Citizens' forums, and attitudes to agriculture, environment and rural priorities: research report

Results of an independent study into Scottish public attitudes to the environment, agriculture and rural development.

Protecting animal welfare

There was a recognition of the wider social responsibility of the agricultural sector, and, within this, protecting animal welfare was seen to be a key element. Participants at both Citizens' Forums spontaneously identified protecting animal welfare as a key principle that should underpin future agri-policy; notwithstanding the current standards that are in place.

These findings are supported in the survey research which highlighted the issue of animal welfare in a number of key respects:

  • Animal welfare was the top factor determining public choices about food consumption as shown in the previous chapter.
  • 39% cited improving animal welfare standards as an important priority for the future funding of agriculture policy in Scotland.

Figure 3.1: Animal Welfare Concerns among agricultural priorities

Figure 3.1: Animal Welfare Concerns among agricultural priorities

Qualitative interview participants spontaneously discussed the issue of animal welfare. Among those who consumed meat, eggs, fish, there was a preference to learn more information about the treatment of the animal, specifically, there was appetite to learn where the animal had been reared, what it had been fed, and how it was treated on the farm. In terms of eggs, there was a preference to consume "free-range".

"I feel guilty about killing wee lambs for eating" (Interview participant)

"There are farms where they massage animals, play music for them, and feed them hay, this makes the meat better quality as there are less toxins and fat" (Interview participant)

Among those who were concerned about animal welfare there was a preference for locally sourced "Scottish" meat as there was a view that this would be better quality and you could more readily obtain information about the treatment of the animal.

Those on Halal and Kosher diets also discussed animal welfare but in terms specific to their religious beliefs. Among those on both Halal and Kosher diets, there was mention of the restrictions on the consumption of pork as pigs were seen to be an "unclean animal". Halal and Kosher meat signified health, cleanliness and certain welfare conditions being met for people on these diets. Moreover, there was the view that the slaughtering process specific to the Islamic belief system was more humane as it was quicker and caused less pain for the animal.

Animal welfare was also mentioned as a priority for future agriculture policy in the qualitative interviews. There were various degrees of concern around this, whereas some cited RSPCA labelling as an important reassurance regarding the treatment of animals, others wholly expressed disapproval of animal farming because of cruelty to animals. A lesser mentioned view was that the standards for animal slaughtering are protected in European law and the period of uncertainty related to new legislation coming into place may result in a decrease in standards.

"As a vegan I don't support animal farming because of the whole animal cruelty aspect, and the costs to the planet… I think farming should concentrate on growing a variety of different fruit and veg" (Interview participant)

The issue of animal welfare standards is pertinent in the literature, particularly when considering the future trade relationships of the UK. On the one hand standards related to animal welfare may need to be harmonised with the European Union to enable compliance with legislation and standards, conversely newer trade relationships could mean that products with poorer quality standards may flood the UK markets affecting the competitiveness of local produce[10].

Considering the foregoing discussion regarding animal welfare, it is perhaps unsurprising that when thinking of the future funding of farms in Scotland, there was a higher level of preference to prioritise funding for vegetable farms as opposed to meat producing farms.

Figure 3.2: Future priorities for the funding of farms

Figure 3.2: Future priorities for the funding of farms

Points of consideration:

  • Animal welfare is seen as a social responsibility of the agricultural sector and standards should be demonstrable to the public. However, there was little acknowledgement of current welfare standards - so there needs to be an increased awareness of current standards and the steps taken by farmers to advance animal welfare;
  • The issue of Brexit arose spontaneously, and the concern that standards may decrease as a result of the transition period between the CAP and the implementation of Scottish policy was mentioned, therefore there needs to be reassurances about the consistent application of animal welfare standards and the sector's commitment to maintaining standards



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