As the home to almost one fifth of the human population and a major exporter of animal products, China has a major influence on the global animal agriculture industry and is well-positioned to improve the lives of billions of animals. Nonprofit research organization Faunalytics has released a pivotal new study about animal welfare from the perspective of Chinese consumers, which includes results and recommendations for animal advocates, alternative protein companies, and researchers.

Read the full study here: https://faunalytics.org/chinese-consumer-attitudes/

Background

Despite being comparatively neglected until recently, the suffering of animals in Asia is starting to command more attention from global animal advocacy activists. In particular, as the largest country in the world by both human and farmed animal population, and among the largest when measured by economy and land mass, China plays a central role here. However, the key question of how best to improve outcomes for farmed animals in China remains difficult to answer, due to the recency of the movement and a comparative lack of research on the topic. 

Although China’s per capita meat consumption is lower than most wealthier, Western countries (Ritchie & Roser, 2017), the country’s size and the rapid growth of its meat industry means that it houses and slaughters more farmed animals than any other country in the world (Faunalytics, 2022). Despite this, animal welfare remains a relatively fringe issue in China. Because of the scale of China’s agriculture industry, even small changes have the potential for an outsized effect.  

For these reasons, research on animal protection in China is crucial. While previous reports (including Phase 1 of this study) have focused more on China’s animal protection community, this report seeks to shed light on Chinese consumers, and in particular, explore advocate assumptions that we identified in Phase 1. 

After seeking input from members of the farmed animal protection community in China, we conducted focus groups regarding the attitudes of Chinese consumers towards meat consumption, the concept of farmed animal welfare, and identified different types of messaging and strategies for encouraging movement growth.

Research Team

This research was led by Jah Ying Chung (Good Growth), supervised by Dr. Jo Anderson (Faunalytics). Jack Stennett (Good Growth) contributed to analysis and writing. The focus groups were led by moderators from Daxue Consulting with support from lead researcher Jah Ying Chung.

Conclusion

Understanding Chinese consumers’ attitudes towards animal welfare, meat consumption, and various related concepts is essential for the sustainable growth of the animal welfare movement and the alternative protein industry in China. This report highlights the perspectives of various demographic groups towards these issues and their responses to certain messaging.

Some of the findings in this report diverged from those in the Phase 1 report, which suggests that the assumptions held by advocates working in China are not fully reflected in the actual attitudes and behaviors of Chinese consumers. Most notably, animal welfare was not generally perceived as a foreign concept, foreign influence was not reported as a major factor influencing dietary behaviors, and opposition to foreign influence was only stressed following a message that highlighted foreign actors. Another important discrepancy is that many participants expressed a greater sense of personal responsibility towards animal protection than expected. 

Although there was not a strong understanding of animal welfare concepts prior to the discussion, most individuals quickly developed an accurate understanding of the concepts, and mostly expressed some interest in the concept. Importantly, there was a willingness to purchase higher-welfare products, even if health and food safety were more significant drivers of this willingness than the welfare of the animals. Finally, many participants reported that they had changed their mind regarding animal welfare issues during the group discussions, and may change their purchasing behavior in the future, indicating that messaging interventions and discussion groups could be worth exploring as interventions for belief and behavior change in China.

The report also captured some strategies that may be effective in animal welfare messaging. Focusing on the health, food safety, taste, and quality benefits of higher welfare, plant-based diets, or alternative protein products could be effective strategies to promote changes in consumption behaviors. Highlighting specific aspects of health, such as supporting child growth or helping with certain medical conditions, may be particularly effective for targeting certain consumer groups. 

Localizing the relevant concepts is likely to be an important strategy to improve support for animal welfare in China. However, prior to this, animal welfare concepts were interpreted in a localized way by participants, connecting to participants’ awareness of the situation in China, memories of better treatment of animals in the past, positive relationships between humans and animals, and culturally significant concepts such as harmony and reciprocity. Focusing on these aspects of the animal-human relationship may be important in building support for the animal welfare movement and increasing concern for farmed animals.

Read the full study here.

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1 comment, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:22 PM

Thanks very much for sharing this summary.

FWIW, I taught a couple of classes online recently for a university in China, and we discussed a bit about EA and animal welfare. The undergrad students hadn't thought much about factory farming or animal suffering, but seemed quite open to thinking about it; their attitudes and responses seemed broadly consistent with what this report found.

One cultural challenge in China is the high amount of food waste, given the tradition of over-ordering food in restaurants and at official, corporate, and university events, as a show of wealth, status, and generosity towards guests. Over-ordering of meat, chicken, and fish is seen as especially reputable (if the guests are reduced to eating rice as a way to fill up after all the meat is gone, that's seen as pretty embarrassing for the host.) And of course, if the animal products are there on the table, looking delicious, people will tend to eat as much as they can, so the amount of visible waste (actual left-over food that gets thrown out) is a lower bound on the amount of avoidable waste (i.e. animals that do get eaten, but that people would have been happy not to eat, given their actual hunger levels).

President Xi has been fighting this food waste issue with his 'Clean Plate' campaign, but I don't know how successful it has been. 

Anyway, reducing food waste by nudging people away from conspicuous consumption of meat as a status symbol, might be some low-hanging fruit in reducing demand for animal products in China.