Animal care standards high: survey

Many respondents also believe food grown in the province has better quality

A new survey on consumer perceptions has found that most Albertans consider livestock production to be part of the provincial culture, but few know much about what happens on the farm.

“They are fundamentally ignorant about farming practices and what goes into what they are eating,” said Nick Black of the market research firm Intensions Consulting.

“They don’t necessarily want to know a ton of information. They are quite happy to live in that ignorance until something bad comes up and challenges their thinking and they suddenly have to respond.”

The survey, which was commissioned by Alberta Farm Animal Care, asked more than 750 people about their knowledge of farm practices and how it might affect their eating habits.

Many said they believed Alberta had higher standards than anywhere else.

“This is one of the biggest strengths you have as an industry, just general perceptions that in Alberta, things are done better than the rest of Canada and particularly the United States,” Black told AFAC’s annual meeting in Calgary.

Many said they would pay more for Alberta products because they perceived food grown in the province was better and raised to a higher standard.

The study found different kinds of consumers, ranging from those who whole heartedly eat lots of meat, poultry and dairy products without too much concern about animal welfare to those who eat little of these products for a variety of reasons, including concerns over how the animals were raised.

This group makes up three percent of the population and tends to be 15 to 29 years old. However, they are a vocal minority who can influence policy makers and the public.

Most of those surveyed said they had seen or heard stories about farm animal abuse, and many said they would not want to buy protein products if they knew livestock was mistreated.

More women than men were concerned about chickens, pigs and dairy cattle raised in confinement.

The term “super farms” emerged in the survey, which refers to large corporate industrial farms. Most people did not know if these farms exist in Alberta, but they felt they should be monitored for their effect on the environment, animal welfare and human health.

“There is a concern inside consumers’ minds around what these large industrial farms mean for them and the impacts on their health. This is an issue that is emerging here,” Black said.

Women were more likely to believe that these operations exist and are not good. Hormones and antibiotic use also concerned about half the women polled.

Most respondents believed sick animals should be treated with medicine, but 38 percent said the use of antibiotics and growth hormones are harmful to human health. About a third said they would not consume meats, milk or eggs containing these products.

When asked who they trust for reliable information, 64 percent said veterinary associations followed by the SPCA. Only 30 percent rely on the government or industry organizations for good information.

However, nearly half said they do not trust advocacy groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Eighty percent relied on the internet for obtaining information about farming, 51 percent went to newspapers, 37 percent used television and a small percentage used social media such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

A website from the Alberta Veterinary Association answers questions on animal care and husbandry at www.albertaanimalhealthsource.ca.

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