Editor’s note: The following article was written by Faith Cullens, Michigan State University dairy nutrition educator.
Does the public think that farmers are protecting the environment, taking good care of their animals and producing food that is safe and wholesome for their families? Who is the general public? Is it your neighbor, the family in Los Angeles, or is it the person reporting the news? These are tough questions to answer, but worth your time to try.
As I researched this subject, one thing became clear– there is no clear answer! The public is not one mass with one opinion. Environmental stewardship, animal care and how food is produced can be very personal issues that some individuals feel very passionate about.
A limited number of studies provide us with some insight into what people are thinking.
In May 2008, Gallup’s annual survey on people’s beliefs and values found that 64 percent of adults favor strict laws concerning the treatment of farm animals. It is important to note that this poll was conducted just three months after the high profile video showing abuse of cattle at a California slaughter plant was exposed.
A 2005 Ohio State University survey found that 92 percent of those surveyed agreed it is important to them that farm animals be well cared for. An opinion, one would assume, that all livestock and dairy farmers would agree with. The Ohio survey also reported 81 percent of the participants agreed the wellbeing of farm animals is just as important as the wellbeing of pets, a somewhat more surprising finding. Similarly, a survey in Arizona found that 34 percent of participants felt farm animals raised for food should be treated the same way household pet owners treat their animals. Does that mean they feel farm animals should be groomed monthly, be toted around in a bag (or worse yet - the ‘doggie stroller’)? Or does that mean that farm animals should have a dry place to rest, nourishing food, and protection from wind, cold and rain? While the later is a standard we can all agree on, the Arizona study didn’t provide any insight what exact care standards the survey participants would find acceptable.
The Arizona survey also found that 77 percent of the participants were “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the treatment of farm animals, 58 percent said that “corporate farms” treat their animals less humanely than “family farms”, and 65 percent believe that laws are necessary to require farmers to treat farm animals humanely.