Entrapped in group solidarity? Animal welfare, the ethical positions of farmers and the difficult search for alternatives

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Animal welfare in today's husbandry systems has become the subject of intense public debate, especially in the Netherlands. The debate reflects the moral tensions that exist between farmers, on the one hand, and the general public on the other, whose attitudes towards animal welfare vary considerably. The debate also shows that current legislation is not a satisfactory instrument for bridging these tensions and contradictions. This raises the question as to whether other strategies might be more successful in overcoming this gap and the underlying ethical controversies. A starting point for alternative strategies might be found in the diversity that exists among farmers themselves in their views about and practices regarding animal welfare. This article describes contrasting ethical positions towards animal welfare that can be found among Dutch dairy farmers and pig breeders. The associated practices in terms of animal care and treatment vary substantially. Some farmers strictly limit their practices to legislative requirements. Others use different expressions of animal health and behaviour to judge animal well-being. Yet another group takes the intrinsic value of the animals and their natural behaviour as departure point for organizing their husbandry practices. This research indicates that these ethical positions, which can be found in both sectors, are related to different notions about 'proper farming'. In this way, farmers' ethical position vis--vis animals is a constituent of specific farming styles: it is part of their wider cultural repertoires. This suggests that they are not 'changeable' in a simple way
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-361
JournalJournal of Environmental Policy and Planning
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • commercial dairy-cows
  • pig farmers
  • attitudes
  • productivity
  • behavior
  • values


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