Dealing with Ambivalence : Farmers' and Consumers' Perceptions of Animal Welfare in Livestock Breeding

H. te Velde, N. Aarts, C. van Woerkum

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    256 Citations (Scopus)


    The results of an empirical study into perceptions of the treatment of farm animals in the Netherlands are presented. A qualitative approach, based on in-depth interviews with meat livestock farmers and consumers was chosen in order to assess motivations behind perceptions and to gain insight into the way people deal with possible discrepancies between their perceptions and their daily practices. Perceptions are analyzed with the help of a frame of reference, which consists of values, norms, convictions, interests, and knowledge. The perceptions of the interviewed farmers are quite consistent and without exception positive: according to them, nothing is wrong with animal welfare in livestock breeding. The perceptions of the consumers we interviewed are more divergent, but generally negative. Both groups show ambivalence as a result of discrepancies between perceptions and behavior. Although the consumers share the impression that the living conditions of livestock animals are far from optimal, most of them still buy and eat meat from the meat industry. The farmers believe the welfare of their animals is good, but, as frequent defensive utterances show, they feel uncomfortable with expressed or unexpressed accusations of mistreating animals. The ways the respondents deal with this ambivalence were analysed by drawing on theories of dissonance reduction and distancing devices. Catherine and Raphaël Larrère (Larrère and Larrère, 2000) argue that animal rearing is a hierarchical relationship whose rules are to be found in the fiction of a domestic contract. We argue that the question is not whether there should be a domestic contract, because such a contract seems already accepted. However, since values and norms differ widely, not only among meat livestock farmers and consumers, but also among consumers, the question remains as to whose values and norms should form the basis of the domestic contract.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)203-219
    JournalJournal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2002

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