Quantitative verification of the correspondence between the Welfare Quality® operational definition of farm animal welfare and the opinion of Flemish farmers, citizens and vegetarians
The Welfare Quality® project has developed an operational definition of farm animal welfare, which consists of 12 criteria grouped into four principles (‘good feeding’, ‘good housing’, ‘good health’ and ‘appropriate behaviour’). As part of a larger survey, 204 farmers, 72 vegetarians, and a representative sample of 459 adult citizens in Flanders (Belgium) scored the importance of each of the 12 criteria on a 1–10 scale, and divided 100 points across the four principles according to the perceived relative weights for farm animal welfare. These data were analysed to verify quantitatively whether (1) the grouping of 12 criteria into the four principles, and (2) the relative weights used by Welfare Quality® for aggregating the 12 criteria into an overall welfare judgement correspond with the perception of these three stakeholder groups from a region and setting not previously covered by Welfare Quality® studies. Moreover, the effects of various socio-demographic variables on the importance allocated to the welfare criteria and principles were investigated. Vegetarians and females gave consistently higher importance scores to all 12 criteria as compared with farmers, citizens and males, respectively, particularly for the (criteria belonging to the) principle ‘appropriate behaviour’. Farmers allocated more weight to ‘good feeding’ than did vegetarians or citizens. These differences confirm that farmers view animal welfare more in terms of biological functioning (instead of affective states or natural living) as compared to other citizens, and vegetarians in particular. As the concept has a different meaning to different people, any operational definition of animal welfare is unlikely to match equally well with the perception of every single stakeholder group or person. The structure of the Welfare Quality® operational definition with the 12 criteria aggregated into four principles, corresponds well with the opinion of the stakeholders as they judged all 12 criteria as rather important to extremely important for farm animal welfare. Factor analysis restricted to contain four factors confirmed the grouping of the criteria into the correct principles. Exploratory factor analysis using Eigenvalues N1 as extraction criterion indicated, however, that from the citizen perspective two principles (‘good feeding & health’ and ‘appropriate behaviour & housing’) rather than four would suffice. The main discrepancy with the Welfare Quality® approach concerns the aggregation procedure: the stakeholders did not consider all four principles as equally important, and the relative importance allocated to criteria corresponded poorly across principles. Some of these discrepancies were consistent across the three different stakeholder groups.
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11 March 2011
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