A simple value-distinction approach aids transparency in farm animal welfare debate

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 19 (1):57-66 (2006)
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Abstract

Public debate on acceptable farm animal husbandry suffers from a confusion of tongues. To clarify positions of various stakeholder groups in their joint search for acceptable solutions, the concept of animal welfare was split up into three notions: no suffering, respect for intrinsic value, and non-appalling appearance of animals. This strategy was based on the hypothesis that multi-stakeholder solutions should be based on shared values rather than on compromises. The usefulness of such an artificial value distinction strategy was tested in a small series of experiments. The results demonstrate that the chosen concept to distinguish between values is effective in a stakeholder context. Farmers’ views on doing good to animals appeared to be largely based on their value to prevent suffering and predominantly focused on the provision of regular care. Their priority for this value is clearly shared with other stakeholders, providing a basis for joint solutions. The concept of intrinsic value does not play a discernable role in farmers’ considerations. Based on the varying views on welfare, it can be inferred that there is a gradual rather than a principal difference between government legislation and farmers’ values, whereas public perception and acceptance of farm practices remains complicated. Distinction between value groups and focusing on a selected notion (such as no suffering) proved to be effective in bringing representatives of stakeholder groups together, but is unlikely to bridge the emotional gap between commercial farm practices and public ideals.

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Frans Stafleu
Utrecht University