Society and ethics in animal breeding: a bibliometric analysis

M. van der Sluis*, K.H. de Greef, G. Bonekamp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference paperAcademicpeer-review


A bibliometric analysis was performed to explore to what degree published animal breeding studies (on cattle, pigs and poultry) explicitly address societal issues and ethics, and what themes were addressed. A combination of search terms in Scopus resulted in about 24,500 publications on farm animal breeding since 1990, of which 673 included a society- or ethics-related term. A two-person manual second (on titles) and third (on the title, key words and abstract) selection step reduced the number to 270 papers that met our criteria, so overall, about 1% of the identified published animal breeding studies explicitly refers to themes being a societal issue in the title, key words or abstract. The number of papers per publication year increased rapidly after the year 2001, and peaked around 2010. Animal welfare and behaviour (AW) was the trait that was addressed most, especially for poultry, and to a lesser extent also for pigs and cattle. Explicit reference to ethics was made in 65 (24%) of the 270 selected papers. In this ‘explicit on ethics’ subset, the themes genetic modification (GM), biotechnology (BT) and AW were dominant. The subset of studies on GM that explicitly mentioned ethics was assessed in more detail, to examine how, and to what extent, the topic of ethics was discussed, and whether specific actions were mentioned. The inclusion of ethics in these publications varied along a broad spectrum, ranging from ethics only being mentioned as being relevant to ethics being the main topic of the paper. Several studies called upon different stakeholders to take action, mainly in terms of actively taking part in discussions. This study concludes that: (1) the human eye/brain seems to be necessary to select on criteria in a bibliometric study like the present – the visual inspection removed about 60% of the ‘hits’ for being false positive; (2) animal breeding work on AW issues seems to be more prone to use wording that is explicit on societal issues compared to breeding work on other sustainability issues; (3) studies on BT, GM and AW are the main categories containing explicit reference to ethics, papers on other themes mention ethics to a considerably lesser extent; and (4) between the studies on GM that explicitly mention ethics, there is substantial variation in how they deal with ethical reasoning.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTransforming food systems: ethics, innovation and responsibility
EditorsD. Bruce, A. Bruce
Place of PublicationWageningen
PublisherWageningen Academic Publishers
ISBN (Electronic)9789086869398
ISBN (Print)9789086863877
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2022
EventEurSafe 2022 - Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 Sept 202210 Sept 2022


ConferenceEurSafe 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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