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Attitudes of Pig and Poultry Industry Stakeholders in Guandong Province, China, to Animal Welfare and Farming Systems

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Abstract

Although the People’s Republic of China produces more animals for consumption than any other country, very little is known about the attitudes of stakeholders in the livestock industries to animal welfare in farming systems. This study investigated the attitudes of stakeholders in pig and poultry farming in south China towards animal welfare in different farming systems, pig and poultry behaviour, and the inherent value of the animals themselves. Respondents thought welfare was important, particularly if they had worked in the industry a long time, and that they intended to make improvements, even though they also believed it to be generally satisfactory. Outdoor systems were perceived to be better for welfare but indoor systems better for food safety, particularly among respondents that had gained their knowledge from multiple sources. Respondents believed pigs and chickens to have equally important needs, despite the fact that pigs were considered more intelligent than chickens. Pig farmers with outdoor systems had a more positive attitude to making welfare improvements compared with those operating intensive indoor systems. However an absence of enrichment in chicken farms increased respondents’ intentions to make improvements, and these were more likely to occur on small chicken farms. Veterinarians and government officials were more likely to perceive welfare as unsatisfactory or to want change it than those working directly with animals. City residents were more likely to support and express confidence that they could improve animal welfare, compared to rural residents. It is concluded that stakeholders in China’s pig and poultry production industries recognised a need to improve welfare, although they saw a conflict with production of safe food. However, farmers involved in intensive production systems were less likely to perceive a need or capacity to improve welfare than those operating more extensive systems, suggesting a dichotomisation of the people in the industry into those in small and outdoor farms that could and were improving welfare and those in indoor intensive farms who did not envisage this happening.
animals
Article
Attitudes of Pig and Poultry Industry Stakeholders in
Guandong Province, China, to Animal Welfare and
Farming Systems
Michelle Sinclair 1, *, Wang Yan 2and Clive J. C. Phillips 1
1Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics, School of Veterinary Sciences, The University of Queensland,
Gatton, QLD 4343, Australia; c.phillips@uq.edu.au
2College of Animal Science, South China Agriculture University, Guangzhou 510642, China;
ywang@scau.edu.cn
*Correspondence: m.sinclair6@uq.edu.au
Received: 15 October 2019; Accepted: 21 October 2019; Published: 24 October 2019
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Simple Summary:
The People’s Republic of China produces large numbers of animals for food but
little is known about the attitudes of people employed in the industries towards the welfare of animals
in the farming systems. We surveyed attitudes of people involved in the pig and poultry industries in
the Guandong Province of China towards the welfare of their animals. They generally supported
improving welfare and believed outdoor systems to be better for welfare and intensive indoor systems
to be better for food safety. Farmers using intensive, indoor farming systems showed less enthusiasm
to improve welfare than those using outdoor systems. Chicken farms without enrichment were
perceived to be particularly in need of welfare improvement, and this was most likely to happen on
small farms.
Abstract:
Although the People’s Republic of China produces more animals for consumption than
any other country, very little is known about the attitudes of stakeholders in the livestock industries
to animal welfare in farming systems. This study investigated the attitudes of stakeholders in pig
and poultry farming in south China towards animal welfare in dierent farming systems, pig and
poultry behaviour, and the inherent value of the animals themselves. Respondents thought welfare
was important, particularly if they had worked in the industry a long time, and that they intended to
make improvements, even though they also believed it to be generally satisfactory. Outdoor systems
were perceived to be better for welfare but indoor systems better for food safety, particularly among
respondents that had gained their knowledge from multiple sources. Respondents believed pigs and
chickens to have equally important needs, despite the fact that pigs were considered more intelligent
than chickens. Pig farmers with outdoor systems had a more positive attitude to making welfare
improvements compared with those operating intensive indoor systems. However an absence of
enrichment in chicken farms increased respondents’ intentions to make improvements, and these
were more likely to occur on small chicken farms. Veterinarians and government ocials were more
likely to perceive welfare as unsatisfactory or to want change it than those working directly with
animals. City residents were more likely to support and express confidence that they could improve
animal welfare, compared to rural residents. It is concluded that stakeholders in China’s pig and
poultry production industries recognised a need to improve welfare, although they saw a conflict
with production of safe food. However, farmers involved in intensive production systems were less
likely to perceive a need or capacity to improve welfare than those operating more extensive systems,
suggesting a dichotomisation of the people in the industry into those in small and outdoor farms
that could and were improving welfare and those in indoor intensive farms who did not envisage
this happening.
Keywords: China; pig; poultry; stakeholder; survey
Animals 2019,9, 860; doi:10.3390/ani9110860 www.mdpi.com/journal/animals
Animals 2019,9, 860 2 of 16
1. Introduction
The People’s Republic of China (henceforth China) is the largest producer of meat from terrestrial
livestock in the world, with approximately 14 billion animals raised and slaughtered in 2017. The scale
of livestock agricultural output in China exceeds that of the world’s second largest producing country
(United States of America) by over 36%, and over 57% more than the third (Brazil), with the United
Kingdom, France and Germany producing less than 10% of China’s output [
1
]. The scale and global
importance of China’s livestock industry is not limited to terrestrial animals, with the nation currently
producing a majority of the world’s farmed fish (63 million tonnes), approximately four times the output
of the second largest producer, Indonesia [
2
]. With over 1.4 billion citizens [
3
] and continued domestic
growth, China also supports the world’s largest food consumption by volume [4]. Considering these
details, China’s potential influence on global animal welfare is undeniable.
Despite the size and status of China, and its dominance in global agriculture, Chinese animal
welfare laws do not yet exist, and very little is known about the Chinese livestock industry outside
of China, and even less about Chinese farmers. Subject to a farming environment that diers both
within the country and with that in other countries, cultural dierences provide another impediment
to a deeper understanding of Chinese livestock communities. The dierence between measurable
cultural dimensions is particularly large when comparing China with countries with which it has
major economic relationships, such as the European Union, Australia and the United States. These
dierences are primarily on the dimensions of ‘power distance’ (the extent to which less powerful
members of society expect and accept inequality in power distribution) in which China ranks high
while US, UK and Australia rank low; ‘individualism’ (the extent to which community members
take care of themselves independently [the ‘I’] rather than for a wider collectivist group [the ‘we’]),
in which China ranks low, with US, UK and Australia ranking high; ‘long term orientation’, in which
China ranks high, with US, UK and Australia ranking low, and lastly, ‘indulgence’, the extent to which
people indulge their impulses rather than show restraint, on which China ranks low, with US, UK and
Australia ranking high (see Figure 1) [
5
]. This has important implications for international agricultural
trade relationships, and for proponents of international animal welfare initiatives. Given the possibility
of miscommunication and misunderstanding resulting from these key cultural dierences, the need to
better understand agricultural trading partners is paramount, particularly concerning the growing
issue of animal welfare.
Previous research shows a need to engage livestock stakeholders in international animal welfare
initiatives, through the identification of mutual benefits, and emphasises the role of local knowledge,
understanding and respect in success [
6
]. To do this, the farmers themselves need to be consulted, and
their position, environment, and attitudes adequately understood.
A study with French pig farmers found that their understanding of animal welfare correlated
with their levels of involvement in consumer quality assurance programs [
7
]; farmers participating
in stringent quality assurance schemes defined animal welfare in terms of providing environments
in which the animals can perform their natural behaviours, with farmers in less stringent systems
defining animal welfare as simply the physiological health of the animals. A correlation of farmers’
attitudes with the level of regulation and comprehensiveness of animal welfare requirement was also
evident in a literature review incorporating several studies in neighbouring European countries [
8
].
Another study found that Dutch pig farmers’ general attitudes towards animal welfare was tied to their
understanding of good farming practices, which were primarily influenced by the market segment they
were targeting [
9
]. Likewise, in a study of German pig farmers, attitudes towards animal welfare, and
their willingness to participate in animal welfare programs, was most prominently tied to economic
factors and the ability to increase profit, and a framework for an incentive scheme was suggested [
10
].
Another European study found a relative consensus between the expectations of industry stakeholders
and consumers on the elements that are required to satisfy animal welfare from 72 attributes of the
farming process [
11
]. However, it was only achieved if welfare was included into the broader concept
of quality, and managed by assurance and sustainability schemes [11].
Animals 2019,9, 860 3 of 16
Most investigation of farmers’ attitudes has so far been conducted in Europeans countries, with
very little research of this nature conducted in an Asian context. In China, although little research
has been conducted with farmers and other livestock stakeholders, studies have investigated citizens’
attitudes to animal welfare. One found that only two thirds of respondents had heard of ‘animal
welfare’, but when they knew what it was 73% were in favour of improving it for human food safety
reasons, with 66% agreeing to some extent that animal welfare legislation should exist in China, where
it currently doesn’t [
12
]. This work shows that animal welfare may be a concept of influence in
China, at least amongst Chinese citizens. Likewise, when ‘animal protection’ was measured against
twelve other world social issues, such as poverty, gender inequality and racism, it was rated by
university students in China as the most important issue, alongside environmental protection and
sustainable development [
13
]. Additional studies have begun to investigate attitudes in focus groups
of Chinese industry stakeholders, in which the importance of economic factors, mutual benefits
and financial incentives connected to welfare, such as improved animal productivity, food safety,
and above all, quality, were demonstrated [
14
]. Chinese stakeholders have indicated that the law,
governance, the availability of tools and resources, and knowledge are important drivers behind their
attitudes to animal welfare, and the workplace hierarchy and the extent to which animal welfare
improvements were approved of within the workplace was perceived as highly influential in regarding
ability to improve welfare in China [
15
]. This confirms the importance of the ‘power distance’ cultural
dimension in Chinese society. A quantitative survey has investigated stakeholders’ perceptions of
important animal welfare concerns during transport and slaughter [
16
], with the absence of stunning
pre-slaughter being considered the most serious threat to animal welfare.
This study aims to build on an earlier survey study that investigated attitudes to animal welfare
of stakeholders involved in slaughter and transport [
15
], by focussing on stakeholders in the farming
systems, including investigation of their attitudes to the animals. Poultry and pork producing farms
were the focus, given the significance of these species in China, which is home to half of the global
population of pigs [
17
], and the largest chicken production industry in the world, double that of their
closest competitors (Indonesia and the United States) [18].
Animals 2019, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 3 of 15
Most investigation of farmers’ attitudes has so far been conducted in Europeans countries, with
very little research of this nature conducted in an Asian context. In China, although little research has
been conducted with farmers and other livestock stakeholders, studies have investigated citizens’
attitudes to animal welfare. One found that only two thirds of respondents had heard of ‘animal
welfare’, but when they knew what it was 73% were in favour of improving it for human food safety
reasons, with 66% agreeing to some extent that animal welfare legislation should exist in China,
where it currently doesn’t [12]. This work shows that animal welfare may be a concept of influence
in China, at least amongst Chinese citizens. Likewise, when ‘animal protection’ was measured against
twelve other world social issues, such as poverty, gender inequality and racism, it was rated by
university students in China as the most important issue, alongside environmental protection and
sustainable development [13]. Additional studies have begun to investigate attitudes in focus groups
of Chinese industry stakeholders, in which the importance of economic factors, mutual benefits and
financial incentives connected to welfare, such as improved animal productivity, food safety, and
above all, quality, were demonstrated [14]. Chinese stakeholders have indicated that the law,
governance, the availability of tools and resources, and knowledge are important drivers behind their
attitudes to animal welfare, and the workplace hierarchy and the extent to which animal welfare
improvements were approved of within the workplace was perceived as highly influential in
regarding ability to improve welfare in China [15]. This confirms the importance of the ‘power
distance’ cultural dimension in Chinese society. A quantitative survey has investigated stakeholders’
perceptions of important animal welfare concerns during transport and slaughter [16], with the
absence of stunning pre-slaughter being considered the most serious threat to animal welfare.
This study aims to build on an earlier survey study that investigated attitudes to animal welfare
of stakeholders involved in slaughter and transport [15], by focussing on stakeholders in the farming
systems, including investigation of their attitudes to the animals. Poultry and pork producing farms
were the focus, given the significance of these species in China, which is home to half of the global
population of pigs [17], and the largest chicken production industry in the world, double that of their
closest competitors (Indonesia and the United States) [18].
Figure 1. Comparison of cultural dimensions between China and ‘western’ countries, Australia and
the United States. Data and graph from ‘Hofstedes Insights’ (www.hofstede-insights.com [5]).
2. Materials and Methods
Under the auspices of the Animal Welfare Standards Project (AWSP;
www.animalwelfarestandards.org), 16 workshops on improving animal welfare on farms were held
in southern China from June to September 2018, within which 178 farmer participants completed a
survey. Participants were required to attend the workshops by their employer, which were hosted by
college facilitators. Although the survey was not compulsory for workshop participants, 100% of
Figure 1.
Comparison of cultural dimensions between China and ‘western’ countries, Australia and
the United States. Data and graph from ‘Hofstedes Insights’ (www.hofstede-insights.com [5]).
2. Materials and Methods
Under the auspices of the Animal Welfare Standards Project (AWSP; www.animalwelfarestandards.
org), 16 workshops on improving animal welfare on farms were held in southern China from June to
September 2018, within which 178 farmer participants completed a survey. Participants were required
to attend the workshops by their employer, which were hosted by college facilitators. Although the
survey was not compulsory for workshop participants, 100% of participants that were issued surveys
Animals 2019,9, 860 4 of 16
chose to complete them. Although an estimate of the total people engaged in pig and poultry farming
in this region is dicult to find, The Guangzhou Municipal Government estimated 788,000 people
work in agricultural, forestry, husbandry and fisheries industries. Estimating that one quarter of these
workers are engaged in pig and poultry agriculture (197,000) in the region, the sample represents 0.9%
of total workers [
19
]. The locations of the workshops were all within Guangdong province in south-east
China, including Guangzhou (n =32 farmers), Huizhou (n =34), Jiangmen (n =34), Maoming (n =21),
Shenzhen (n =34), and Yunfu (n =23). This province hosts some of the largest pig farming enterprises
in the world [20].
Workshops were organised by 16 facilitators, who were senior livestock leaders within the
localities of the workshops. Facilitators were selected by academic stain the South China Agricultural
University (SCAU), Guangzhou, Guandong Province, and had to have enough knowledge and
experience to train eectively and to be suciently senior within the pig or poultry farming industry
to encourage attendance at the workshops they hosted. They had to have previously attended a
four-day training workshop series at SCAU in March of the same year, delivered by international and
Chinese animal welfare experts. Facilitators were provided with the present survey and administered
it before commencement of each workshop. Because of potential diculties in translating the term
‘animal welfare’ into Chinese, at the start of the survey respondents were provided with a definition of
animal welfare, modified from that provided by the OIE: ‘The term animal welfare refers to how well
an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. An animal has good welfare if its needs
are being met and hence it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express important
behaviour and not suering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear and distress’ [
21
]. The survey
was based on a previously tested survey tool that aimed to investigate attitudes to animal welfare,
along with motivations and barriers to improving animal welfare, and had been used by the same
researchers in previous studies [
15
,
22
,
23
]. Some targeted attitude questions were added that sought to
identify farmers’ attitudes to various welfare-related components of pig and poultry farming systems,
whichever was relevant, and to the animals themselves (see survey items in appendix). The survey
was translated into Mandarin and back translated by the team at SCAU to ensure accuracy.
Facilitators were provided with a USB drive containing the translated survey for printing and
paper-based distribution within the workshops, along with translated training resources for use within
the workshops to follow. Workshop participants were invited by the facilitators based on a set of
selection criteria that included current employment within the poultry and pig farming industry and
being aged over 18. The survey instrument was reviewed by social scientists, as well as having been
mostly validated in earlier studies [
15
,
22
], with the novel animal and farming systems based questions
refined to ensure comprehension, relevance and accuracy. Ethical approval for this study was granted
by the University of Queensland Human Ethics Committee (Project Identification Code: 2017000628).
Statistical Analysis
The data were initially collated and quality controls used to remove obviously erroneous data
points. Data was imported into Minitab and initial descriptive statistics were obtained, with means,
for each of the general attitude questions, in addition to the attitudes to farming systems and the
attitudes to the pig and chickens. Attitude responses were used in a general linear model (GLM),
and the numbers 1–5 were attributed to the scaled responses ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’ to
facilitate this process.
Ordinal logistic regression analyses were used to assess the significance of the relationships
between respondent demographics (the categorical independent variables) and the distribution of
the Likert scale responses for each of the attitude questions (the continuous dependent variable).
The model used an iterative-reweighted least squares algorithm with a logit link function. All models
achieved convergence and results are presented as Odds Ratios (OR) and Confidence Intervals (CI).
All probability values were considered significant at p<0.05, and highly significant at <0.01.
Animals 2019,9, 860 5 of 16
3. Results
3.1. Demographics
Male stakeholders represented 59% of the respondents, females 41% (Table 1), which indicates
over-representation of males compared with national data (approximately 53% male, 47% female [
23
]).
Most lived in urban (60%) or rural (40%) zones, the former being similar to the national distribution
of urban-zoned residents (59.2% [
23
]). The majority (71%) were aged 26–45, whereas this age group
represents only 50% of the population of China, which overall is older [
24
]. The most common work
was directly with animals, although a significant proportion were business owners or managers.
Table 1. Description of respondent demographics.
Demographic Variable N %
Gender Male 105 58.99
Female 73 41.01
Residential zone
Rural 71 39.89
Town 23 12.92
Suburban 19 10.67
City Centre 65 36.52
Age
Under 18 4 2.25
18–25 33 18.54
26–35 68 38.2
36–45 58 32.58
46–55 12 6.74
56–65 2 1.12
Over 65 1 0.56
Role in industry
Working directly with animals 44 24.72
Team leader 5 2.81
Business owner or manager 26 14.61
Livestock veterinarian 10 5.62
Government representative 13 7.3
Other 80 44.94
Farming system used (pig)
Intensive indoor 116 65.2
Indoor/outdoor 20 11.2
Outdoor sties 14 7.9
Outdoor free range 24 13.5
Not involved in pig farming 4 2.2
Size of farm (no. pigs)
1–10 21 12.5
10–50 8 4.76
50–100 18 10.71
100–500 30 17.86
500–3000 11 6.55
3000+80 47.62
Farming system used
(chicken)
Indoor enriched 45 25.28
Indoor intensive 21 11.8
Outdoor coup 11 6.18
Outdoor free range 9 5.06
Outdoor day/coup night 13 7.3
Not involved in chicken farming 79 44.38
Size of farm (no. chickens)
1–50 46 31.51
50–200 14 9.59
200–1000 16 10.96
1000–10,000 22 15.07
10,000+48 32.88
Animals 2019,9, 860 6 of 16
Table 1. Cont.
Demographic Variable N %
How knowledge gained *
Formal qualifications in agriculture 72 26.37
Hands-on farm employment 88 32.23
Personal interest (internet, journals, newspaper, television)
57 20.87
Peers 33 12.08
All of the above 23 8.42
Length of time in industry
<1 year 77 43.26
2–3 years 25 14.04
3–5 years 22 12.36
5–9 years 34 19.1
10–15 years 13 7.3
>15 years 7 3.93
* This demographic criteria was open to multiple responses, therefore the total count is greater than the number
of respondents.
The farming systems represented were mainly intensive indoor pig farming, most commonly with
over 3000 pigs, and about one third were also involved in indoor chicken production, many keeping
just small numbers of birds, but also some with large flocks of over 10,000 birds. Most said that they
had gained their knowledge from employment in agriculture or through formal qualifications, and to a
lesser extent personal interest. Nearly half had been involved in the industry for less than one year,
with only a small proportion (20%) having ten years or more experience in the industry.
3.2. Attitudes to Pigs and Chickens in Farming Systems
There were dierences in the level of agreement with the dierent questions about respondents’
attitudes to animals (Table 2). Respondents were most in agreement that welfare of animals was
important to them and that they intended to make improvements to animal welfare. There was slightly
less agreement that they had tried in the past or that they could make improvements, and still less
that important others would approve of them making improvements. There was least agreement that
welfare was satisfactory in their workplace.
Concerning respondents’ attitudes to dierent types of pig and chicken production systems and
their impact on welfare, respondents mostly agreed that outdoor pig and chicken production systems,
where the animals were in groups and able to roam, were better for the welfare of the animals (Table 3).
There was no dierentiation between the two species. There was less agreement that indoor intensive
systems were better for food safety, and that individual stall housing was better for sows and that it is
desirable to house pigs in groups. Respondents neither agreed nor disagreed that indoor intensive
systems are better for the welfare of pigs and chickens.
When considering respondents’ attitudes towards pigs and their behaviour (Table 4), respondents
most readily agreed that the physical health of pigs is important, that it is also important that they are
happy, and that they are intelligent animals. There was also general agreement, but less so, that they
are social animals, feel pain, can suer and should be allowed to make a nest before parturition. There
was some but not overwhelming agreement that they should be allowed to forage for food and root in
the ground, and even less that they are aggressive animals. Respondents tended towards disagreement
that it is normal for pigs to display mouthing behaviours such as biting bars and chewing (without
food) repetitively, and generally disagreed that they do not understand much about their environment,
that they don’t mind if their tails are docked and teeth clipped and that they are unfriendly animals
and do not like to interact with other pigs.
Animals 2019,9, 860 7 of 16
Table 2. Responses to general attitude questions about animal welfare, with dierences between mean responses.
Likert Scale Response Mean Response 1
Strongly
Disagree Disagree Neither Disagree
nor Agree Agree Strongly
Agree
The welfare of animals is important to me 1 2 33 90 40 3.92
I intend to make improvements to the welfare of the
animals in my care 0 2 55 98 23 3.79
In the past I have tried to make improvements to the
welfare of the animals in my care 0 3 58 99 18 3.74
I am confident that I can make improvements to the
welfare of animals 1 8 53 95 21 3.71
Most people who are important to me would approve of
me making improvements to the welfare of the animals in
my care
0 8 68 82 20 3.64
The welfare of farm animals is satisfactory in my workplace
3 18 81 63 13 3.36
1Mean responses were calculated by attributing numbers 1–5 for ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’, respectively.
Animals 2019,9, 860 8 of 16
Table 3. Responses to attitude questions about the impact of type of pig and chicken farming system on animal welfare, with dierences between mean responses.
Likert Scale Response Mean Response 1
Strongly
Disagree Disagree Neither Disagree
nor Agree Agree Strongly
Agree
PIG FARMING SYSTEMS
I believe indoor intensive farming of pigs is better for food safety 9 23 67 67 12 3.28
I believe indoor intensive farming systems are better for the welfare of the
pigs 8 42 75 39 14 3.05
I believe outdoor farming systems where pigs are in groups and able to
roam are better for the welfare of the pig 4 7 34 105 28 3.82
I believe housing sows in individual stalls is better for the welfare of the
sow 3 22 56 75 22 3.51
I believe it is desirable to house pigs in a group situation 4 17 65 75 17 3.47
CHICKEN FARMING SYSTEMS
I believe indoor intensive farming of meat chickens is better for food safety
10 27 57 68 16 3.29
I believe indoor intensive farming systems are better for the welfare of the
chicken 11 46 66 44 11 2.98
I believe outdoor farming systems where chickens are in groups and able
to roam are better for the welfare of the chicken 1 6 47 98 26 3.79
1Mean responses were calculated by attributing numbers 1–5 for ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’, respectively.
Animals 2019,9, 860 9 of 16
Table 4. Attitudes towards pigs and their behaviour, with dierences between mean responses.
Likert Response Mean Response 1
Strongly
Disagree Disagree Neither Disagree
or Agree Agree Strongly
Agree
It is important that pigs are physically healthy 0 4 29 107 38 4.00
It is important that the pigs are happy 1 4 39 102 32 3.89
Pigs are intelligent animals 0 4 42 99 32 3.88
I believe pigs feel pain 1 9 44 99 25 3.77
Pigs are social animals 0 8 56 93 21 3.71
I believe pigs can suer 1 8 62 87 20 3.65
Sows should be allowed to make a nest before they give birth 0 13 51 95 19 3.67
Pigs should be allowed to forage for food and root in the ground 3 20 59 85 11 3.45
Pigs are aggressive animals 7 33 62 68 8 3.20
It is normal for pigs to display mouthing behaviours such as biting bars
and chewing (without food) repetitively 19 42 55 55 7 2.93
Pigs do not understand much about their environment 26 75 44 29 4 2.49
Piglets do not mind if their tails are docked and teeth clipped 27 78 42 27 4 2.45
Pigs are unfriendly animals and do not like to interact with other pigs 23 85 47 19 4 2.41
1Mean responses were calculated by attributing numbers 1–5 for strongly disagree to strongly agree, respectively.
Animals 2019,9, 860 10 of 16
Table 5. Attitude towards chickens and their behaviour, with dierences between mean responses.
Likert Scale Response Mean Response 1
Strongly
Disagree Disagree Neither Disagree
nor Agree Agree Strongly
Agree
It is important that chickens are physically healthy 0 2 28 113 35 4.01
It is important that the chickens are happy 2 2 35 106 33 3.93
Chickens should be allowed to perch 1 2 37 113 25 3.89
Chickens should be allowed to stretch and preen 0 4 38 108 28 3.89
I believe chickens feel pain 0 5 36 112 25 3.88
Chickens should be allowed to flap their wings 1 6 36 114 21 3.83
Hens should be allowed to make a nest to lay their eggs in 1 8 38 112 19 3.78
Chickens are social animals 1 6 62 88 21 3.68
Chickens should be allowed to peck the dirt to forage for food 1 14 45 99 19 3.67
Chickens are intelligent animals 1 8 54 99 16 3.67
Chickens should be allowed to bathe in dust or dirt 2 18 52 87 19 3.57
I believe chickens can suer 0 19 64 75 20 3.53
It is normal for chickens to attack each other 18 43 51 57 9 2.97
It is normal behaviour for chickens to peck each other’s feathers out 21 50 44 54 9 2.88
Chickens do not care much about their environment 28 67 54 24 5 2.5
Chickens are not friendly and do not like to interact with other chickens 23 86 46 19 4 2.41
1Mean responses were calculated by attributing numbers 1–5 for strongly disagree to strongly agree, respectively.
Animals 2019,9, 860 11 of 16
When considering respondents’ attitudes towards chickens and their behaviour (Table 5),
respondents most readily agreed that they should be physically healthy and happy and allowed
to perch, stretch and preen, as well as agreement that they can feel pain. There was some but not
overwhelming agreement that they were social animals and that they should be allowed to flap their
wings and make a nest, bathe in dust or dirt, and that they are intelligent animals or that they could
suer. Respondents tended to disagree that it was normal for them to attack each other or peck each
other’s feathers out, and there was some agreement that chickens did care about their environment
and that they are friendly and like to interact with other chickens.
Comparing responses for pigs and chickens, there were no dierences between mean responses in
relation to whether intensive farming is better for food safety (3.28, 3.30, P=0.87), indoor intensive
systems are better for welfare (3.05, 3, P=0.56), outdoor systems are better for welfare (3.82, 3.80,
P=0.79), they can suer (3.66, 3.53, P=0.66), feel pain (3.78, 3.88, P=0.16), should be happy (3.90, 3,
P=0.66
), physically healthy (4.01, 4.02, P=0.87), it is normal for mouthing/chewing repetitively (pigs)
or pecking each others’ feathers out (chickens) to occur (2.94 and 2.89, respectively, P=0.66) and
whether pigs or chickens are more social (3.71 and 3.69, P=0.72). However, respondents were more
likely to agree that pigs (3.89) are intelligent than to agree that chickens are intelligent (3.68, P=0.007).
3.3. Demographic Influences
3.3.1. Role in Industry
A greater proportion of the government ocials that responded (38%) thought the welfare of
animals was very important to them than the proportion of those working directly with animals that
responded (11%) (OR 0.06, CI 0.01–0.34, P=0.001). Similarly, fewer of the veterinarians (20%) were
likely to agree that the welfare of farm animals was satisfactory in their workplace, compared to those
working directly with animals (40%, OR 5.86, CI 1.1–31.8, P=0.04), but fewer veterinarians were also
likely to agree (10%) that important others would approve of them making welfare improvements,
compared to those working directly with animals (57%, OR 6.47, CI 1.1–38.3, P=0.04).
3.3.2. Type of Farming System
More pig farmers whose pigs were kept in either mixed indoor/outdoor systems (25%) or outdoor
in paddocks (25%) agreed that important others would approve of them making welfare improvements,
compared to those working directly with animals (6%) (OR 0.20 and 0.21, CI 0.06-0l.63 and 0.07–0.63,
P=0.006
and 0.006, respectively). More pig farmers whose animals were outdoor in paddocks (25%)
were also likely to agree that they intended to make welfare improvements than those whose pigs were
in intensive housing systems (9%) (OR 0.28, CI 0.09–0.88, P=0.03). More pig producers operating
indoor/outdoor systems (30%) and those with fully outdoor systems with paddocks (29%) strongly
agreed that they were confident that they could make welfare improvements than those operating
intensive indoor systems (6%) (OR 0.24 and 0.18, CI 0.07–0.81 and 0.05–0.57, P=0.02 and 0.004,
respectively). More pig producers operating fully outdoor systems with paddocks (21%) strongly
agreed that they were confident that they had in the past made welfare improvements than those
operating intensive indoor systems (6%) (OR 0.19, CI 0.06–0.62, P=0.006).
More chicken producers operating intensive systems without enrichment (86%) agreed or strongly
agreed that they intended to make welfare improvements than those with enrichment (53%) (OR 0.25,
CI 0.07–0.84, P=0.02). Fewer (46%) of the very large farmers (>10,000 birds) agreed or strongly agreed
that they intended to make welfare improvements than farmers with <1000 chickens (88%) (OR 1.53,
CI 1.09–2.15, P=0.01).
Animals 2019,9, 860 12 of 16
3.3.3. Time in Industry
The longer the time stakeholders had spent in industry, the more likely they were to say that the
welfare of the animals is important (OR 2.27, CI 1.23–4.19, P=0.009), but less likely to have tried to
make changes (OR 0.41, CI 0.18–0.91, P=0.03), and also less likely to agree that it is normal for pigs to
display stereotypical mouthing behaviours (OR 0.37, CI 0.22–0.63, P<0.001).
3.3.4. Residential Zone
Residential zone was the most frequently significant demographic influence in this study, with
stakeholders living in city centres more likely to strongly agree that animal welfare is important to
them (41.5% of city residents), as compared to those living rurally (11.3% of rural residents) (OR 0.27,
CI 0.13–0.58, P=0.001). City residents were also more likely to strongly agree that they were confident
they could improve animal welfare (21.5% of city residents), compared with rural residents who were
far more likely to ‘agree’ (52.1% of rural residents) than ‘strongly agree’ (7%) (OR 0.18, CI 0.07–0.49,
P=0.001
). Rural residents were more likely to ‘agree’ (49.3% of rural residents) that it is desirable to
house pigs in a group situation, compared to city residents who were most likely to ‘neither agree or
disagree’ (OR 02.50, CI 1.42–4.40, P=0.002). City residents were more likely to ‘strongly agree’ (27.7%
of city residents) that it is important that chickens are happy, compared to rural residents (15.5% of rural
residents), most of whom were only likely to ‘agree’ (69%), as did suburban residents (84.2%) (OR 5.05,
CI 1.52–16.8, P=0.008). City residents were more likely to ‘strongly agree’ (20.0% city residents) than
rural residents (7%) that chickens should be allowed to make a nest to lay eggs, however most of the
stakeholders in both residential zones ‘agreed’ in general (OR 0.22, CI 0.07–0.68, P=0.009). Likewise,
when asked if chickens should be allowed to flap their wings, city residents again ‘strongly agreed’
(24.6%) as compared to rural residents (5.63%), again stakeholders from both residential zones were
most likely to ‘agree’ (56.9% and 61.9%, respectively) (OR 0.12, CI 0.03–0.42, P=0.001).
3.3.5. Route of Industry Knowledge
How stakeholders gained their existing knowledge also had highly significant relationships with
attitudes to pigs and chickens. Stakeholders who had gained most of their knowledge from all the
suggested routes (qualifications, experience, personal interest, friends and acquaintances) were more
than twice as likely to ’agree’ that intensive indoor raising of pigs is better for food safety (47.4%),
compared to those who only had either a formal qualification (20%), and those who only learnt through
experience on farm (19.4%). Those with a mixture of formal qualifications and experience were almost
as likely to ‘agree’ as those who gained their experience by all routes (42.1%) (OR 0.35, CI 0.22–0.55,
P<0.001
). The same question for chickens showed a similar trend, with those respondents with
knowledge gained from all suggested routes being more likely to ‘agree’ that intensive indoor raising
of chickens was better for food safety (39.5%) as compared to those who learnt through a formal
qualification (20%); however, those who learnt on farm were even more likely to agree with this
statement (45.2%) (OR 0.48, CI 0.32–0.71, P<0.001).
4. Discussion
4.1. Demographics
The over-representation of males in this survey compared with national data may reflect a gender
dierence in senior roles within the livestock industry. Nevertheless, there are more women (19% of all
women in China) than men (14% of all men in China) working in agriculture [
25
]. The younger age
of our sample compared with national data may reflect an attraction of younger stakeholders to our
training and educational workshops.
Animals 2019,9, 860 13 of 16
4.2. Perception of Pigs and Poultry in Farming Systems
Stakeholders involved in pig and poultry farming generally agreed that the welfare of the animals
is important to them. In a recent survey in our selected region stakeholders in livestock transport and
slaughter perceived that others would approve of them making improvements to welfare more than
our stakeholders did (3.88 vs. 3.64) [
15
]. This could be reflective of a greater recognition of welfare
issues in transport and slaughter than at the farm. Beliefs that animal welfare is satisfactory in the
workplace in which they operate and that they intended to make improvements were both slightly
higher for stakeholders in this study than in the previous study (means welfare satisfactory
3.36 vs. 3.18
,
intentions 3.79 vs. 3.58). A failure to intend to make changes may be because during slaughter a
disconnection, or ‘de-animalisation’ and ‘compartmentalisation’ towards the animals as individuals
with a welfare status is required in order to maintain the mental wellness of the stakeholders [
26
].
It could also be reflective of the limited time which slaughter stakeholders spend with individual
animals, as opposed to those involved in farming, who are by nature of their goals invested in the
physical wellbeing of their animals over a longer period of time.
Stakeholders most strongly agreed that ‘it is important that pigs are physically healthy’, and
likewise for chickens. This probably reflects the loss of animal productivity that can occur if the animals
are not physically healthy. It may also relate to a focus on food safety, on which there is a strategic
focus by the Chinese government and the World Health Organisation [
27
]. A recent survey of Chinese
nationals found that ‘food safety’ was the number one concern they would like the government to
attend to [
28
], and focus group studies with Chinese stakeholders have found that improved food safety,
along with product quality, are the most important perceived benefits of addressing animal welfare [
14
].
Moreover, consumers in European countries, United Kingdom, Italy and Sweden, have been shown to
associate animal welfare with the healthfulness of animal products, indicating a potential parallel in
perception [
29
]. The concern for the ‘happiness’ of the animals was only slightly less than concern for
their physical health, and they exhibited preference for natural behaviour expression, both suggesting
that the fundamental and practical notions that underlie animal welfare are well grasped by Chinese
stakeholders, even if the ‘concept’ or term ‘animal welfare’ as it is known in western countries may
not be [6].
While intensive systems were advocated for food safety reasons in our study, some of the highest
levels of agreement appeared in response to the ‘happiness’ of the animals, and that outdoor roaming
farming systems that allow social interaction were better for the welfare of the animals. It was believed
that some natural behaviours, such as stretching, preening, perching and wing flapping should be
allowed in the farming of chickens, and likewise, that pigs are intelligent animals who should be
allowed to make a nest, and forage for food. This may be reflective of the preference for natural and
fresh produce, in a country where knowledge of product characteristics is important to discerning
Chinese consumers, where some animals are still purchased live, or freshly killed in markets, and
freshness and quality can be assured [
30
,
31
]. This is in contrast with consumers in western cultures
that more often purchase processed and packaged meat products that allow cognitive dissonance,
placing a mental distance between the animal and the resulting product [
32
,
33
]. This characteristic of
Chinese consumers represents an opportunity to promote animal welfare [
34
]. Stakeholders rated pigs
as more intelligent than chickens, demonstrating that they associate intelligence with traits in humans
and other mammals, such as a neo-natal appearance and in particular relatively large eyes [35].
Demographic Eects
In regards to the demographic eects, the residential zone in which the stakeholder lives was
frequently significantly related to their attitudes, with city centre residents more likely to have clearer
opinions on animal welfare, and to ‘strongly agree’ that animal welfare is important, that they have
tried to make changes, and they are confident they can do so. This finding was not reflected in the
previous study [
15
], however this may be due to a change in the nature of the questions to be more
animal focussed, rather than on the driving factors of attitudes. That is, rural residents may have more
Animals 2019,9, 860 14 of 16
regular contact with the animals, and therefore be more desensitised to animal welfare. The other
explanation may be that rural residents associate with the farming environment and culture more, may
have an appreciation for the complexity of farming systems and are therefore more hesitant to take a
negative positions towards the welfare of animals in farming systems.
Stakeholders working within indoor intensive systems were less likely to have confidence in their
ability to improve animal welfare, while the larger farms were more associated with this confidence.
Systems that are highly intensive often have limited opportunity to improve welfare, in the domains of
space and natural behaviour specifically, however it may be considered unexpected that size of farm
had the opposite eect. Despite conventional beliefs that large farms have poor animal welfare, a
scientific literature review has shown that the relationship is not simple in western farms, and that
larger farms often have opportunities to improve animal welfare that smaller farms may not [
36
].
This may also be the case in China. Larger farms may represent larger businesses, within which
stakeholders feel they have more scope and power to influence positive animal welfare change in
general. Despite this stakeholders involved with very large farms were less likely to agree or strongly
agree that they intended to make welfare improvements. Alternatively, this result may be reflective of
confidence to improve animal welfare as there are perceived to be more animal welfare challenges to
address and little economic imperative to do so.
4.3. Limitations of the Study
Stakeholders within this study responded to many questions with neutral responses, with strong
agreement in only a few questions, and only subtle disagreement where it existed. This may indicate
that responses were approached with caution and moderation, which is believed to reflect a cultural
tendency to take less extreme positions and preference for the middle ground, where this may vary
substantially in other cultures [
15
,
37
]. Other empirical reasons for a prevalence of neutral responses
that may be relevant in this study include an avoidance of negativity associated with conflicting
feelings on an issue [
38
], avoiding the cognitive eort required to choose between positive and negative
feelings on a complicated issue [
39
], and a reluctance to voice a socially undesirable opinion [
40
].
In any case, it can be inferred that where noticeable and consistent agreement or disagreement exists,
the finding is significant.
5. Conclusions
This study shows that stakeholders in the Chinese pig and poultry industries tended to agree that
animal welfare is important to them, but that the recognition and intention to improve it was stronger
in stakeholders in small and outdoor farms than in intensive indoor farms. This may be associated
to the perceived costs in transitioning from a strictly intensive system to a system that allows for
improved animal welfare.
Author Contributions:
Conceptualization: M.S. and C.J.C.P.; Formal analysis: M.S. and C.J.C.P.; Funding
acquisition: M.S. and C.J.C.P.; Investigation: M.S. and W.Y.; Methodology: M.S. and C.J.C.P.; Project administration:
M.S. and W.Y.; Supervision: C.J.C.P.; Writing—original draft: M.S. and C.J.C.P.
Funding: This research was funded by the Open Philanthropy Project.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access
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