Food Ethics

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 21–34 | Cite as

When the Working Environment is Bad, you Take it out on the Animals – How Employees on Danish Farms Perceive Animal Welfare

  • Inger AnnebergEmail author
  • Peter Sandøe
Research article


Little is known about how employees on husbandry farms perceive animal welfare and the factors influencing the relationship between them and the animals they engage with in their daily work. Reporting the findings of qualitative interviews with 23 employees on five Danish farms (mink, dairy and pig production), this paper describes how the employees viewed animal welfare, and discusses how they dealt with animal welfare issues in their daily work. Four distinct rationales for animal welfare were identified. 1) Animal welfare was supported by concerns about production and health, and could be negotiated – especially when it came to the ability of the animals to perform natural behaviour. 2) Animal welfare was connected with the working conditions on the farm. 3) The employees’ views about animal welfare were affected by working conditions over which they had no influence. 4) An awareness of the condition of the animals was seen as obviously needed in relation to production, but a deeper attachment to some animals was also seen. A specific challenge is presented by the increasingly diverse workforce in farming, with one third of the employees on Danish farms coming from abroad. If farm owners are not able to integrate these employees, there is a risk of creating a second-tier of foreign workers who are isolated. Furthermore, it was seen that negative working conditions can be taken out on the animals, or that animal welfare can come to be seen as unimportant as compared with human welfare.


Animal welfare Employees Ethical assumption Livestock Perception 



The authors wish to thank the employees at the farms for being willing to share their experiences. We would also like to thank Dr..Paul A. Robinson for his very useful suggestions in connection with the editing of the paper, and thanks for the valuable comments we received from participants, when the project was presented at the EurSafe Congress, Vienna 2016. A short and preliminary version of this paper was printed in the proceedings of that congress.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there are no conflicts of interest to report.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Animal ScienceAarhus UniversityTjeleDenmark
  2. 2.Department of Food and Resource EconomicsUniversity of CopenhagenFrederiksberg CDenmark
  3. 3.Department of Veterinary and Animal SciencesUniversity of CopenhagenFrederiksberg CDenmark

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