Animal welfare: the consumer and the food industry

This reading explores the consumer concerns and actions on animal welfare. 60% of agricultural output in UK belongs to animal based agriculture. Within these few years, concerns have been expressed by animal welfare organisations regarding the impact of intensive livestock production practices on the animals’ welfare. Consumption of livestock are showing longer-term decline. Is animal welfare contributing to this decline?

Key factors shaping consumer concerns about animal welfare

  • Income for average families in UK has increased by 80% in the past 20 years
  • In absolute terms, more money is spent on food, but food expenditure has decreased by some 9% compared to 10 years ago
  • People now purchase food to satisfy complex social needs, to bolster self-esteem, to earn recognition from family and peers compared to just satisfying the basic needs in the past

Urban based food consumer

  • Average farm size (rearing of animals) in the UK is double that of Denmark, the country with the next largest average farm size
  • UK is more urbanised compared to neighbouring countries

Increasing educational levels

  • Consumer concerns (how food is consume is produced, processed) increases as educational levels increases
  • These concerns are strongly held by food “gatekeepers” for the household, which is frequently held by the senior female in the household
  • As females are getting highly educated as compared to the past, the food “gatekeepers” or consumers wants to be reassured about the safety of their food and also seek to remove the guilt on how the food was being produced and prepared

Consumer attachment to domestic, farmed and wild animals and birds

  • A poll has revealed that consumers felt that retailers have a responsibility towards animals to make sure that animals are treated humanely and not cause undue harm to wildlife
  • Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) launched a Freedom Food programme designed to allow farm animals to enjoy a decent life as closely as possible to the ideal of the Five Freedoms
    • freedom from hunger and thirst
    • freedom from discomfort
    • freedom from pain, injury and disease
    • freedom to express normal behaviour
    • freedom from fear and distress

Consumer concerns about health and nutrition

  • Increasing consumer concern about the impact of food consumption affecting their health and physical appearance (women in particular, to be thin)
  • Livestock products like eggs, whole milk, butter, red meat, are on the decline
  • Poultry meat consumption in contradictory, has been on the rise
  • 25% of females aged between 16-24, the future generation of the “gatekeepers” as mentioned above, identified that they were vegetarian or avoided red meat

Consumer seek convenient food products

  • Increasingly, people are buying livestock products in processed form and do not look like the raw item
  • The convenience factor is one that works against the trend towards increasing concern about animal welfare issues

The rise of single issue-drive politics and unusual alliances

  • In a feature of citizen action in 1990, individuals of quite different political stripes and social backgrounds coalesce to attain some mutually-shared end result
  • In a case of animal welfare issue, middle-class grandmothers from Bournemouth have linked arms with young, leftward-leaning radicals to impede the progress of livestock transport
  • This makes a good media material and reduce the likelihood of people labelling the demonstration as ‘extremist’ or ‘lunatic’

Slaughtering livestock is a basic, messy business

  • Slaughtering of animals is an emotional subject as it provokes guilt that animals’ lives are ended to satisfy our desire for food
  • A slaughtering malpractice or welfare abuse might win the day for animal rightist as the emotional riposte will trounce the logical argument

Implications for food industry participants

  • Meat prices, consumer incomes and consumer preference are the key determinants of meat demand
  • Concerns and actions on animal welfare issues are here-to-stay as shown in a review of trends in consumer concerns


Systems and practices have evolved, or will evolve, to allow both animals to enjoy a ‘decent life’ and to satisfy consumer concern on welfare matters. Animal welfare friendly products has indeed present both opportunities and threats to the livestock industry.The discernible trend of avoiding livestock products like red meat in general, especially with females, should be changed and schools could be targeted to present the positive aspects of meat in our diet. Through educating and influencing consumers on animal welfare matters, it should be able to let consumers make more informed choices when purchasing products.

What do you think is the cause of the decline in livestock consumption? What are your views on the attention given to animal welfare?



Hughes D. (1995). Animal welfare: the consumer and the food industry. British Food Journal, 97, 3-7.




4 comments so far

  1. durianshells on

    In my opinion, I would agree with agneslpy that it is important that proper education is given in order to present the positive aspects of meat in our diet. Although many studies have shown advantages for vegetarian diets including lower saturated fat intake and lowered reported BMIs, ( 2010) there are also reported disadvantages as compared to those who incorporated meat in their diet. Vegetarians are often cautioned that they are at increased risk for inadequate intakes of iron, vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D and zinc. Inadequate intake of protein was also often cited as a problem. (Farmer 2009) As such, the cost of a balanced diet might even be higher for a vegetarian who may have to purchase multivitamins to supplement their diets.

    I personally support the notion that animals should be treated as humanely as possible even in the food industry. Incidents like the torture and severe cruelty of Australian cattle exports in the abattoirs of Indonesia should be condemned. There should be respect for animals because of the contribution they give to mankind. Mentioned in a reading from James A. Serpell in ‘Having our Dogs and Eating Them Too: Why Animals Are a Social Issue’, animals not only feed us, clothe us, substitute for us in medical and psychological experiments and support us emotionally in sickness and in health. They even guide the blind, detect drugs and explosives. (Serpell 2009) It can be said that we cannot do without them and they cannot do without us. It is a symbiotic relationship. On the thoughts of the superiority of humans over animals, we may claim dominance in the brains department however we cannot say the same for our survival skills comparatively.

  2. slky87 on

    The responses to agneslpy questions:

    1) What do you think is the cause of the decline in livestock consumption?

    According to Scott-Thomas (2012), people begin to understand that grains and vegetables can be good source of protein too (See the link below). This shows that the education level of people is increasing as they get to know more source of nutrition from other foods as well as increasing in convern (as mentioned in agneslpy’s post). Hence, there is many alternative in obtaining the nutrition needed to consume.

    Besides education level, I feel that natural diseases also play a part in declining livestock too. Diseases such as “Mad Cow Disease” and “Bird Flu” cause people to refrain from eating beef and chicken. Hence, they will seek for more alternatives (i.e. potatoes) for protein and other nutrients.

    2) What are your views on the attention given to animal welfare?

    I feel that the attention given to animal welfare especially the livestock is still good for most developed countries. There is even welfare law to regulate the food industries in order to decrease the suffering of the livestock during slaughter (See the link below).

    As what durianshells has highlighted in regards to striking of balance in nutrition. Consuming of livestock is still part and parcel of our lives. If we don’t consume, there may be an over population in livestock which may result in the increase of deadly diseases such as Bird Flu and cause harm to the world.

    • agneslpy on

      I agree with you that as education levels of people are rising, people know where to obtain alternative sources of food for nutrition. Vitamins, as mentioned by durianshells above, could have reported disadvantages in taking them but ultimately, this boils down to how the individual’s lifestyle is like.

      Natural diseases indeed play a role in the declining consumption pattern in livestock as well. However, these natural diseases like ‘Mad Cow Disease’ and ‘Bird flu’ as mentioned affects the decline in livestock consumption temporary and the effect does not persist in the long term.

      Animal welfare seems to be a concerned topic in developed countries and I too, agree that farm animals should be treated humanely and their sufferings during slaughter should be decreased.

  3. tarrycher on

    To add on to the other possible causes to the decline in livestock consumption besides health and education, environment in this case plays a major role too. Wealthier consumers with higher education now show concern about the environmental impact of meat production such as the amount of crops needed to fee the livestock and also the waste and carbon divide generated by the factory farms. Regarding the amount of crop needed will also affect the efficient of the meat production as the crop prices increase, so do the feed as livestock require 3 and 8 pounds of nutrient to make 1 pound of meat. Same goes for water supply as producing meat will take a toll on the water supply.

    The most important concept for animal welfare especially towards livestock is that “animals are not thing”, they do feel the pain just like anyone else. Therefore, being a civilized society, animal welfare law should be upheld to prevent people from slaughtering animals any way they like especially if it’s for human’s sake.

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