Sustainable animal welfare: does forcing farmers into transition help?

S.A. Osinga*, M.R. Kramer, G.J. Hofstede

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Dutch society is changing, and so is its attitude towards animal welfare. Meat retailers respond by laying down minimum-quality criteria for farmers who wish to supply to supermarkets—forcing them to either aim for higher quality or lose their market. Policy-wise this is a top-down measure that leads to a redistribution of markets. From farmer perspective, a transition with more individual freedom to adapt seems more sustainable. By means of an existing agent-based model, this paper investigates two policies for such a market switch: immediate transition—‘sudden death’ (SD)—versus gradual change—‘graceful degradation’ (GD). Both farmers and available markets are modelled as agents. Each farmer has a collection of multi-dimensional information items, under certain conditions exchangeable with other farmers in his network, representing his knowledge and skills. Information items are a farmer’s key to the market, as market criteria are expressed in terms of information requirements. We tested the effect of SD and GD policies on market redistribution, varying markets sets, available information, and network size. Results show that policy does not matter for final market redistribution, but that GD policy indeed allows more farmers to keep away from poverty, especially in information-poor situations. With GD, we see a temporarily higher inequality of income distribution over individuals (Gini) worth exploring. Studying transitions with respect to both individuals and the system as a whole may be promising for other domains as well. The model is applicable to any situation that implies aligning heterogeneous suppliers with a multi-dimensional demand spectrum.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403-413
JournalAI & society : the journal of human and machine intelligence
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Agent-based model
  • Animal welfare
  • Farmers
  • Information
  • Market requirements
  • Policy
  • Transition


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