Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 79–101

The Concept of Farm Animal Welfare: Citizen Perceptions and Stakeholder Opinion in Flanders, Belgium

Authors

    • Department of Agricultural EconomicsGhent University
  • Wim Verbeke
    • Department of Agricultural EconomicsGhent University
  • Els Van Poucke
    • Animal SciencesInstitute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research
  • Zuzanna Pieniak
    • Department of Agricultural EconomicsGhent University
  • Griet Nijs
    • Animal SciencesInstitute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research
  • Frank Tuyttens
    • Animal SciencesInstitute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research
Articles

DOI: 10.1007/s10806-010-9299-6

Cite this article as:
Vanhonacker, F., Verbeke, W., Van Poucke, E. et al. J Agric Environ Ethics (2012) 25: 79. doi:10.1007/s10806-010-9299-6

Abstract

Several attempts to conceptualize farm animal welfare have been criticized for diverging reasons, among them often the failure to incorporate the public concern and opinion. This paper’s objective is to develop a conception of farm animal welfare that starts from the public’s perception and integrates the opinion of different stakeholder representatives, thus following a fork-to-farm approach. Four qualitative citizen focus group discussions were used to develop a quantitative questionnaire, which has been completed by a representative sample of Flemish citizens (n = 459). Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses were applied to develop a conception of farm animal welfare starting from an extended list of aspects that relate to animal production and associate with farm animal welfare in the public’s perception. In depth interviews with stakeholder representatives were used to match and adapt the structure of the animal welfare conception model. The resulting conception revealed seven dimensions grouped in two different levels. Three dimensions were animal-based: “Suffering and Stress,” “Ability to Engage in Natural Behavior,” and “Animal Health.” Four dimensions were resource-based: “Housing and Barn climate,” “Transport and Slaughter,” “Feed and Water,” and “Human-Animal Relationship.” This conception is distinct from earlier attempts since it is based on public perceptions; it addresses the opinion of different stakeholders, and it distinguishes empirically between animal-based and resource-based dimensions in the conceptualization of farm animal welfare. The relevancy of a popular definition is supported by the present demand oriented economy, in which animal welfare is a non-trade concern, and mainly left to the market where consumers still mainly act as individuals who calculate and weigh pros and cons.

Keywords

CitizenConfirmatory factor analysisConstruct validityDefinitionFarm animal welfareSurvey

Introduction

Post-war progress in terms of mechanization and specialization, higher stocking densities in soil-independent animal production, the development of more efficient logistic systems including refrigeration and effective quality controls have successfully met the policy goals of food security and self-sufficiency in Western Europe, however at a price for the welfare of farm animals. Contemporary public concerns and policy debates have shifted towards conditions that guarantee food security, public health, environmental quality, and animal welfare. In this paper we are especially interested in the issue of farm animal welfare. Attention for the welfare of farm animals has strongly been manifested over the past decades, and is mainly triggered by the negative implications the intensification of animal production has on animal welfare, as well as by societal concerns with respect to sustainability issues (Vermeir and Verbeke 2006); among which is animal welfare (Boogaard et al. 2008; Broom 2009; Korthals 2001). Despite the commonly acknowledged concerns over farm animal welfare, implementations in policies are often hampered by the complexity of the concept “animal welfare” and by the debate about what “good or acceptable welfare” exactly is (Duncan 2005). In addition, the different stakeholders along the animal production chain delegate the responsibility for improving animal welfare to one another (Sundrum 2007). As a consequence, the number of scientific research efforts have not (yet) been proportionate to animal welfare improving policy actions.

“Animal welfare” is increasingly referred to as an important goal by different stakeholders along the food production chain (Verbeke 2009), yet its meaning and conception differs depending on who is using the concept. Many approaches have attempted to assess animal welfare (for a review see Appleby and Sandøe 2002; Fisher 2009; Haynes 2008). In most cases, literature distinguishes between three conceptions, whether or not used in combination. A first conception expresses animal welfare in terms of the body and the physical environment (“if an animal is healthy and producing well, it is faring well”) (e.g., Broom 1986, 1991, 2001). A second conception relates animal welfare to the mind or to feelings and emotions (“if an animal is feeling well, it is faring well”) (e.g., Dawkins 2006; Duncan 1996; Nordenfelt 2006). The third view focuses on living a natural life (“animals fare best if they can live according to their nature and perform their full range of natural behaviors”) (e.g., Kiley-Worthington 1989; Rollin 1981). Most properly, the three conceptions should not be seen independently from each other but they are interrelated (“animal welfare comprises the state of the animal’s body and mind, and the extent to which its nature is satisfied”) (Appleby 1999a; Duncan and Fraser 1997; Fraser 1995). Nonetheless, Hewson (2003a) and Duncan (2005) indicate and illustrate that the different aspects (body, mind, and nature) of welfare sometimes are in conflict, which results in practical and ethical challenges.

Many of the conceptions, especially the ones developed from an animal science perspective, are criticized for being too limited and not sufficiently addressing the issues of actual public concerns (Fraser 2008; Lund et al. 2006; Rushen 2003; Rushen and Depassille 1992), whereas animal welfare is, by nature, a social concept that reflects societal values (Fisher 2009; McInerney 1991). Fisher (2009) suggests that the term should be considered as a judgment to be undertaken by combining varied understandings, and to acknowledge underlying values and assumptions, both moral and scientific, rather than risking to exclude valid viewpoints through pursuing a prescriptive definition. In addition, Rushen (2003) stressed the relevancy of research into societal views on animal welfare, as well as citizen values and norms to shed light on the factors that steer the behavior of people.

Fisher (2009) further indicates that the essential reason for defining a term is to communicate. Considering the fact that animal welfare is to a large extent left to the market, the target audience for communication should be the public. In this perspective, a definition for farm animal welfare should appeal to the public, and should take into account the public’s low practical knowledge base and awareness in relation to animal production practices. An accepted societal definition could act as a focus for debate and a target for improving and communicating about animal welfare. Marketeers could anticipate existing public concerns and at the same time initiatives in terms of education and communication could be undertaken to reduce the discordance between animal welfare related-facts and the public opinion, which is often biased by emotions, beliefs, and intuition.

A societal conception of farm animal welfare is, compared to conceptions from other perspectives and despite its accredited relevancy (Fraser 2001; Rushen 2003), not yet extensively covered in scientific literature. The main effort done so far in this perspective relates to the Welfare Quality® project (www.welfarequality.net), which presented a framework built upon consensus between different stakeholders, among them also citizens (Table 1).
Table 1

Welfare Quality’s® operational definition of farm animal welfare with 12 criteria aggregated into four principles (Botreau 2008)

Principles

Criteria

Good feeding

1. Absence of prolonged hunger

2. Absence of prolonged thirst

Good housing

3. Comfort around resting

4. Thermal comfort

5. Ease of movement

Good health

6. Absence of injuries

7. Absence of disease

8. Absence of pain induced by management procedures

Appropriate behavior

9. Expression of social behaviors

10. Expression of other behaviors

11. Good human-animal relationship

12. Absence of general fear

The present study acknowledges the importance that the chain end-user can play in the debate on animal welfare. Animal welfare is still considered a non-trade concern at WTO-level and the responsibility is by many stakeholders delegated to this end user who can vote for or against a product through purchasing it or not. As such, insights in how the public perceives the concept of farm animal welfare are important and relevant, more so in the present information society, where inadequate information gets lost in the abundance of information available. This study’s research question is therefore formulated as how the scientific definitions for animal welfare translate in a “popular” definition, necessary to support a constructive dialogue, to work on the discordance between scientific facts and public perception, and to communicate in an effective way to the public, both in their role as consumers and citizens. Consumers can contribute through the purchase of higher welfare products. Therefore, animal welfare characteristics need to be simple and definable, recognized, and explicit and certifiable as product characteristics (McInerney 2004). With respect to the individual in his/her role as citizen, it is acknowledged that public concerns dictate the need for animal welfare standards and animal welfare legislations (Caporale et al. 2005; Edwards and Schneider 2005; Garnier et al. 2003). In both cases, a good understanding of the public’s conception of farm animal welfare is determinant.

This study has the ambiguous aim to translate the opinion of citizens with regard to farm animal welfare into a structured concept that is supported by the different stakeholders and interests groups along the food production chain. The study uses a more formal, transparent, and quantitative methodological approach as compared to previous studies. The consistency with existing conceptions will be discussed, together with the applicability of our findings with respect to communication, education, and operationalization.

Materials and Methods

Consecutive research steps, involving both qualitative and quantitative research methods, were undertaken to meet the study’s aim, i.e., conceptualize the way society thinks about farm animal welfare. Conceptualizing animal welfare from a society’s perspective is rather unprecedented. In the case of research themes with limited a priori knowledge, it is recommended to start with a qualitative research approach (Malhotra and Peterson 2006). Hence, this study commenced with focus group discussions. Together with a profound literature search this stage served as the basis for the construction of a survey questionnaire. Data from this survey allowed conceptualizing the public’s view on farm animal welfare in a quantitative way. Finally the outcome of the quantitative study was presented to and discussed with representatives from different stakeholders and interest groups who are active in the meat production chain through individual in depth interviews in order to incorporate a wide vision into our conception, following Fisher (2009). The finality of each part of the study is shown in Fig. 1 and further methodological details on each part are provided in the next sections. All studies have been performed in Flanders, which is the northern Dutch speaking region of Belgium. The region is densely populated and it has a high density of intensive animal (mainly pork and poultry) production.
https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs10806-010-9299-6/MediaObjects/10806_2010_9299_Fig1_HTML.gif
Fig. 1

Methodological summary

Qualitative Research: Focus Group Discussions and Literature Search

Full details about the methodology and results of the focus group discussions have been reported in Vanhonacker et al. (2010). In brief, four focus group discussions with a total of 29 participants were performed in March 2006. Analyzing the focus group discussions involved transcribing, structuring, and content analyzing of the data. The main goal of the focus groups was to obtain a workable list of aspects that are related to animal production and that were believed to associate with farm animal welfare in the public’s perception, thus factors or production practices that people perceive as important for animal welfare. In total 56 aspects were obtained and were arbitrarily classified in the following six dimensions: feed and feeding/housing/animal health/engagement in natural behavior/human-animal relationship/transport and slaughter. To account for the limited number of respondents involved in the focus group discussions, the list was modified and further extended to 73 aspects based on additional literature review and internal discussion among the scientists involved in this study (Table 2). Retaining or rejection of aspects in the final citizens’ conception of farm animal welfare was based on quantitative data analyzing techniques.
Table 2

Full list of aspects used for framing the citizens’ conception of farm animal welfare

Functional areas in barn (i30)

Respect for animals (i55)

Group housing (i80)

Disease (i31)

Preventive medication (i56)

Hunger during transport (i81)

Lairage time (i32)

Having fun (i57)

Size of livestock herd on farm (i82)

Feed on fixed moments (i33)

Slaughter without pain&stress (i58)

Group size (i83)

Foraging behavior (i34)

Pain by human intervention (i59)

Growth hormones (i84)

Flooring type (i35)

Pain by conspecifics (i60)

Variation in feed (i85)

Body care (i36)

Farmer-animal bond (i61)

Genetic selection (i86)

Boredom (i37)

Handling of animals (i62)

Frustration (i87)

Freshness of feed (i38)

Natural environment (i63)

Frequency visual inspection (i88)

Stunning (i39)

Natural growth rate (i64)

Explorative behavior (i89)

Static groups (i40)

Natural feed (i65)

Balanced feed (i90)

Transport of living animals (i41)

Natural birth (i66)

Thirst during transport (i91)

Outdoor access (i42)

Natural behavior (i67)

Daylight (i92)

Duration of transport (i43)

Music in the barn (i68)

Comfort (i93)

Stress (i44)

Maternal behavior (i69)

Pen size (i94)

Mortality (i45)

Procedure of (un)loading (i70)

Availability of water (i95)

Barn temperature (i46)

Mixing of groups during t&s (i71)

Availability of feed (i96)

Hygiene in the barn (i47)

Curative medication (i72)

Skilled animal handlers (i97)

Play behavior (i48)

Technical noise (i73)

Fear (i98)

Social behavior (i49)

Air quality (i74)

Distraction material (i99)

Taste of feed (i50)

Light regime (i75)

Number of transports (i100)

Sexual behavior (i51)

Life span (i76)

Stocking density (i101)

Shelter (i52)

Ability to rest (i77)

Attention for animals (i102)

Shockproof & calm transport (i53)

Climate during transport (i78)

 

Space during transport (i54)

Design of slaughterhouse (i79)

 

Between brackets the aspect coding used in the syntax of the confirmatory factor analysis and in further reporting

Quantitative Research: Survey

Study Design and Subjects

Cross-sectional survey data were collected during April 2006. A quota sampling procedure was followed with gender, age, living environment, and province as quota control variables. Questionnaires were distributed via web-links, mail, and personal contact procedures and has resulted in a sample of 459 respondents that closely reflects the Flemish adult (≥18 years) population in terms of the quota control variables (Table 3). With respect to gender, a representative distribution relative to the population is obtained. The age of the respondents ranged from 18 to 75 years, with a mean age of 37.8 (SD = 14.1), which is slightly below the population mean (40.2 years) (NIS 2002). Concerning urban versus rural living environment, a 35%/65% ratio was aimed for. In comparison with census data, we obtained a small over-representation of urban respondents. Finally, a small over-sampling of the provinces West- and East-Flanders (resp. +6.2 and +4.7%) resulted at the expense of the provinces of Antwerp and Limburg (resp. −5.9 and −4.6%). With regard to the non-quota control variables, education and farming background, a small over-sampling of higher education occurred, while a realistic percentage of respondents with a farming background (around 6% of the population) was obtained.
Table 3

Socio-demographic characteristics of the sample (NIS 2002)

 

Sample

Population

Gender (%)

 Men

48.5

49.3

 Women

51.5

50.7

Age (years)

 Mean SD

37.8 (14.1)

40.2

Living environment (%)

 Urban

38.9

35

 Rural

61.1

65

Province (%)

 Flemish Brabant

16.8

17.0

 Antwerp

21.7

27.7

 Limburg

8.9

13.3

 West Flanders

25.2

19.0

 East Flanders

27.5

23.0

Educational level (%)

 ≤18 years

32.3

 

 >18 years

67.7

 

Farming background (%)

6.1

 

Questionnaire

The analysis to conceptualize farm animal welfare from a public’s point of view was based on a single question that had to be answered for each of the 73 aspects. Responses on the question “According to your personal opinion, how important is this aspect in obtaining an acceptable level of farm animal welfare” were registered on a five-point Likert scale with the following response categories: “totally unimportant” (1), “unimportant” (2), “moderately important” (3), “important” (4), and “very important” (5). In order to avoid item order bias, five different questionnaire versions were used, that differed in the presentation order of the aspects.

Exploratory Factor Analysis

In order to prepare the data for a confirmatory factor analysis, the full list of aspects were factor analyzed using the principal components extraction method with varimax rotation. The purpose of the initial exploratory factor analysis was to discover structures in the pattern of relationships among the aspects. In particular it aimed to discover whether the observed variables (the 73 aspects) can be explained largely or entirely by a smaller number of unobserved factors or components (referred to as dimensions in this study). Thus the exploratory factor analysis indicates how responses to individual animal welfare factors are correlated with one another. The selection of dimensions was based on the Kaiser Criterion (Eigenvalues >1), while factor loadings were used to interpret the meaning of the resulting dimensions and nominate them accordingly.

Assigning an aspect to a particular dimension was informed by a high factor loading on its respective dimension. Given that the exploratory factor analysis was considered in this study to prepare the data for a further confirmatory factor analysis, no aspects were excluded at this stage from further analysis. Rather they were assigned by the authors to one of the resulting dimensions if the factor loadings’ criterion failed. Exploratory factor analysis was performed using the statistical software package SPSS 15.0.

Confirmatory Factor Analysis and Construct Validity

Confirmatory factor analysis was used to investigate the discriminant and convergent validity of the measurement model, which consists of a priori defined relationships between observed variables (aspects) and their underlying latent constructs (dimensions). The postulated relationships between the aspects were based on the outcome of the exploratory factor analysis and on theoretical insights. Analyses were performed using the robust maximum likelihood procedure in LISREL 8.72. With the use of structural equation modeling the examination of all the relationships between items (aspects) and constructs (dimensions) was performed simultaneously, which is a substantial advantage compared with single equation modeling (Bollen 1989). To evaluate the fit of the model, the χ²-value together with the degrees of freedom are reported, as well as three other indices: the Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA), the Non-Normed Fit Index (NNFI) and the Comparative Fit Index (CFI). Values below 0.08 for RMSEA (Browne and Cudeck 1993) and above 0.90 for NNFI and CFI (Bollen 1989) indicate an acceptable fit of the measurement model.

Confirmatory factor analysis was also performed to determine whether measures of a construct actually converge the intended latent variable or share a high proportion of variance in common (convergent validity) and whether the constructs were distinct from each other (discriminant validity). In order to assess convergent validity examination of unidimensionality and reliability estimates was performed (Hair et al. 2006).

In Depth Interviews

In the final stage of the study stakeholder representatives and interest groups were contacted and interviewed about their expert opinion on the resulting conception. In total seven in depth interviews were carried out by the same interviewer in order to avoid interviewer bias. Three persons were recruited to represent the producer side, one person represented the retail side, one represented animal welfare organizations, and finally two persons with a scientific background in animal welfare or veterinary sciences were interviewed. In the first part of the interview the interviewees were asked about their personal conception of farm animal welfare, before confronting them with the outcome of the confirmatory factor analysis. Thereafter, they were asked to comment on the public’s conception, both in terms of the resulting dimensions and their aspects. This should allow to incorporate also their vision into the conception.

Results

Exploratory Factor Analysis

The exploratory factor analysis yielded a 12 factor solution (Appendix) explaining a total of 62.5 percent of the variance in the original data. On the first factor high loadings were related to aspects that were associated with housing as well as with natural behavior [(dimension: housing and natural behavior (H&NB))]. The second factor included aspects that were related to the process of transport and slaughter of animals [(dimension: transport and slaughter (T&S))]. Three aspects (number of transports per animal; thirst during transport; mixing of groups during transport and slaughter) that had a slightly higher factor loading on the dimension H&NB, were deemed more appropriate under the dimension T&S and were accordingly attributed to the latter dimension. Aspects that loaded high on the third factor were related to animal suffering and stress (dimension: suffering and stress (S&S)). Aspects loading high on the fourth factor could not be unambiguously categorized under a common nominative. As such it was verified whether the aspects had also high loadings on other factors. Accordingly, flooring type, static groups, functional areas in the barn and air quality were allocated to the dimension H&NB, while design of the slaughterhouse was allocated to the dimension T&S. The fifth factor mainly contained aspects that have an affinity with the animals’ diet (dimension: feed). The sixth factor included aspects that were related to the relationship between the persons taking care of the animals and the animals themselves (dimension: human-animal relation (H-A)). Also the aspect frequency of visual inspection, with an original highest loading on the undetermined fourth factor, was allocated to this dimension. No further factors with a logical composition of aspects were found. Aspects that were not attributed to one of the aforementioned dimensions based on the exploratory factor analysis were: availability of water, barn temperature, music in the barn, genetic selection, feeding on fixed moments, barn hygiene, growth hormones, preventive medication, and curative medication. In order not to exclude them from the confirmatory factor analysis these aspects were arbitrarily assigned to one of the five aforementioned dimensions. Availability of water, feeding on fixed moments, and growth hormones were assigned to the dimension feed; barn temperature, genetic selection, barn hygiene, and music in the barn to the dimension H&NB; and preventive and curative medication to the dimension S&S.

Confirmatory Factor Analysis and Construct Validity

The conception of farm animal welfare in which the 73 aspects are categorized in five dimensions [(Model 1 (M1))] based on the exploratory factor analysis gave acceptable goodness of fit statistics in confirmatory factor analysis (Table 4), though could be further optimized. Before optimizing the measurement model through elimination and/or reallocation of aspects based on the statistical output of the confirmatory factor analysis, the impact of separating the aspects related to housing from the aspects related to natural behavior was verified. This separation matched better with theoretical based conceptions from animal scientists where natural behavior has been referred to as a singular dimension (e.g., Fraser 2008). Also this separation allowed us to better distinguish between an animal-based and a resource-based dimension. Goodness of fit statistics further improved, thus yielding a conception in six dimensions (M2) (Table 4).
Table 4

Results of the confirmatory factor analysis: measurement model and goodness of fit statistics for the consecutive models

Measurement model

Goodness of fit statisticsa

M1

Housing & natural behavior = i30 i34 i35 i36 i40 i42 i46 i47 i48 i49 i51 i52 i57 i63 i64 i66 i67 i68 i69 i73 i74 i75 i76 i77 i80 i82 i83 i86 i89 i92 i93 i94 i101

Transport & slaughter = i32 i39 i41 i43 i53 i54 i58 i62 i70 i71 i78 i79 i81 i91 i100

Feed &water = i33 i38 i50 i65 i84 i85 i90 i95 i96

Suffering & stress = i31 i37 i44 i45 i56 i59 i60 i72 i87 i98 i99

Human-animal relationship = i55 i61 i88 i97 i102

χ²/df = 3.26

RMSEA = 0.070

CFI = 0.98

NNFI = 0.98

M2

Housing = i30 i35 i40 i42 i46 i47 i52 i68 i73 i74 i75 i77 i80 i82 i83 i93 i94 i101

Natural behavior = i34 i36 i48 i49 i51 i57 i63 i64 i66 i67 i69 i76 i86 i89 i92

Transport & slaughter = i32 i39 i41 i43 i53 i54 i58 i62 i70 i71 i78 i79 i81 i91 i100

Feed & water = i33 i38 i50 i65 i84 i85 i90 i95 i96

Suffering & stress = i31 i37 i44 i45 i56 i59 i60 i72 i87 i98 i99

Human-animal relationship = i55 i61 i88 i97 i102

χ²/df = 3.04

RMSEA = 0.067

CFI = 0.98

NNFI = 0.98

M3

Housing = i30 i35 i40 i42 i52 i73 i74 i75 i77 i80 i83 i93 i94 i101

Natural behavior = i34 i36 i48 i49 i51 i57 i63 i64 i66 i67 i69 i89 i92

Transport & slaughter = i39 i41 i43 i53 i54 i58 i62 i70 i78 i79 i81 i91 i100

Feed & water = i38 i50 i85 i90 i95 i96

Suffering & stress = i44 i45 i59 i60 i87 i98

Human-animal relationship = i55 i61 i88 i97 i102

χ²/df = 2.51

RMSEA = 0.057

CFI = 0.98

NNFI = 0.98

M4

Housing = i30 i35 i40 i42 i52 i73 i74 i75 i77 i80 i83 i93 i94 i101

Natural behavior = i34 i36 i48 i49 i51 i57 i63 i64 i66 i67 i69 i89 i92

Transport & slaughter = i39 i41 i43 i53 i54 i58 i62 i70 i78 i79 i81 i91 i100

Feed & water = i38 i50 i85 i90 i95 i96

Suffering & stress = i44 i45 i59 i60 i87 i98

Human-animal relationship = i55 i61 i88 i97 i102

Animal health = i31 i45 i47 i56 i72

χ²/df = 2.24

RMSEA = 0.052

CFI = 0.98

NNFI = 0.97

aModel fit improves if χ²/df and RMSEA decreases and CFI and NNFI increases

In the next step the measurement model was further improved through elimination or reallocation of aspects (M3). Considering the eliminated aspects in more detail we found several aspects to have some affinity with each other, possibly due to a dimension that is not covered in the previous models. In this perspective, disease, barn hygiene, preventive medication and curative medication were grouped into a seventh dimension [(dimension: animal health (AH))]. Also the aspect mortality that was originally allocated to the dimension S&S was placed in the animal health dimension. The fit statistics for this model (M4) further improved in terms of a lower RMSEA and χ²/df-value, thus supporting the introduction of a seventh dimension.

No further adjustments were made to the model (M4) based on the confirmatory factor analysis outcome. Standardized factor loadings and reliability estimates are presented in Table 5. Almost all individual aspect loadings on the dimensions were highly significant with values ranging from 0.57 to 0.83. Two aspect loadings were relatively low, particularly 0.48 (availability of water) and 0.37 (preventive medication). Nevertheless the aspects were kept in the further analysis. Availability of water matches with ‘absence of prolonged thirst,’ which is specifically mentioned as one of the 12 criteria under the Welfare Quality® conception (Botreau 2008), and the use of preventive medication associates with the negative perception citizens’ hold with respect to the use of antibiotics in animal production. Further analysis has shown that including those aspects still revealed good constructs. No cross-loadings of 0.4 or more appeared. Hence, all other aspects were considered in the interpretation of the dimensions (Hair et al. 2006). Additionally, Cronbach’s alpha reliability coefficients were equal to or above the threshold value of 0.7 for satisfactory scales. Our results herewith fulfill the criteria for convergent validity for internal constructs (Bagozzi et al. 1991; Hair et al. 2006). Correlations between the dimensions are presented in Table 6. All correlations were significant. However, the correlation matrix revealed two (bivariate) correlations above 0.80, namely between housing and barn climate and ability to engage in natural behavior; and between housing and barn climate and transport and slaughter, suggesting that those dimensions are closely related.
Table 5

Standardized factor loadings of the retained aspects to the final model (M4) with four environment-based dimensions and three animal-based dimensions

 

Environmental based dimensions

 

Animal based dimensions

 

Housing & barn climate

Transport & Slaughter

Human–animal relationship

Feed & Water

 

Ability to engage in natural behavior

Animal health

Animal suffering and stress

Ability to rest (i77)

0.73

   

Play behavior (i48)

0.83

  

Comfort (i93)

0.71

   

Body care (i36)

0.81

  

Outdoor access (i42)

0.74

   

Natural behavior (i67)

0.80

  

Group housing (i80)

0.71

   

Explorative behavior (i89)

0.81

  

Light regime (i75)

0.68

   

Social behavior (i49)

0.74

  

Air quality (i74)

0.64

   

Having fun (i57)

0.75

  

Group size (i83)

0.68

   

Natural environment (i63)

0.79

  

Shelter (i52)

0.68

   

Maternal behavior (i69)

0.71

  

Available space (i94)

0.66

   

Foraging behavior (i34)

0.70

  

Technical noise (i73)

0.64

   

Sexual behavior (i51)

0.68

  

Stocking density (i101)

0.66

   

Natural birth (i66)

0.67

  

Functional areas in barn (i30)

0.64

   

Daylight (i92)

0.68

  

Stable groups (i40)

0.60

   

Natural growth rate (i64)

0.65

  

Flooring type (i35)

0.63

   

Disease (i31)

 

0.63

 

Space during transport (i54)

 

0.81

  

Mortality (i45)

 

0.63

 

Shockproof and calm transport (i53)

 

0.80

  

Hygiene in the barn (i47)

 

0.61

 

Duration of transport (i43)

 

0.76

  

Curative medication (i72)

 

0.57

 

Number of transports (i100)

 

0.75

  

Preventive medication (i56)

 

0.37

 

Transport of living animals (i41)

 

0.71

  

Frustration (i87)

  

0.73

Handling of animals (i62)

 

0.71

  

Stress (i44)

  

0.71

Procedure of (un)loading (i70)

 

0.71

  

Fear (i98)

  

0.71

Climate during transport (i78)

 

0.70

  

Pain by conspecifics (i60)

  

0.70

Thirst during transport (i91)

 

0.69

  

Pain by human intervention (i59)

  

0.66

Slaughter without pain or stress (i58)

 

0.68

      

Hunger during transport (i81)

 

0.66

      

Design of slaughterhouse (i79)

 

0.66

      

Stunning (i39)

 

0.59

      

Attention for animals (i102)

  

0.72

     

Respect for animals (i55)

  

0.69

     

Farmer-animal bond (i61)

  

0.67

     

Frequency of visual inspection (i88)

  

0.63

     

Skilled animal handlers (i97)

  

0.60

     

Balanced feed (i90)

   

0.72

    

Freshness of feed (i38)

   

0.63

    

Availability of feed (i96)

   

0.58

    

Variation in feed (i85)

   

0.72

    

Taste of feed (i50)

   

0.60

    

Availability of water (i95)

   

0.48

    

Reliability estimates

0.92

0.93

0.78

0.79

 

0.94

0.68

0.83

Inter-item correlations

0.45

0.51

0.44

0.39

 

0.55

0.32

0.50

Table 6

Correlation matrix of the animal welfare dimensions

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

1. Animal health

1.00

      

2. Animal suffering & stress

0.57

1.00

     

3. Ability to engage in natural behavior

0.39

0.64

1.00

    

4. Housing & barn climate

0.51

0.70

0.88

1.00

   

5. Feed & water

0.59

0.50

0.59

0.65

1.00

  

6. Transport & slaughter

0.57

0.73

0.78

0.83

0.63

1.00

 

7. Human-animal relationship

0.59

0.51

0.58

0.65

0.65

0.63

1.00

In Depth Interviews

Expert opinions were gathered in order to fine tune the model and frame it in a way that it is appropriate for the different stakeholders along the chain. The background of the interviewees was well reflected in the way they approached animal welfare, and perceptions varied from “animal welfare is economics” to “animal welfare should be determined starting from the animal.” The following selected quotes more clearly reflect the opinions of the different stakeholders:

Producers:

…the motivation to keep animals is not important, animals do not realize this anyway…what is important is the way animals are reared…this should happen as good as possible…but you have to be careful with anthropomorphism…

…for animal welfare in farm animals one should take into account the fact that it is related to economic consequences, many people do not see this…animal welfare means that animals should be treated in a good way…

…animal welfare is meeting the five freedoms in my opinion…

Retail:

…animal welfare is a general right of animals…it involves having respect for the animals…quality demands respect…what is animal welfare?…the problem is that you cannot ask it to the animals…

Animal welfare organizations:

…a definition for animal welfare should start from the perception and preferences of the animal, otherwise the issue of animal welfare does not really make sense…the ethical point of view should not be neglected…

Animal scientists:

…animal welfare is a situation in which the animals feel well…a situation in which all primary necessities of life are fulfilled…no hunger or thirst…as much natural behavior as possible…no pain…

…animal welfare means the absence of something negative…the welfare is damaged only if the organism is aware of something negative…

In general the different stakeholders reasonably well agreed with the structuring of the aspects into the seven dimensions of Model 4. Some comments were raised in relation to the formulation of some dimensions. Based on these comments three dimensions were renamed. Housing was changed to “Housing and Barn Climate.” The aspects indeed relate, next to housing characteristics in general, to the barn climate in particular. Feed was changed to “Feed and Water” and finally natural behavior was modified to “Ability to Engage in Natural Behavior.” Suffering and stress was also criticized by some interviewees, who suggested alternatives like “absence of suffering and stress” and “suffering and chronic stress.” However we aimed to avoid suggestive terminology like “absence of.” Next to chronic stress, acute stress can be baleful too (e.g., acute fear, castration of piglets, tail docking, beak trimming). Therefore, the original formulation was kept. The other dimensions were debated less by stakeholders.

Next to the formulation of the dimensions, some comments were raised about the structuring of the dimensions. It was argued that the seven dimensions could not be placed on the same level. It was suggested to distinguish between resource- or environment-based dimensions (housing and barn climate, transport and slaughter, feed and water, human-animal relationship) and animal-based dimensions (ability to engage in natural behavior, animal suffering and stress, animal health) (Fig. 2). Animal-based dimensions are directly related to the animal’s welfare and are determined by the resource-based dimensions.
https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs10806-010-9299-6/MediaObjects/10806_2010_9299_Fig2_HTML.gif
Fig. 2

Final structure of farm animal welfare conception

The stakeholders were also asked to discuss the relevancy of the aspects in the public’s conception. Within all dimensions, next to aspects that were commonly accepted, opinions differed for some aspects depending on personal background and interpretation of the concept. Interviewees suggested aspects in some cases to be removed from a dimension or suggested to incorporate new aspects in a dimension (see Table 7 for an overview). Suggested new aspects were mainly specificities that could be understood by existing variables (e.g., “possibility to separate at delivery” and “display nesting behavior” resort under “maternal behavior” or “natural birth”; “design of transport vehicle” falls under “calm and shockproof transport”; “escape possibilities” falls under “shelter”; etc.). Related to the personal interpretation, most comments were raised concerning the dimension “ability to engage in natural behavior.” Still, only one aspect was debated by all stakeholder interviewees, namely “mechanical noise.” The stakeholders argued that it should be replaced by “sudden, loud and strong noise.” However, this term was included in Bartussek’s (1999) Animal Needs Index, where the importance of a stable climate was stressed, among which is absence of “mechanical noise.” Research further showed that continuous noise influences the acoustic behavior of fowl (Huber and Fölsch 1978) and that the continuous noise of the ventilation system negatively impacts on the nursing of piglets (Algers and Jensen 1991).
Table 7

Aspects that were suggested to be removed or added by experts

Dimension

Aspect suggested to be removed (number of stakeholders)

Aspects suggested to be added

Housing & barn climate

Stocking density (1), comfort (3), group size (1), group housing (1), outdoor access (1), functional areas in the barn (2)

Dry, control on harmful components, temperature

Ability to engage in natural behavior

Day light (4), exploratory behavior (1), natural behavior (4), natural birth (3), natural growth rate (4), natural environment (3), having fun (4), sexual behavior (4), social behavior (1), play behavior (1), foraging behavior (2)

Stable environment, possibility to separate at delivery, nesting behavior, control over own life, relational autonomy

Feed & water

Variation in feed (3)

Shape of the feed

Transport & slaughter

Number of transports (4), thirst/hunger during transport (1), duration of transport (1), transport of living animals (3), stunning (1)

Ability to rest during transport, way of stunning, design transport vehicle, age at slaughter, market in function of slaughter, comfort, protection, copying natural environment during transport

Animal health

Mortality (1)

Killing, separation of clinical ill animals, euthanasia of terminal clinical ill animals

Suffering & stress

Fear (1), frustration (3), stress (1)

Pain through disease, escaping possibilities, behavioral abnormalities, stunning before killing, pain by housing and environment

Human-animal relation

Frequency of visual inspection (2), farmer-animal bond (2), skilled animal handlers (1)

Calm handling of animals

Discussion

This study has anticipated the increasing relevancy of animal welfare as a concept in itself and as a part of the broader sustainability concept (Boogaard et al. 2008), in terms of public concern (European Commission 2005) as well as in relation to consumer food purchasing behavior (Grunert 2006). The aim was to develop and validate a public or citizen-driven conception of farm animal welfare. Insights in the public conception are necessary to actively involve end users in the ongoing debate with the aim to optimize the balance of farm animal welfare and economic output (Van Tichelen 2009), to effectively communicate to the unaware society (Fisher 2009), and to determine the need for new animal welfare legislation (Caporale et al. 2005; Garnier et al. 2003). A proper conception of farm animal welfare from the public’s point of view can be used as a structure and tool to inform the public in a transparent and understandable manner about efforts, actions, and policies undertaken to improve farm animals’ welfare. Insights in the public conception of farm animal welfare further allows revealing discordance between public’s lay perceptions and animal welfare-related facts and could support initiatives to reduce this discordance.

Similar to animal science based conceptions, this study has resulted in a complex and multi-dimensional conception of farm animal welfare (Fraser 1995; Mason and Mendl 1993). Seven dimensions of farm animal welfare were distinguished that could be grouped in three animal-based dimensions and four environment or resource-based dimensions. The three animal based dimensions—termed “Suffering and Stress,” “Animal Health,” and “Ability to Engage in Natural Behavior”—are affiliated with the three common perspectives on animal welfare described in literature (“mind,” “body,” and “nature,” respectively) (Hewson 2003a), though are interpreted and given meaning by citizens against a background of lower familiarity, lower practical knowledge, and lower awareness about animal production (Buller 2009; Vanhonacker et al. 2008, 2010).

In addition, four antecedent environment- or resource-based dimensions have been distinguished. These are termed “Housing and Barn Climate,” “Transport and Slaughter,” “Feed and Water,” and “Human-Animal Relationship.” For each of these dimensions and many of the aspects within the dimensions, numerous studies are available that acknowledge the significant impact each of them has on the welfare of the farm animals. Resource-related aspects and dimensions have so far been the basis for minimal welfare legislation and animal welfare assurance schemes. This approach, however is debated and different sources plead for bringing both animal-based and resource-based indicators into account (Butterworth 2009; Fraser 2004; Hewson 2003b; Van Tichelen 2009; Webster 2005). Animal-based indicators are a direct reflection of the animal’s welfare. Although Welfare Quality® gave preference to animal-based indicators of welfare, the Welfare Quality® list of 12 criteria and 4 principles contains both animal- and resource-based items. Our conception in two levels seems a more logical and correct structure. Further comparison between this study’s conception and the Welfare Quality® conception, as an alternative conception based on citizen consultation, shows that both conceptions match reasonably well, and differ mainly in a nuanced structure and categorization. Taking into account only the terminology of the four dimensions of the Welfare Quality® conception (Table 1), they could be related to four of our dimensions (“Feed and Water,” “Housing and Barn Climate,” “Animal Health,” and “Ability to engage in natural behavior”), thus mixing animal- and environment-based dimensions.

Having a closer look into the 12 criteria constituting the four WQ dimensions, two additional dimensions of this study’s conception could be retrieved. “Good human-animal relationship” is a criterion under the principle “Appropriate behavior” and matches our dimension “Human-animal relationship.” Furthermore, “Absence of pain induced by management procedures” and “Absence of general fear,” criteria that resort under “Good health” and “Appropriate behavior” in WQ, are in this study’s conception included in the dimension “Suffering and Stress.” Finally, the absence of “Transport and Slaughter” in the WQ conception can also be explained, since the WQ conception is designed to score the animal’s welfare either on farm or during transport and slaughter.

Our conception’s first goal was to map and validate the way in which the public perceives and conceptualizes farm animal welfare. In general, the public’s conception has many communalities with existing conceptions, though is couched in a format that is more transparent and understandable for the public. Yet, it is supported by different stakeholders and interest groups active in the meat production chain and thus answers to the need for a conception that unites varied understandings (Fisher 2009). These insights make it an appropriate construct and tool to be applied in the context of communicating on animal welfare and animal production to the wider public. Marketing strategies could address existing public concerns (e.g., free range labeling) and the public could be informed on important welfare aspects that they are unaware of (e.g., lameness).

Correlations between the different dimensions were significant and correspond with the previously reported interrelationships between the dimensions (Appleby 1999b; Fraser et al. 1997; Hewson 2003a). Very high correlations were found between “housing and barn climate” on the one hand and “ability to engage in natural behavior” and “transport and slaughter” on the other hand. The high dependence of the ability of farm animals to engage in natural behavior on the housing is obvious. Nevertheless we favored a split in order to make abstraction between animal- and environment-based dimensions, and this decision was supported by a better model fit. The high correlation with transport and slaughter is also reflected in the WQ conception, where the identified principles apply both on farm and during transport and slaughter. However, citizens focus group discussions have shown the crucial importance of this final stage in the farm animal’s life from the citizen perspective (Vanhonacker et al. 2010), which justifies treating transport and slaughter as a separate dimension. Discussions in the focus groups and debate in literature are often related to whether or not humans have the right to end an animal’s life, to the way the animals are transported, and to whether or not and how to stun animals before slaughter.

Future Directions

These study results provide a citizen-oriented extension of the existing conceptions of farm animal welfare, incorporating the perspectives of Flemish citizens. It adds value to the existing knowledge since it structures the animal-based (with a direct impact on animal welfare) and resource-based dimensions on two different levels. Future studies can focus on the further validation of our proposed structure among populations with a different cultural, political, and religious background. Also, future studies can focus on determining the degree of emphasis the public will place on one dimension relative to another, and how this will differ between and within populations (see for example Tuyttens et al. 2010). The model can further serve as a tool for the translation of more complex indicators for the animals’ welfare into lay language. Further it can be applied to determine the cues consumers will be concerned with on food product labels, or to reveal cues that have a significant impact on the animal’s welfare in current intensive animal production systems yet are unknown to the lay consumer. Informing about these issues could reduce the discordance between public perception and scientific facts and better align consumer behavior and public concerns with welfare-oriented policy recommendations and directives. Additionally and in contrast to the Welfare Quality® conception, our conception does not yet enclose an aggregation procedure and methodology to combine the scores of the separate welfare indicators into a total welfare (perception) score.

Acknowledgments

The partial financing of this research by the Ministry of the Flemish Community through the project ALT/AMS/2005/1, and by IWT Flanders through the project 50679 is gratefully acknowledged. The authors would also like to thank Joke Ottevaere for her assistance in the in-depth interviews and an anonymous reviewer of an earlier version of this paper for helpful comments.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010