Summary of PHA funded project ‘The role of education and attitudes towards hen welfare: a case study of furnished cages”

What?

We investigated the impact of education programs and rhetoric on perceptions of hen welfare, specifically in relation to the controversial topic of laying hen housing systems. We found, through initial focus groups, that few community members had heard of the furnished cage housing system and thus we used this as a model to educate the public about an alternate housing system using scientific based evidence. However, despite the scientific based evidence of the welfare trades offs in both conventional cage and free-range housing systems, the term ‘cage’ is often perceived negatively by community members and we hypothesised that the language we used throughout our education campaign would have a greater impact on public perception than scientific assessments of animal welfare. Therefore, our educated treatment groups either referred to the alternate housing systems as either furnished cages or furnished coops. To compare the interaction between education and language we included two groups that were not educated on the furnished cage system. These two groups watched a short animation we made with fun facts about chickens but nothing related to housing, welfare or furnished cages. When we asked our non-educated groups about the alternate furnished housing systems we either referred to them as furnished cage or coop to see the impact of language without knowledge.

Why?

Poultry welfare is important to the Australian public. And they are having an impact, either directly as consumers, and indirectly as community members often sign petitions, provide feedback to industry standards and guidelines consultation or simply discussing with friends and family their perspective and understanding of the poultry industry. However, we predicted that the level of knowledge of poultry welfare in the Australian community would be low and thus the impact well-meaning community members could actually be detrimental for hen welfare.

What we found?

Community knowledge of hen welfare, management practices and the Australian egg industry was low, suggesting that appropriate education campaigns are likely to improve the dialogue between the Australian community and egg industry. Furthermore, we found that our education campaigns increased support for the alternate housing system, there was no effect of language. However, language did have an impact on the support for furnished cages if the respondents were not educated; such that if they knew nothing about the system and it was referred to as a ‘cage’ rather than a ‘coop’ they felt more strongly against the alternative housing system.

We think this provides important evidence that education is critical in the dialogue between industry and community members. We don’t know what made our education campaign so successful, perhaps that it was evidence based, or presented in an easy to digest three minute video or that it was formulated by scientists? However, empowering the public to make informed decisions by rolling out education campaigns seems to be an effective way forward to improve the dialogue between industry and the community which is ultimately what is required to make the best decisions to safeguard hen welfare.

For more information on this project please contact the principal investigator:

Dr Peta Taylor

University of New England

peta.taylor@une.edu.au

https://www.une.edu.au/staff-profiles/ers/peta-taylor