, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 203-219

Dealing with Ambivalence: Farmers' and Consumers' Perceptions of Animal Welfare in Livestock Breeding

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Abstract

The results of an empirical study intoperceptions of the treatment of farm animals inthe Netherlands are presented. A qualitativeapproach, based on in-depth interviews withmeat livestock farmers and consumers was chosenin order to assess motivations behindperceptions and to gain insight into the waypeople deal with possible discrepancies betweentheir perceptions and their daily practices.Perceptions are analyzed with the help of aframe of reference, which consists ofvalues, norms, convictions, interests, andknowledge.

The perceptions of the interviewed farmersare quite consistent and without exceptionpositive: according to them, nothing is wrongwith animal welfare in livestock breeding. Theperceptions of the consumers we interviewed aremore divergent, but generally negative. Bothgroups show ambivalence as a result ofdiscrepancies between perceptions and behavior.Although the consumers share the impressionthat the living conditions of livestock animalsare far from optimal, most of them still buyand eat meat from the meat industry. Thefarmers believe the welfare of their animals isgood, but, as frequent defensive utterancesshow, they feel uncomfortable with expressed orunexpressed accusations of mistreating animals.The ways the respondents deal with thisambivalence were analysed by drawing ontheories of dissonance reduction and distancing devices.

Catherine and Raphaël Larrère(Larrère and Larrère, 2000) argue thatanimal rearing is a hierarchical relationshipwhose rules are to be found in the fiction of adomestic contract. We argue that the questionis not whether there should be a domesticcontract, because such a contract seems alreadyaccepted. However, since values and normsdiffer widely, not only among meat livestockfarmers and consumers, but also amongconsumers, the question remains as to whosevalues and norms should form the basis of thedomestic contract.