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Animals 2016, 6(11), 67; doi:10.3390/ani6110067

Online Chats to Assess Stakeholder Perceptions of Meat Chicken Intensification and Welfare

Animal Welfare Science Centre, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Alice Hoy Building (162), Parkville, VIC 3010, Australia
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Academic Editor: Clive J. C. Phillips
Received: 16 August 2016 / Revised: 19 October 2016 / Accepted: 24 October 2016 / Published: 27 October 2016
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Simple Summary

Most people care about animal welfare. Nevertheless, divergent views remain onwhat constitutes animal welfare, despite a growing body of scientific evidence. We used online chatsto trigger discussion among participants from various stakeholder groups: general public, animaladvocacy group, meat chicken industry-affiliated, and researchers or veterinarians who were notindustry-affiliated but had experience with chickens. The aim of this pilot study was to assess reasonsfor divergence in opinions or conversely agreement between participants, using the topic of thewelfare implications of meat chicken farming intensification. Participants also completed a pre- andpost-chat survey to evaluate their perceptions and knowledge of chicken farming. Reasons forsupporting intensification included perceptions of better health for the chickens and the sustainabilityof the system. Reasons for opposition included perceptions of the large number of animals kepttogether, and limited ability to perform natural behaviours. Misunderstandings about currentpractices were clarified in chats which contained industry-affiliated participants. Participants agreedon the need for enforceable standards and industry transparency. On average, objective knowledge ofintensification increased after participating in the chat, but support for intensification did not changeover the course of the study, counter to assertions that lack of knowledge results in lack of supportfor some practices. Engaging stakeholders can provide valuable information to anyone interested inthe relationship between perception and knowledge of specific farming practices.

Abstract

Evidence suggests that there is variation in support for specific chicken farming practices amongst stakeholder groups, and this should be explored in more detail to understand the nature of these differences and work towards convergence. Online focus groups were used to assess attitudes to animal welfare in meat chicken farming in this pilot study. Across six online chats, 25 participants (general public, n = 8; animal advocacy group, n = 11, meat chicken industry, n = 3; research or veterinary practice who had experience with poultry but no declared industry affiliation, n = 3) discussed meat chicken intensification and welfare. Of those, 21 participants completed pre- and post-chat surveys gauging perceptions and objective knowledge about meat chicken management. Main reasons for intensification support were perceptions of improved bird health, and perceptions that it is a cost-effective, sustainable farming system. Reasons for opposition included perceptions that a large number of birds kept are in close proximity and have limited ability to perform natural behaviours. Misunderstandings about current practices were clarified in chats which contained industry representation. Participants agreed on the need for enforceable standards and industry transparency. Industry-affiliated members rated welfare of meat chickens higher, and gave lower ratings for the importance of natural living, than other stakeholder groups (both p = 0.001). On average, while objective knowledge of intensification increased after chat participation (p = 0.03), general welfare ratings and support for intensification did not change over time, counter to assertions that lack of knowledge results in lack of support for some practices. View Full-Text
Keywords: forums; meat chickens; broilers; intensive farming; free-range; natural behaviour; livestock; animal welfare forums; meat chickens; broilers; intensive farming; free-range; natural behaviour; livestock; animal welfare
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Howell, T.J.; Rohlf, V.I.; Coleman, G.J.; Rault, J.-L. Online Chats to Assess Stakeholder Perceptions of Meat Chicken Intensification and Welfare. Animals 2016, 6, 67.

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