Happy or healthy? How members of the public prioritise farm animal health and natural behaviours

Belinda Vigors*, David A. Ewing, Alistair B. Lawrence, Lynn Jayne Frewer (Editor)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
61 Downloads (Pure)


The importance given to minimising health issues and promoting natural behaviours is a polarising issue within farm animal welfare. It is predominantly thought that members of the public prioritise animals being able to behave naturally over other aspects of farm animal welfare, such as addressing health issues. However, public perspectives may be more multi-dimensional than is generally thought, with the importance given to these different elements of welfare dependent on the situation and state of the animals in question. To examine this, a factorial survey using vignettes, which experimentally manipulated the different levels of health (high health vs. low health) and natural behaviour provision (high behaviour vs. low behaviour), was completed by a sample (n = 810) representative of the UK population (on age, gender, ethnicity). Contrary to the predominant view, this study found animal health had the greatest effect on participants’ judgements, explaining more of the variance in their assessments of animal welfare than any other factor. However, findings also indicated that participants considered animal welfare to be most positive when both health issues are minimised and natural behaviours are promoted. Attitudes to natural behaviours also varied more between participants, with females, individuals who do not (regularly) eat meat and those with a greater belief in animal mind giving greater priority to natural behaviours. In the context of public and private welfare standards seeking to meet public expectations, this study provides important insights into how public perspectives of animal welfare are more nuanced than previously thought, influenced by the context of the animal, the aspect of welfare in question and personal characteristics.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0247788
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
Early online date3 Mar 2021
Publication statusFirst published - 3 Mar 2021


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