For the last decade, the animal agriculture industry in France has suffered from rising levels of consumer distrust. The debate around animal agriculture has shifted away from controversies on food safety and traceability, such as the notorious Mad Cow Crisis in the late 1980s or the more recent 2013 horsemeat scandal, to questioning the very existence of raising animals for food. Today in France, as in any other nations where animal agriculture has undergone intensification, exposés by animal protection groups regularly make the front page of newspapers, thereby revealing the inhumane, yet common, industry practices of intensive livestock production to the general public. Criticism directed towards industrial farm animal production, although solely aimed at intensive livestock production, tends to address animal agriculture as a whole, thus further accelerating the demise of small, independent, and more humane farming. To avoid confusion in the eye of the public, producers and animal protection advocates have identified consumer information as a potentially powerful tool to allow more humane producers to better signal themselves on the market and to improve animal welfare practices in animal agriculture. However, when left unregulated, consumer information demonstrably reinforces confusion among consumers rather than influencing consumption patterns (and production methods in turn). Such is the case in France, where the proliferation of labeling initiatives in the private sector has fostered confusion around animal welfare-related consumer information. Along with this proliferation in labels has come lacking, inadequate, and opaque consumer information, which may lead to consumer distrust while creating significant obstacles with regard to the assessment of the effectiveness of good consumer information. Defining good quality consumer information on farm animal welfare is necessary to avoid consumer distrust and to allow for the assessment of the effectiveness of good consumer information on the improvement of animal welfare practices in animal agriculture. This article therefore attempts to define farm animal welfare through an analysis of the different farm animal welfare standards of labels in France, the European Union, the Netherlands, and the United States. These standards vary widely from one label to another, thus revealing an intensely competitive environment in terms of the definition of what constitutes a good farm animal welfare standard; how and by whom a farm animal welfare standard should be implemented; and how to assess the reliability of such a standard. This article focuses on two main areas where standards compete. The first relates to the person enacting the standards: a public or a private entity. The second involves the definition of animal welfare undermining a standard. The discussion on who should enact and implement a standard leads to a classical discussion on the competition between the public and the private sectors as normative bodies. Administrations have often voiced their concerns over the proliferation of private norms through labeling on the marketing of goods, which they see as a risk to the good functioning of the marketplace. Yet, public authorities have been quite reluctant to enact standards themselves, thus leaving room for many private initiatives. Private and public entities can work together to ensure good consumer information: one label in the Netherlands, Beter Leven (literally: “better life”) provides a good example of the complementarity of public and private bodies in the enactment and implementation of a farm animal welfare standard. Another example of a fructuous dialog between the private and public sectors is the one that led to the law on the mandatory labeling of shell eggs in the EU. In a second part, this article explores the competition between different definitions of farm animal welfare. The proliferation in the number of farm animal welfare-related labels reveals an intense competition taking place at an earlier stage in the conception of a label, when defining the concept of what is, or should be, farm animal welfare. Each label has its own definition of farm animal welfare, with each depending on different disciplines and knowledge: biology, veterinary science, ethology, old animal husbandry skills, etc. These different definitions also compete with each other. This section identifies one central division in the field of animal welfare, between animal welfare as defined by animal husbandry and animal science. This division in the theory of farm animal welfare is reflected further down in the process of defining animal welfare standards in a given label, and at the time of implementing, monitoring, and assessing these standards. In conclusion, the intense competition taking place between all the different actors responsible for the creation, implementation, and regulation of labels on farm animal welfare is reflective of a broader crisis of regulation affecting the power of the law. As public authorities are increasingly more reluctant to enact standards on production methods, the private sector and nonprofits are more likely to step in, thus further eroding the unity and consistency of norms. However, one should not take the absence of the public sector for granted. Far from giving up on its prerogative, the state still occasionally intervenes on markets to regulate and harmonize standards. In the case of farm animal welfare standards, such an intervention takes the form of rules on public procurement.
- Animal welfare
- Consumer information
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Business and International Management
- Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)