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Adolescents Care but Don’t Feel Responsible for Farm Animal Welfare

In: Society & Animals
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Jen Jamieson Centre for Animal Welfare, The Royal Veterinary College jennyjamieson_4@hotmail.com

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Michael J. Reiss Institute of Education, University of London

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David Allen Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Horsham

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Lucy Asher School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, University of Nottingham

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Matthew O. Parker School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary University of London

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Christopher M. Wathes Centre for Animal Welfare, The Royal Veterinary College

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Siobhan M. Abeyesinghe Centre for Animal Welfare, The Royal Veterinary College

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Adolescents are the next generation of consumers with the potential to raise standards of farm animal welfare—to their satisfaction—if their preferences and concerns are translated into accurate market drivers and signals. There are no published data about adolescent views of farm animal welfare to allow meaningful design, implementation, and evaluation of educational strategies to improve consideration of—and behavior toward—farm animals. Knowledge of farm animal welfare, as well as beliefs and attitudes about farm animal welfare and behavioral intention relevant to it were determined in a sample of uk adolescents, using a survey incorporating an extended version of the theory of planned behavior and novel assessment tools. Our results indicate that adolescents have only a limited knowledge of welfare problems for farm animals and welfare-relevant product labels. Intentions to identify welfare standards for the animals from whom their food was derived were weak. Although they cared about farm animal welfare and agreed with fundamental principles—for example, the provision of space and the absence of pain and suffering—like adults they held limited belief in the power and responsibility that they possess through their choices as consumers; responsibility was often shifted to others, such as the government and farmers.

Abstract

Adolescents are the next generation of consumers with the potential to raise standards of farm animal welfare—to their satisfaction—if their preferences and concerns are translated into accurate market drivers and signals. There are no published data about adolescent views of farm animal welfare to allow meaningful design, implementation, and evaluation of educational strategies to improve consideration of—and behavior toward—farm animals. Knowledge of farm animal welfare, as well as beliefs and attitudes about farm animal welfare and behavioral intention relevant to it were determined in a sample of uk adolescents, using a survey incorporating an extended version of the theory of planned behavior and novel assessment tools. Our results indicate that adolescents have only a limited knowledge of welfare problems for farm animals and welfare-relevant product labels. Intentions to identify welfare standards for the animals from whom their food was derived were weak. Although they cared about farm animal welfare and agreed with fundamental principles—for example, the provision of space and the absence of pain and suffering—like adults they held limited belief in the power and responsibility that they possess through their choices as consumers; responsibility was often shifted to others, such as the government and farmers.

Many studies have addressed stakeholders’—including adult consumers’—views of, and concerns about, farm animal welfare (e.g., European Commission, 2007; Verbeke, 2009). For farmed animals, it is the consumer’s purchases of animal products like meat, milk, or eggs that can substantially affect welfare standards (Farm Animal Welfare Council, 2006; Regmi & Gehlhar, 2001); adolescents are future policy makers and consumers, but they may not perceive that they possess immediate consumer power. However, the knowledge that they acquire through education (at school and elsewhere), together with cultural attitudes and exposure to societal use and representation of animals (Rudman, 2004) all contribute to the decisions they will make as active consumers later in life.

Education is of growing interest as a mechanism to improve consideration of—and behavior toward—animals (e.g., European Commission, 2010; Farm Animal Welfare Committee, 2011a), but its impact is difficult to determine without knowing a population’s current views (Jamieson et al., 2012). Despite research about adult consumers’ concern (e.g., European Commission, 2007; Kjaernes & Lavik, 2008) and children’s understanding of, attitudes toward, and emotional attachment to animals (Muldoon, Williams, Lawrence, Lakestani, & Currie, 2009), there is little literature focusing on adolescents’ perceptions of farm animal welfare. What is available demonstrates that adolescents, though holding generally positive attitudes toward animals, afford lower considerations to agricultural species in comparison with companion animals and use distancing mechanisms to cope with societal use of animals for meat and other products (DeRosa, 1987; Ellis & Irvine, 2010; Jamieson et al., 2012).

figure 1
figure 1

The extended model used in the prediction of specific behavioral intentions. Nonshaded boxes represent the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1991). Shaded boxes are factors additional to the original model: Attitude to farm animal welfare scale (afaws) themes, Demographics and Knowledge (of welfare issues for six different farm species and of welfare standard labeling). Arrows indicate predicted direction of relationships.

Citation: Society & Animals 23, 3 (2015) ; 10.1163/15685306-12341283

There is also an absence of tools to determine adolescents’ views about animal welfare. Existing adult-directed assessment tools are not necessarily suitable for the adolescent audience, requiring excessive concentration or using audience-specific language/content (e.g., Austin, Deary, Edwards-Jones, & Arey, 2005; Kauppinen, Vainio, Valros, Rita, & Vesala, 2010). Limited literature exists that combines citizen-oriented attitudes toward farm animal welfare and beliefs with more consumer-oriented behaviors (Vanhonacker, Verbeke, Van Poucke, & Tuyttens, 2007). As the exact relationship between attitude, knowledge, and behavior is unclear (e.g., Shrigley, 1990; Wallace, Paulson, Lord, & Bond, 2005), assumption of a positive relationship may be inappropriate, and it is imperative to measure multiple pertinent variables to explore those that drive relevant behavior. When a direct measure of behavior is not readily available or logistically possible, Ajzen’s theory of planned behavior (Figure 1; Ajzen, 1991; Ajzen, 2002) has been used. Behavioral intention indicates an individual’s readiness to perform a given behavior and is viewed as the immediate precedent.

Ajzen’s theory illustrates that behavioral intention is guided by: (1) attitude toward a behavior—that is, the extent to which an individual perceives the behavior as favorable or useful; (2) subjective norm—that is, the extent to which an individual perceives that others want him/her to perform the behavior; and (3) perceived behavioral control—that is, the extent to which an individual feels he or she can engage with and is able to perform the behavior. The theory has been shown to be robust in relation to other measures of adolescent consumptive behavior (e.g., Vermeir & Verbeke, 2008); in the context of farmers’ intentions with regards to farm animal welfare (e.g., Coleman, McGregor, Hemsworth, Boyce, & Dowling, 2003; Kauppinen, Vainio, Valros, Rita, & Vesala, 2010); and it is often applied to studies of the relationships among beliefs, attitudes, behavioral intentions, and behaviors in various other fields. It offers a basic framework from which a model could be developed to determine the impact of additional variables, such as knowledge.

To understand adolescents’ potential role as future consumers of farm animal products, and to evaluate the efficacy of education as a means by which to improve their consideration of farm animals’ welfare, it is important to determine current associated adolescent views. This study sought to provide a national benchmark in the United Kingdom of adolescents’ (14- to 15-year-old secondary school attendees) views about farm animal welfare, and to assess those variables that may predict a specific, farm-animal-welfare-relevant behavioral intention. To address the lack of robust and relevant assessment tools in the specific study of attitudes toward farm animal welfare, novel assessment methods were developed.

Aims

The aims of the study were:

  1. to determine adolescent beliefs about, knowledge regarding, and attitudes toward farm animal welfare;

  2. to assess the behavioral intention of adolescents about the welfare standards of the animals from whom their food was derived;

  3. to examine whether the constructs of Ajzen’s theory of planned behavior can be used to predict these intentions; and

  4. to examine factors influencing behavioral intention.

Materials and Methods

A questionnaire was devised and subsequently approved by the Royal Veterinary College’s (rvc’s) Ethical Review Committee. A pilot study was used with nonstudy, year 10 adolescents to check suitability and reliability (N = 30 14-15-year-olds).

Questionnaire Design

The questionnaire comprised four sections concerning (a) beliefs about, (b) attitudes toward, (c) knowledge of, and (d) behavioral intention regarding farm animal welfare. Two statements, measured on a Likert scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree,” were included to check for social desirability effects. Respondent demographics previously shown to affect views of animal welfare were also determined—that is, area of residence (urban/rural), companion animal guardianship, diet, and gender (Herzog, 2007; Hills, 1993; Izmirli & Phillips, 2011; Paul & Serpell, 1993; Te Velde, Aarts, & Van Woerkum, 2002).

Beliefs

Belief assessment allowed comparison with previous findings for adult consumers (Kjærnes & Lavik, 2008; Mayfield, Bennett, & Tranter, 2007a). It covered concern for farm animal welfare, relative perception of species’ welfare, and responsibility to improve farm animal welfare. Respondents ranked six farm species (broiler chickens, laying hens, pigs, beef cows, dairy cows, and sheep) from perceived best (1) to worst (6) welfare, and ranked responsibility of various groups (veterinarians, the general public, supermarkets, charities, government, and farmers) for improving farm animal welfare.

Knowledge

Seven questions (multiple choice and open formats) were posed to determine adolescents’ knowledge of common welfare issues (for broiler and egg-laying chickens, dairy and beef cows, sheep, and pigs), and of welfare-standard labeling, which affects their ability to purchase products representative of animal welfare standards above the legal minimum. Adolescents were given one mark for each correct answer (maximum score of seven).

Attitude

A novel scale was devised to address attitudes specific to farm animal welfare. Welfare was considered an ethical concern for the mental and physical health of animals over which we have a degree of control or “ownership” (Lawrence & Stott, 2010); the scale thus encompassed more than just species-level considerations in accordance with this broader definition. The Attitude to Farm Animal Welfare Scale (hereafter referred to as the afaws) comprised 14 statement pairs; one statement within each pair expressed positively and one negatively to allow reliability assessment, answered on 7-point unipolar Likert scales from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” Although not an exhaustive list, these statements formed four themes on which adolescents commonly based their views when discussing various aspects of farm animal welfare. (Discussions took place with 27 students from six schools, external to the main data collection, on the key aspects on which they felt they based their views on animal welfare and contexts they considered relevant). The statements were:

  1. Pain and suffering (6 statements)—e.g., “It doesn’t matter if a farm animal is in pain.”

  2. Space/behavioral freedom (8 statements)—e.g., “Living conditions provided for farm animals should not restrict their movements or normal behaviors.”

  3. Consumer responsibility/ability to improve farm animal welfare (8 statements)—e.g., “I can make a positive difference to the way farm animals are treated.”

  4. Perceived importance of farm animal welfare (6 statements)—e.g., “Not enough consideration is given to the welfare of farm animals these days.”

Reliability testing (Cronbach’s alpha) at the pilot stage indicated high internal consistency both overall and within themes: all α > 0.7 (George & Mallery, 2003; Gliem & Gliem, 2003).

Behavioral Intention

Consumers influence standards of farm animal welfare through their purchases; adolescents make some purchases of animal products, e.g., when out with friends or buying for lunch, though few purchase food on a household scale. Thus, adolescents are dependent to a large extent on what their caregivers purchase for them. For this reason, the study did not focus on their intentions to purchase animal products of a certain welfare standard but instead focused on a precursor of such behavior—that is, the behavioral intention of individuals to identify the welfare standards of the farm animals used to produce the food (eggs, meat, and dairy) they consume (Figure 1).

Respondents were asked within the questionnaire to “identify means that if you were served an animal product at home, or were selecting or buying food containing an animal product in a shop/school, would you either look for information on the welfare standards involved, such as a label or ask your parent/a shop-seller for the information.” This provided a good starting point and prerequisite from which adolescents can become more informed about animal welfare and become more conscientious consumers. The intention was piloted and developed based on discussions with a sample of adolescents regarding the type of intention which they perceived to be both possible and relevant to their age group (as with the afaws statements; 27 students from six schools). Following Ajzen’s theory of planned behavior, respondents were asked to rate statements regarding their view of this behavioral intention, and three direct measures of the model constructs (constraints on questionnaire length necessitated exclusion of indirect measures):

  1. Behavioral intention, four statements—e.g., “From now on, I will make an effort to identify the welfare standards of the farm animals used in the production of my food”;

  2. Perceived behavioral control, six statements addressing controllability—e.g., “There are many things which prevent me from identifying the welfare standards of the farm animals used in the production of my food,” and self-efficacy—e.g., “It would be really easy for me to identify the welfare standards of the farm animals used in the production of my food”;

  3. Subjective norm, three statements—e.g., “People in my life whose opinions I value think that it is important to be able to identify the welfare standards involved in producing the food which I consume”; and

  4. Attitude toward the behavior, five statements: importance, interest, usefulness, worthiness, and overall evaluation, measured on 7-point bipolar Likert scales.

Unless otherwise indicated, all statements were measured on 7-point unipolar Likert scales from “strong agreement” to “strong disagreement,” though specific terms varied according to the individual wording of each statement.

Participants and Procedure

The online questionnaire (Survey Monkey) was deployed via the e-mail service Sprint Mail (Sprint Media Ltd) on September 8, 2010, through e-mails to the Heads of Science and Citizenship in a cross-sectional sample of 5,911 uk schools. Participation was up to the discretion of the teachers, and the final number of students whom the questionnaire reached before they decided whether or not to complete the survey cannot be specified. The survey was left open until December 18, 2010. A reminder e-mail was sent on November 4, 2010.

A total of 1,274 responses were obtained from > 51 schools (not all schools provided identification, since this was optional, in order to aid confidentiality). Data were rigorously examined and responses removed if they failed to meet the criteria of completeness, reliability, and low levels of social desirability (see Appendix 1), leaving 423 (33% of total) responses in the final sample.

The ratio of male to female respondents was 43% (n = 182) male to 57% (241) female, with the average and majority age (range 14-15) of 14 years old (84%, n = 355). Respondents lived mainly in urban areas (66%, n = 281) and 87% (n = 369) kept a companion animal, either currently or previously. The majority ate meat (92%, n = 389), with the 34 adolescents who avoided meat citing taste/texture (76%, n = 26) and/or welfare (65%, n = 22) as the main reasons (multiple answers were allowed). Most had not previously been taught about animal welfare in school (69%, n = 292), though all but 27 had previous knowledge of farm animal welfare; television was the most common source (70%, n = 276) and friends the least cited (13%, n = 53).

In terms of the wider uk population, in 2010 80% of the total population was reported to live in urban areas (Central Intelligence Agency, 2011), and among individuals between 14 and 15 years of age there was a reported sex ratio of 1 female to 1.05 males (Office for National Statistics, 2010). In 2011, 46% of uk households kept at least one companion animal (Pet Food Manufacturers Association, 2011), and in 2008 8% of the uk population was either completely or partially vegetarian (GfK [Growth from Knowledge] Social Research, 2009). The study sample here appears to have a gender and potential companion-animal-keeping bias when compared with the wider population; however, with regards to companion-animal keeping, the statistic quoted (46%) refers to all households inclusively as opposed to only those households with adolescents, which may at least partly explain this difference. Murray, Browne, Roberts, Whitmarsh, and Gruffydd-Jones (2010), for example, found a significant interaction between dog guardianship and the presence of children aged 11 to 15 years in a household, and also that households with both a dog and children of the same age range were more likely to keep a cat than those without either dogs or children of a similar age.

Statistical Analysis

Prior to analysis, the following data calculations were conducted:

  1. afaws 1-7 Likert scale statements were recoded (and reverse coded where necessary) such that the most “welfare positive” choice was assigned +3 points and the least, −3 points, neutral scoring zero. An “overall afaws score” from −3 to +3 was then calculated for each respondent by summing all 28 statements and dividing by the number of statements, repeated for each theme to obtain “theme scores” from −3 to +3 (continuous scale, normal data). Each group of statements within each theme had to meet an internal consistency of Cronbach’s α > 0.7, checked post-data collection, with unreliable statements excluded as necessary.

  2. For the theory of planned behavior data, statements were reverse coded where necessary. Choices most promoting the intention of adolescents to identify the welfare standards of their food were assigned seven points and the least, one point. To standardize construct scores (1 to 7), each construct (behavioral intention, perceived behavioral control, etc.) score was quantified by summing all relevant statements into a single score and dividing this sum by the total number of statements for that construct across constructs: 7 representing a positive response, 4 indifferent, and 1 negative. Cronbach’s alphas were calculated for statements within constructs.

All data were analyzed using spss Statistics 17.0 (spss Inc.), with a two-tailed significance of p < 0.05. Where data did not conform to assumptions of parametric testing, nonparametric analyses were used. Where necessary, p-values were corrected for multiple testing using the Bonferroni correction. The unit of analysis was a single survey respondent. Analysis was conducted in the following stages:

  • Beliefs

    Belief section data were viewed graphically, and Friedman tests were used to determine differences between: (a) the welfare status rank assigned to six farm species; and (b) the rank assigned to six stakeholders for their responsibility in improving farm animal welfare. Post-hoc Wilcoxon tests were used where appropriate.

  • Knowledge

    Pair-wise McNemar’s tests were used to assess which questions the adolescents were more likely to answer correctly. Mann-Whitney U tests were conducted to examine the effects of demographic variables gender (male/female) and area of residence (urban/rural). Insufficient variation within the sample meant that the effects of companion animal guardianship and diet could not be examined.

  • Attitudes

    A General Linear Model was used to examine the effects of gender and area of residence (as fixed effects) on Attitude Score (continuous dependent variable). Friedman tests (and post-hoc Wilcoxon tests) were used to compare scores allocated to the four afaws themes (pain and suffering, space/behavioral freedom, responsibility/ability to improve, and importance of farm animal welfare).

  • Behavioral Intention

    Friedman tests were used to compare the four theory of planned behavior construct scores (attitude toward the behavior, subjective norm, perceived behavioral control, and behavioral intention).

Does the Theory of Planned Behavior and Gender, Area of Residence, Knowledge, and/or Attitude Contribute to Variability in Behavioral Intention?

A three-step hierarchical multiple regression analysis was conducted to determine whether demographic factors (gender and area of residence), afaws score (split by theme), and knowledge score predicted behavioral intention beyond prediction engendered by the theory of planned behavior constructs alone (Figure 1). With behavioral intention as the dependent variable, attitude toward the behavior, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control were entered as the first step in the hierarchy (the basic theory of planned behavior framework). Gender (female/male) and area of residence (urban/rural) were entered second, and afaws theme scores and total knowledge score entered lastly as independent variables. Preliminary analyses were conducted to ensure no violation of the assumptions of normality, linearity, multicollinearity, and homoscedasticity, and to determine a good fit of the model. Pearson and Spearman’s correlations (depending on normality) were used to examine the connections between the three theory (of planned behavior) constructs. Correlations of less than 0.3, even when significant, were deemed negligible, so only correlations ≥ 0.3 were considered relevant to this study (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980).

Results

Beliefs

There was a statistically significant difference in ranking allocation of welfare status by adolescents, from best (1) to worst (6), across the six farm species (Figure 2; Friedman: χ2 [5, n = 423] = 602.07, p < 0.001). The relative welfare of sheep and dairy cows was considered as > beef cattle and pigs > laying chickens > broiler chickens.

Responsibility for improving farm animal welfare attributed to uk stakeholder groups by adolescents is shown in Figure 3, with a statistically significant difference in rank allocation across groups (Friedman: χ2 [5, n = 423] = 566.544, p < 0.001). The relative responsibility of farmers was considered as > government > charities, supermarkets, and the general public ≥ veterinarians.

figure 2
figure 2

Distribution of adolescents’ (N = 423) ranking of six UK farm animal species according to best (1) to worst (6) perceived welfare. Bubble size at each rank value (X-axis) represents the proportion of the sample choosing the particular rank for the relevant species (Y-axis). Differing superscripts indicate significant differences between species (Y-axis; p < 0.05). Vertical black lines indicate the median rank for each species.

Citation: Society & Animals 23, 3 (2015) ; 10.1163/15685306-12341283

Overall, adolescents cared about how farm animals are kept and treated (64.5% caring either very much or quite a lot), and many were concerned about this (49.4% either very concerned or quite concerned). Although the majority (71.6%) felt they knew some to a fair bit about farm animal husbandry, a large proportion (38.3%) felt that they did not know enough to give an opinion on their concerns. Most (70.4%) considered that there was not enough information on farm animal welfare available to them.

Knowledge

Out of a maximum total score of 7, 23.2% of adolescents scored 0, 33.6% scored 1, 26.2% scored 2, 12.8% scored 3, 3.3% scored 4, and 0.9% scored 5. No adolescent scored more than 5.

Adolescents were most likely to attempt answering questions relating to chickens, significantly more likely to be able to identify welfare problems for laying hens in battery systems (question one; 55.3% correct, p < 0.001 for all McNemar test comparisons), and significantly less likely (p ≤ 0.05 for all comparisons) to demonstrate knowledge of problems for dairy cows and sheep (questions five and six; 13% and 6.6% correct, respectively) or to choose the correct option for the definition of an “outdoor reared” pig (question four; 9.9% correct). Nearly all (93.4%) failed to identify labels representative of welfare standards higher than the legal minimum (question 7). Though Freedom Foods (n = 347) and Soil Association Organic (n = 288) were most frequently chosen as representative of higher animal welfare standards, as adolescents often additionally ticked an incorrect response, such as Assured Food Standards (n = 261), it was not possible to determine whether the high selection of the correct labels was based on knowledge or an artifact of randomly selecting multiple options.

figure 3
figure 3

Distribution of adolescents’ (N = 423) ranking [most (1) to least (6)] of six groups’ responsibilities for improving UK farm animal welfare. Bubble size at each rank value (X-axis) represents the proportion of the sample that chose the particular rank for the relevant species (Y-axis). Differing superscripts indicate significant differences between species (Y-axis; p < 0.05). Vertical black lines indicate the median rank for each group.

Citation: Society & Animals 23, 3 (2015) ; 10.1163/15685306-12341283

Adolescents living in rural areas (Median [Md], Inter quartile range [iqr], of scores out of 7: 1.00, 1.00-2.00) scored significantly higher for knowledge than those living in urban areas (Md, iqr: 1.00, 0.00-2.00; Mann-Whitney U test: U = 17393.5, z = −2.234, p = 0.025, r = −0.11). Females (Md, iqr: 1.00, 1.00-2.00) scored significantly higher for knowledge than males (Md, iqr: 1.00, 0.00-2.00; U = 18081.0, z = −3.208, p = 0.001, r = −0.16).

Attitudes

The afaws showed high internal consistency, indicating that the statements and themes within the scale measured a single underlying construct (i.e., attitude toward farm animal welfare as defined); overall Cronbach’s α score of 0.93, and individual themes met the reliability and consistency criteria of α > 0.7: pain and suffering 0.863; space/behavioral freedom 0.813; responsibility/ability 0.811; importance of farm animal welfare 0.790, suggesting adolescents were responding consistently within these groups of paired statements.

Adolescents achieved a mean ± se overall afaws score of 1.13 ± 0.04, tending toward the positive end of the scale (maximum 3, minimum −3). Scores varied significantly by gender; females scoring higher than males (Univariate General Linear Model: F1, 419 = 33.976, p < 0.001; female: mean ± se: 1.37 ± 0.057; male: mean ± se: 0.85 ± 0.060). Area of residence had no effect on overall afaws score (Univariate General Linear Model: F1, 419 = 2.474, p = 0.116; urban: mean ± se: 1.04 ± 0.051; rural: mean ± se: 1.18 ± 0.073).

Scores were significantly different across afaws themes (Friedman: χ2 [3, n = 423] = 703.80, p < 0.001), with significant differences between all pairwise theme comparisons (Wilcoxon: p < 0.001 for all). Most positive attitude was attributed to minimizing pain and suffering for farm animals, and least was indicated toward respondent responsibility/ability to effect change with regards to farm animal welfare (Figure 4).

Behavioral Intention

Each construct of the theory of planned behavior met Cronbach’s α reliability of > 0.7, except for subjective norm (attitude toward the behavior 0.869, subjective norm 0.580, perceived behavioral control 0.716, and behavioral intention 0.789); the results concerning this construct should therefore be treated with caution.

Overall and out of a maximum total score of 7 (most positive) per construct, median (iqr; Min to Max) scores were: attitude toward the behavior 5.60 (4.80-6.40; 1-7); subjective norm 3.67 (2.67-4.33; 1-7); perceived behavioral control 3.67 (3.00-4.33; 1.17-6.83); behavioral intention 4.00 (3.25-5.00; 1-7). Scores were significantly different across constructs (Friedman: χ2 [3, n = 423] = 571.625, p < 0.001), with all comparisons significant (Wilcoxon: p < 0.001 for all), except for perceived behavioral control compared with subjective norm (Wilcoxon: Z = −1.44, p = 0.151). Most positive responses were attributed to adolescents’ attitudes toward the behavioral intention in question (to identify the welfare standards of the animals from whom their food was derived), in terms of its importance, interest, usefulness, worthiness, and an overall evaluation. Adolescents tended to respond most negatively when they considered the extent to which they felt they could engage with—and be able to perform—the behavior (perceived behavioral control) and the extent to which they perceived that others want them to perform the behavior (subjective norms). The overall behavioral intention score of 4 out of 7 suggests that adolescents held an uncertain middle-ground opinion on the likelihood of trying to identify the welfare standards of the animals from whom their food was derived either currently or in the future.

figure 4
figure 4

Adolescents’ (N = 423) median, interquartile, max, and min range for AFAWS Theme scores (Pain and Suffering, Space/Behavioral Freedom, Responsibility/Ability to improve, and Importance of farm animal welfare). Significant differences (Wilcoxon tests) indicated by asterisks where *** = p < 0.001; star indicates outlier.

Citation: Society & Animals 23, 3 (2015) ; 10.1163/15685306-12341283

Does the Theory of Planned Behavior Predict Adolescents’ Behavioral Intentions?

In the first regression step, attitude toward the behavior (β = 0.454, p < 0.001), subjective norm (β = 0.332, p < 0.001) and perceived behavioral control (β = 0.160, p < 0.001) significantly predicted 49% of the variation in behavioral intention (p < 0.001). Thus the constructs of the theory of planned behavior predicted adolescents’ intentions to identify the welfare standards of the food that they consume.

Do Gender, Area of Residence, Knowledge, and/or Attitude Contribute to Variability in Behavioral Intention?

In step 2, inclusion of gender (β = 0.138, p < 0.001) significantly improved the model such that overall it predicted 51% of variation in behavioral intention (R-squared change = 0.019, F change (2, 417) = 8.378, p < 0.001). Attitude toward the behavior (β = 0.230, p < 0.001), subjective norm (β = 0.274, p < 0.001) and perceived behavioral control (β = 0.149, p < 0.001) continued to contribute significantly.

In step 3, afaws theme scores and total knowledge score were added as explanatory variables, subsequently increasing the total amount of variation in behavioral intention explained by the model to 60% (R-squared change = 0.089, F change (5, 412) = 18.51, p < 0.001). In this final model, whether an individual lived in an urban or rural setting (area of residence) and how important they felt it was for farm animals to be provided with adequate space and behavioral freedom and be free from pain, regardless of the effect this might have had on product prices (afaws themes “pain and suffering” and “space/behavioral freedom”) did not explain the variation in behavioral intention; significant and nonsignificant relationships, including correlations between the theory of planned behavior constructs, are shown in Figure 5.

The theory of planned behavior constructs “attitude toward the behavior” and “subjective norm” and the afaws themes “responsibility/ability” and “importance of farm animal welfare” had the greatest influence on intention; in all cases the relationship was positive—that is, individuals who perceived that: (1) they could engage with—and were able to perform—the behavior; (2) others wanted them to perform the behavior; (3) they were responsible for and able to improve farm animal welfare; and (4) it was an important issue; had a more positive intention to identify the welfare standards of the animals from whom their food was derived. Females and those with knowledge of farm animal welfare were more likely to score high on the behavioral intent measure. However, in comparison with other significant factors, gender and knowledge contributed only slightly to the overall variation in behavioral intention.

Discussion

The Role of Consumers in Promoting Animal Welfare

Farm animal welfare is increasingly being seen as an important and concerning issue throughout Europe and the developing world (European Commission, 2007; Kjaernes & Lavik, 2008; Mayfield, Bennett, Tranter, & Wooldridge, 2007b). A strong interest in the potential of individuals as consumers to improve farm animal welfare collectively through their purchasing decisions has long been recognized (e.g., Bennett, 1996) and continues to be apparent in recent literature (e.g., Evans, 2007; Harper & Henson, 2001; Mayfield et al., 2007a). We (the authors) feel this is important but emphasize that it is but one lever. Miele and Bock (2007) reviewed a number of papers discussing the variability within individual concepts of farm animal welfare, and the developing ambivalence toward livestock farming.

figure 5
figure 5

Model illustrating the variance in behavioral intention predicted by Attitude toward the behavior, Subjective Norm, Perceived Behavioral Control, afaws Themes, Knowledge, and Demographic characteristics. Standardized regression weights from the multiple regression analysis (single-headed arrows) and correlations (double-headed arrows) between the elements of the Theory of Planned Behavior. Solid arrows indicate statistically significant relationships, dashes indicate nonsignificant relationships. Significant relationships are indicated by asterisks: * = p < 0.05 and *** = p < 0.001. R squared provides an indicator of how well the model fits the data. r is the correlation coefficient from Spearman’s test and rho is the Pearson product moment correlation coefficient.

Citation: Society & Animals 23, 3 (2015) ; 10.1163/15685306-12341283

Consumers do vary in their understanding of their role and the potential power they wield as consumers, and a discrepancy exists between their concerns and willingness to pay, and what is actually reflected in market statistics (e.g., Harper & Henson, 2001; Mayfield et al., 2007a); thus, they may be too diffuse a group to exercise a coherent and identifiable influence. As such, a current debate exists as to who should support animal welfare, with another subset of literature instead focusing on different levers, or a combination of such: influencing government directly so that certain improvements happen as a consequence of legislation (e.g., the banning of sow stalls in the United Kingdom in 1999); changes at the level of food retailers, so restricting the decisions and responsibilities that need to be undertaken by individuals as consumers (e.g., Farm Animal Welfare Council [fawc], 2005; Farm Animal Welfare Committee [fawc], 2011b; Institute of Grocery Distribution, 2007; Jacobsen & Dulsrud, 2007; Köhler & Wickenhäuser, 2001; Ransom, 2007). However, even governmental decisions tend to be strongly influenced by consumer attitudes; indeed, in recent years campaigning organizations like Compassion in World Farming, while keeping up the pressure on governments, have put increased effort into lobbying supermarkets to change their practices directly (i.e., independent of legislation) as a result of consumer preferences (e.g., Brooke, 2008).

Despite the current debate on the exact role of individuals (either as consumers or citizens) in promoting farm animal welfare, on the premise that there is some potential for consumers to influence farm animal welfare, this study—to our knowledge, the first of its scale and in this age group—examined relevant views of uk adolescents, as future consumers. The aim was to provide a benchmark of current beliefs, attitude, knowledge, and behavioral intention in adolescents. Results are based on an opportunistic and reasonably random sample: over 51 schools were represented, and the resulting student demographics appear comparable with the uk population. However, a small sample size (relative to the size of the population) and a slight gender bias (with an overrepresentation of females) are apparent, so caution in interpreting and generalizing the results should be exercised. Gender is commonly found to impact upon survey response rate, with women responding in greater proportions than men, regardless of topic (e.g., Porter & Whitcomb, 2005). This common bias may have been heightened here as a result of the topic involved being related to animal welfare; females are often found to be more sensitive and empathetic regarding animal issues (e.g., Herzog, 2007; Phillips & McCulloch, 2005) and so may have been more receptive and persistent with regard to completion of the survey.

It was important to measure all relevant aspects with the same sample so that relationships between variables could be examined. While reducing the survey’s length might have improved response rate, data comprehensiveness would have been lost. Rigorous screening reduced the sample size even further but ensured that the sample was of the highest quality, thus enabling the authors to draw valid conclusions more confidently. Novel assessment tools to address the deficit of robust and relevant tools yielded results aligned with similar conclusions to those of studies with adult consumers.

Demographic Influence

Greater empathy and concern for general animal welfare issues, and specifically farmed animals’ welfare, has been reported in females than males (e.g., Heleski, Mertig, & Zanella, 2006; Herzog, 2007; Herzog, Betchart, & Pittman, 1991; Phillips et al., 2011). Here, gender effects were also found on all main outcomes: females had more positive attitudes toward—and knowledge of—farm animal welfare, and had greater intention to identify the welfare standards of the animals from whom their food was derived. Other than for knowledge, for which the effect size was comparatively small (Cohen, 1988) and scores were low overall, there was no effect of residence for any outcome. This is not necessarily surprising. Though there is literature to support such a difference, and intuitively it is expected that those rural individuals who are closer to farm production would show more awareness of the issues than urban residents (Harper & Henson, 2001; Hills, 1993), differences resulting from origin of residence were not always pronounced or in the expected direction (e.g., Kendall, Lobao & Sharp, 2006; Miele, 2010; Schroder & McEachern, 2004).

For example, Vanhonacker, Verbeke, Van Poucke, & Tuyttens (2007) found that experience of farming, but not the living environment, resulted in pronounced differences in how Flemish respondents evaluated the current state and importance of animal welfare in Flanders. Schroder and McEachern (2004) found that poor knowledge of labeling indicating production systems, coupled with little desire to choose knowledgably and a clear profession of caring about animal welfare were characteristic of both urban and rural adults. Very few studies have addressed the influence of an urban/rural residence in children (see Muldoon, Williams, Lawrence, Lakestani, & Currie, 2009).

Current and childhood pet keeping has been shown to affect attitudes toward animals, most commonly in a positive sense (e.g., Paul & Serpell, 1993; Prokop & Tunnicliffe, 2010), and dietary choices, including avoidance of certain animal products, may be attributed to an underlying concern for animal welfare and rights or a more detailed level of understanding about farming issues (e.g., Izmirli & Phillips, 2011; Miele, 2010). Unfortunately, within our sample we were not able to address such considerations; however, future work should consider their significance.

Adolescent Beliefs and Knowledge about Farm Animal Welfare

Like adults, adolescents have little awareness of welfare problems for farm animals and a poor ability to recognize product labels representative of animal welfare standards above the legal minimum (European Commission, 2005; Miele, 2010). Inferences about knowledge partially depend on the perception of a question’s difficulty; however, five of the questions simply required suggestions of a species-relevant welfare problem rather than detailed knowledge or explanation. Poor knowledge means consumers may associate high welfare standards with inappropriate indicators, and market choices may be incongruent with concerns.

Adolescents were more able to suggest a welfare problem for chickens than for any other species. Constraints on questionnaire design prevented formal discrimination between questionnaire fatigue and species-specific knowledge (e.g., the question order did not change). Nevertheless, the presence of answers stating “don’t know” or that species such as the dairy cow “don’t have problems” and the absence of blank responses suggest that fatigue was not an issue. Our findings also correspond with adult knowledge and the effects of television campaigns—for example, “The Big Food Fight” (broadcast January 2008, Channel 4) and Chicken Out campaign (http://www.chickenout.tv/). Mass media influences adult consumers (Mayfield et al., 2007b; Miele, 2010), and television was the most common farm animal welfare information source cited by adolescents.

Like adults, adolescents perceived broiler chickens to have the worst welfare in the United Kingdom and sheep and dairy cows to have the best (e.g., European Commission, 2005; Heleski et al., 2006; Mayfield et al., 2007b). Their ranking may also be affected by: (1) the perceived distancing of dairy cows and, to a lesser extent, sheep production, from slaughter—often a main welfare concern of adult consumers (Mayfield et al., 2007b); and (2) space allowance and outdoor access—two tangible production features and areas of concern from a societal and consumer perspective (e.g., Miele, Veissier, Evans, & Botreau, 2011). The latter aspect was reflected in adolescents’ answers; for species-specific welfare problems, sheep and dairy cows were considered as “fine” or “they have space.”

Do Adolescents Care about and Take Responsibility for Farm Animal Welfare?

High overall scores on the afaws characterize individuals who think that: (1) it is important that farm animals are provided with adequate space and behavioral freedom (space/behavioral freedom), and are free from pain, regardless of any effects this may have on product prices (pain and suffering); (2) farm animal welfare is an important issue, with farm animals not simply being a means to consumption (importance of farm animal welfare); and (3) it is their responsibility to take action that can have a positive effect on farm animal welfare (responsibility/ability).

Adolescents scored the afaws themes positively, suggesting a positive attitude to farm animal welfare in line with previous findings (DeRosa, 1987; Jamieson et al., 2012). However, both low afaws theme responsibility/ability scores and beliefs findings suggest that adolescents perceived minimal personal responsibility to improve farm animal welfare and a poor ability to make changes through choices. This finding is similar to the finding for adults, where concern and placement of importance do not definitively mean that consumers believe that their voice as consumers counts, and that they will act to support their beliefs, or feel or want responsibility for affecting welfare standards through their purchases; a common preference exists for responsibility to be delegated and enforced at a higher level, with personal choice within consumption removed (e.g., Mayfield et al., 2007a; McEachern & Schröder, 2002; Schröder & McEachern, 2004). In this study, the government was ranked highly in terms of responsibility, reflective of adult beliefs and uk practice, where legislation is usually the main tool by which minimum welfare standards are imposed (Bennett, 1997).

Are Adolescents Willing and Able to Identify Welfare Standards?

To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study to use the theory of planned behavior to assess those factors that are important in predicting adolescents’ intentions to identify the welfare standards of their food. A mean behavioral intention score of 4 (out of 7) indicates neither a positive nor a negative intention. Measures were based on self-report and are vulnerable to self-presentation bias, yet adolescents’ concerns for farm animal treatment (beliefs) and attribution of importance to the issue of farm animal welfare in general (afaws) were mirrored in their positive attitude toward identifying the welfare standards of their food; they tended to agree that this behavior was both important and interesting (attitude toward the behavior). However, they disagreed that they would be able to carry out the behavior (perceived behavioral control) or that others thought that they should be able to (subjective norm).

How Intentions May Be Encouraged

Current educational materials and strategies aim to develop an understanding that sentient animals feel pain and hence suffer and so should be treated with respect. Our results suggest that adolescents are aware of this and do not dispute its importance. Although it is encouraging that overall afaws scores were toward the positive, even a knowledgeable and interested individual who feels that an issue is outside of his or her responsibility or capability is likely to remain impotent. A weak belief in individual influence has been suggested as one mechanism acting to reduce any guilt associated with meat consumption, and it may explain the discrepancy between expressed concern and consumer choices in adults (e.g., Harper & Henson, 2001). Such barriers need to be altered if the intention is to increase the likelihood that, based on their concerns, individuals will feel both responsible and empowered to make choices that benefit animal welfare.

Adolescents should be able to differentiate between products to express a preference for higher standards of animal welfare (traditional education to increase knowledge) and obtain an element of satisfaction in their choice to sustain this behavior. As with European adults, adolescents felt that not enough information is available to them on the subject of farm animal welfare (European Commission, 2007; Harper & Henson, 2001), and a large proportion (38.3%) felt that they were not well informed about farm animal welfare issues (cf. Mayfield et al., 2007b; a similar percentage of British consumers did not feel as well informed about animal welfare issues as they wished to be.

However, provision of further information is not necessarily a solution if it does not directly translate to knowledge. Consumers may choose voluntary ignorance and actively avoid detailed information so as to remove themselves from accepting responsibility for farm animal welfare, thus reducing discomfort where choices necessitate (e.g., those based on cost as opposed to ethical considerations) or where current beliefs and practices do not match new concerns, interpretation, or knowledge offered from further information (Festinger, 1957; Mayfield et al., 2007a; Te Velde et al., 2002). As Miele and Evans (2010) point out, information provision in the form of welfare labeling can create two groups—that is, ethically competent and ethically incompetent consumers. The latter group does not engage with information and may not have the competence or inclination to accept responsibility for farm animal welfare, a concern mirrored in the work of Köhler and Wickenhäuser (2001).

In the current study, adolescents’ low awareness of welfare issues may be the result of deliberate, functional ignorance if the cost of processing the information involved, both cognitively and physically, outweighed the perceived benefit. Interestingly, high scores attributed to the animal-based themes within the afaws (“pain and suffering” and “space/behavioral freedom”) were not reflected in behavioral intention, potentially as a result of adolescents suppressing these concerns when faced with conflict regarding their current food choices. Though not highly concerning in terms of immediate effect on the market, if such disengagement persists with adolescents, their future behavior will not reflect concerns and importance currently attributed to farm animal welfare. Education to enhance knowledge or other methods of information transfer, without also facilitating moral engagement and an increased sense of competency, may also be ignored. If the intention is for adolescents to engage with farm animal welfare and any improvements in information provisions, it is desirable for them to develop into competent, information-seeking consumers.

Transformative education to address cultural attitudes, values and beliefs surrounding a set of behaviors may motivate change by changing the culture itself. Variation in social influence has been shown to affect behavior with regards to drinking and smoking (Lotrean, Dijk, Mesters, Ionut, & De Vries, 2010; Russell-Bennett & Golledge, 2009). Creating a peer environment and social culture where expressing support for farm animal welfare is seen as the preferable response may increase the number of adolescents making the effort to identify the welfare standards of the animals from whom their food was derived and empower them to claim more responsibility. Further work is needed to address the potential of such a solution. However, the current similarities with discussions within both the alcohol-use and smoking literature suggest that these findings may have value across a wider subject area.

Conclusion

These findings contribute to two areas of literature. First, as primarily an information-seeking survey, the research adds to the growing literature on human-animal interactions by exploring a previously unrepresented issue. Second, this study takes the view that adolescents, as future consumers, have the potential to affect farm animal welfare standards. As such, it contributes to literature exploring the conditions required for consumers to make informed and ethically guided decisions that match their allocations of importance and concern regarding farm animal welfare.

Adolescents are not immediate, large-scale consumers, but they are at a stage in their lives when they are increasingly beginning to make consumer choices. Though firm conclusions cannot be drawn on the generalization of this study to the wider adolescent population, the results indicate that within the sample here adolescents have limited knowledge of welfare problems of farm animals and welfare-relevant product labels but know most about chickens, perhaps because of their prominence in the media. They seem to care about farm animal welfare but are less aware of their power as consumers and currently do not have either a positive or a negative intention to identify the welfare standards of the animals from whom their food was derived.

Presently, adolescents have the characteristics more typical of “ethically incompetent consumers,” manifesting little inclination to seek information on—or accept responsibility for—farm animal welfare and little confidence in their capacity to engage with information regarding the treatment of farm animals. Thus, their interest and concern in welfare as a quality of food, while important to maintain, was not reflected in the questions they might ask and thus their considerations in future choices. To resolve this discrepancy, adolescents should be enabled to become aware of their potential power to raise welfare standards and be equipped with the necessary knowledge and information by which to make and evaluate their decisions. However, though information provision in the form of education may enhance adolescents’ knowledge of welfare problems and their ability to identify welfare-relevant product labels, it may not positively impact on the wider findings.

Barriers such as disassociation, voluntary ignorance, and perceived lack of personal influence are difficult to tackle, especially given the physical separation of livestock production and consumption and active avoidance of connecting the two. Increasing information can even exacerbate the situation if adolescents do not feel it can easily be incorporated into usual practice. Similarities between the sample here and the wider adult population discussed suggest that instead a multifaceted approach is required, including research to determine the most effective means by which to provide adolescents with, and empower them to request and use, the information they will need to develop into ethically competent consumers able to identify and engage with developments in the field of farm animal welfare, if this is the preferred outcome.

Acknowledgments

This work was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (bbsrc) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (rspca). We thank the schoolteachers and adolescents involved in this study for their cooperation and time. The paper was approved for submission (Manuscript id number: vcs_00204).

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