Opening farms to the public creates less scepticism

28-04-2017 | | |
The use of confined buildings nowadays is making it impossible for the public to see how eggs and poultry meat are produced. New initiatives giving consumers access to houses help in educating them. Photo: Fred Steenman
The use of confined buildings nowadays is making it impossible for the public to see how eggs and poultry meat are produced. New initiatives giving consumers access to houses help in educating them. Photo: Fred Steenman

In many developed countries the poultry industry is confronted with a strong public opposition regarding intensive poultry production. The growing scepticism of the public towards intensive poultry production, leading to a negative image of the industry, is supported by media reports, activities of animal welfare groups and political parties.

The problem, to some extent, is the result of changes in housing systems from the traditional free-range systems in the past to the use of confined buildings nowadays, the latter making it impossible for the public to see how eggs and poultry meat are produced. Also, recently, ethical concerns including animal welfare and aspects of sustainability of poultry production, have become more important. According to a survey of the EU, 94% of Europeans stated that it is important to protect the welfare of farmed animals and 66% would like to know more about the conditions under which farmed animals are kept in their country.

In Belgium a few years ago, farmer and consumer perceptions of animal welfare were studied. For farmers – stocking density, slaughter without stress and transportation of animals were important. Consumers evaluated the same criteria as much more problematic and considered outdoor access as more important than farmers, for whom outdoor access implied hygienic problems. The gap between the image of the industry and the reality of modern, market-oriented poultry production has widened continuously, due to the lack of knowledge transfer from the industry to the consumers about production conditions. In 2012, a transparency project started in Lower Saxony, Germany. By opening poultry houses to the public, a realistic impression of modern, market-oriented poultry production on family farms was provided. From 2012 until 2015, 9,000 visitors made use of the possibility to visit layer, broiler and turkey farms (in total 36 farms). The visitors were interviewed prior to the farm visit and after they had left the poultry houses. 2,922 questionnaires of persons older than 18 years and without a former knowledge about intensive poultry production were evaluated. The results showed that farm openings changed the attitude of the visitors considerably and that they were less sceptical towards intensive poultry husbandry than prior to their visit.

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