while seeing the hens. Results of the farm showed that citizens’ concerns related to public health, chicken welfare and naturalness could be addressed in a free-range system with a large covered free-range area.

In this thesis it is concluded that differences in views between and within stakeholder groups regarding perceptions, moral convictions and judgements and a dilemma in poultry husbandry could be explained by differences in 1) perceptions of chicken welfare and public health risks related to various husbandry systems; 2) moral convictions related to chicken welfare; 3) differences in weighing up of moral values; 4) context, i.e. whether or not someone is involved in poultry farming; 5) affect and intuitions; 6) knowledge and experiences related to poultry farming and 7) socio-demographics.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Stassen, E.N., Promotor
  • Kemp, Bas, Promotor
  • Ekkel, E.D., Co-promotor, External person
Award date10 May 2019
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463435802
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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