Saturday, July 26, 2014

Animal welfare in a democracy?

It seems to me that one of the most important things we need to know in order to press for welfare improvements is how other people feel about animals — in particular what percentage of the population have particular views.

There have been some academic studies of this e.g.

but most of them seem to have been looking at particular groups (e.g. college students) and trying to find out, for example, whether there are differences between men and women or between students with agricultural and non-agricultural backgrounds.

There have been studies of the percentages of vegetarians in different societies

and also market research studies of willingness to pay for/modify purchasing for welfare reasons

Considering all these results together and looking just at the UK  it looks as though objectively about 50% of people don't care enough about welfare to modify their choices at all; around 40% are prepared to make some changes and 10% are willing to make very significant changes.

This immediately poses some difficulties for legislators; when they get lots of letters about animal issues how can they tell whether these are coming from the minority who care a lot or from the roughly half who care either a lot or just a bit? If they make changes as a result of lobbying how will these impact on the half who don't care at all (for example changes that might make food slightly more expensive)?

The answer possibly is that they can't tell — and that they also can't tell whether opposition to change is coming from a very active minority who nearly all write in or reflects the views of a majority who mostly don't get round to lobbying.

What does this mean for animal welfare?

Firstly, anything that helps to move people from the "don't care at all" group to either "care a lot" or "care a bit" is likely to make legal changes easier to achieve because even a small degree of shift would mean that a majority of the population cared. How you do this is more problematic because there's evidence that education doesn't have much effect on whether people care or not—you can teach people who already care about animals what constitutes better welfare (for example not keeping rabbits in hutches) but caring itself seems to be the result of socialisation rather than intellectual learning.

Secondly you can probably achieve more change by focusing on what the "care a bit" group do than by concentrating all your effort on trying to expand the "care a lot" group.

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