Cow Welfare in the U.S. Dairy Industry: Willingness-to-Pay and Willingness-to-Supply

By Wolf, Christopher A.; Tonsor, Glynn T. | Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, May 2017 | Go to article overview

Cow Welfare in the U.S. Dairy Industry: Willingness-to-Pay and Willingness-to-Supply


Wolf, Christopher A., Tonsor, Glynn T., Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics


(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

Introduction

In recent years, public scrutiny of production practices in animal agriculture has increased. U.S. livestock, dairy, and poultry farmers have typically been of the opinion that production practices supported by scientific evidence are justified and should be accepted (Curtis, 1987). However, recent experience suggests that a lack of knowledge and context for production practices in the livestock, dairy, and poultry industries often makes even scientifically defensible practices objectionable to the public (Ellis et al., 2009). Boogaard et al. (2011) described the complicated relationship that society has with modern production animal agriculture, asserting that while the public appreciates the supply of inexpensive and safe food, they have concerns about the size and scale of modern operations (and production practices that accompany these technology sets) that relate to impacts on the environment and animal welfare.

In the United States, undercover videos of poor cattle conditions and abuse on dairy farms have periodically been released, focusing public attention on dairy cattle welfare issues (e.g., Paul, 2015; Miller, 2014; Barret and Bergquist, 2013; Webb, 2010). These videos have spurred conversation as well as market and policy responses. In the United States, industry-wide changes in livestock, dairy, and poultry production practices related to animal welfare have generally occurred through two channels: (i) legislative or ballot initiatives (Videras, 2006; Tonsor, Olynk, and Wolf, 2009) and (ii) retailers requiring suppliers to adopt standards or practices (Mench, 2003; Hudson and Lusk, 2004). Residents of multiple states have determined, through ballot initiatives or legislation, that particular livestock production practices be phased out or banned due to associated undesirable animal welfare impacts (Smithson et al., 2014). For example, tail docking of dairy cattle was banned in California, the largest milk producing state, as of January 1, 2010. Alternatively, many food service establishments, from grocers to restaurants, increasingly purchase their food from sources that are humanely raised or phasing out specific practices related to animal confinement. While most attention and legal changes to date have focused on other livestock sectors, the U.S. dairy industry is aware that these pressures affect them as well. These methods of change make it clear that the perceptions, opinions, and demands of the public in their roles as both consumers and voters are influential.

A third channel of production practice change has more recently emerged as livestock, dairy and poultry industries take initiative and attempt to lead the discussion and set the direction of animal welfare policy. Because of increased scrutiny of production practices, U.S. dairy farmers need to be aware of public demand. Understanding public perceptions, attitudes, and resulting demand impacts can help dairy farmers make informed decisions about practices while enhancing public trust and maintaining public acceptance and approval for milk production on modern dairy farms. Moreover, enhanced demand insight is central to developing effective product differentiation strategies.

Public acceptance of production practices is unlikely to become less important in the future. Recognizing that social acceptability is critical to long-term industry viability, farm groups have prioritized public relations, education, and industry accountability. Past research has found that messages from farm groups aimed at consumers are often fragmented and uncoordinated (Duffy, Fearne, and Healing, 2005). One response by U.S. farm groups has been public relations programs such as breakfast on the farm and farm tours. These programs expose the public to working farms and, presumably, associated conditions and production practices. However, the effectiveness of these education programs depends on many factors, including participants' willingness to receive the intended message. …

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