The Concept of Farm Animal Welfare: Citizen Perceptions and Stakeholder Opinion in Flanders, Belgium
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- Vanhonacker, F., Verbeke, W., Van Poucke, E. et al. J Agric Environ Ethics (2012) 25: 79. doi:10.1007/s10806-010-9299-6
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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.