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ALTERED STATES: Associating factory farming with animal cruelty works better than zoonotic disease

Although animal advocates and policy makers may be tempted to employ zoonotic disease and environmental arguments in an attempt to reduce meat consumption and supporting changes to factory farming systems, the research results demonstrate that this will not be as effective as animal cruelty information.

OLIVIA E. GUNTHER: The human use of other animals for food is problematic for multiple reasons. For example, animals on factory farms are kept in unhygienic conditions where they often cannot move, stand, or breathe fresh air. Additionally, livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases, along with major contributions to soil, air, and water pollution globally. Further, diseases borne on factory farms pose public health risks, meat can be damaging to the humans who consume it, and humans who work in slaughterhouses often experience physical and psychological harm, with harm spilling over to the general community in the form of increased crime. It is no surprise then, that calls have been made for human diets to transition toward plant-based options.

Attempts to shift attitudes and behaviours about the use of animals for food traditionally focus on drawing attention to animal cruelty on factory farms. Although these have been effective in reducing the purchase or consumption of meat, multiple approaches are likely necessary to engage a broader range of people, and research on the effectiveness of other approaches is needed. One such approach, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, is drawing attention to the conditions on factory farms being harmful to humans. Zoonotic diseases – such as COVID-19 – are those transmitted from animals to humans via human exposure to animals or animal products. These will often emerge on factory farms before spreading to humans. Drawing attention to zoonotic disease transmission risk or to animal cruelty on factory farms has the potential to impact willingness to consume animal products and to support changing policies related to factory farming. It is currently unclear however, whether this approach is effective…

Although we had expected that zoonotic disease information would influence outcomes more strongly given the life-changing and ever-salient COVID-19 pandemic, our results fall in line with previous work, in which animal cruelty was demonstrated to be a more effective connection to underscore. This further establishes the intervention potential of exposure to such informative excerpts, coinciding with past research. Companies seeking to persuade consumers to reconsider their dietary choices, such as plant-based alternatives, can use this insight for marketing strategies. There are also broader implications for both public health and policy making. It appears to be difficult for people to comprehend the danger factory farm conditions will continue to pose if changes are not made. A lack of understanding of local risk, such as the threat of zoonotic disease outbreaks on factory farms, will be a barrier in fostering preventative action.

The human animal relations discourse surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has largely been focused on exotic animal consumption and so, efforts to educate the public on how their own behaviour can minimize the risk of future outbreaks will be critical. If preventative behaviour (eating less meat, supporting changing factory farming systems) is motivated more by a focus on animal cruelty than zoonotic disease, then perhaps emphasizing the treatment of animals on factory farms may prove to be a more effective way to mobilize public concern and to promote support for policies seeking to prevent future outbreaks. Thus, although companies, policy makers, or lobbyists may be tempted to employ zoonotic disease arguments in an attempt to reduce meat consumption, our results demonstrate that this will not be as effective as animal cruelty information. SOURCE…


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