Consumer concerns about animal welfare vary in Europe

by Editor
Monday, April 16, 2007

Results from a Welfare Quality® survey show that linkages between animal welfare and food vary considerably among consumers across Europe.

A large majority of European consumers say that farm animal welfare is important. This ranged from 69% of respondents in the Netherlands, 73% in the UK, 75% in France to 83% in Hungary and Sweden. Norway and Italy scored the highest, with 84% and 87% respectively.

There is still concern among consumers, first of all related to conditions in poultry production, but also to conditions of pigs. Compared to these, people tend to see the treatment of dairy cows as least worrisome. People are concerned about conditions on the farm; transportation and slaughtering are also met with concern.

Public opinions differ considerably across the seven countries. Italian and French respondents are quite worried about welfare conditions in their own country; concerns are often associated with food purchasing, and trust in actors in the food sector is relatively low. Hungarians do worry about the issue and they are also more pessimistic about current trends, but animal welfare is of less relevance when shopping.

The Dutch display lower general interest, but many worry. Many do think of welfare conditions when shopping for eggs and beef. Trust in actors is high. The British show similar patterns, but trust in authorities, market actors and organisations is much lower.

Finally, the Swedes and the Norwegians are engaged with the issue; they are trusting and not worried. Particularly in Norway, animal welfare is rarely associated with the consumer role.

When asked about changes over the last ten years, there is considerable optimism in most countries. A majority of consumers thinks that conditions for farm animals have improved, while less than one in five think that the situation has become worse.

Still quite a few consumers do think about such issues when shopping for eggs, beef or milk. These proportions are generally much higher than the market shares for special animal-friendly products. This indicates a wider consumer definition of food animal welfare than product labels offer. In understanding this, we must also consider the products that are on offer in the food markets across Europe and how they are labelled. Later studies in Welfare Quality® will investigate such topics.