Social expectations towards agriculture
How does the society perceive agriculture and particularly animal husbandry? Is the perception in large parts of the population formed through media coverage and public discussions? Researcher of the Thünen-Institut of Market Analysis explored the question on the example of pig production, structural change in agriculture and biogas production.
Lately, the present system for agriculture and food production has been topic in many public discussions and the media; especially modern animal husbandry does no longer match consumers’ expectations or societal needs. There is no indication of a declining gap between consumers’ expectations and their perception of modern agriculture which might affect consumption patterns in the long-run due to changes in the basic narratives. Furthermore, precise information regarding citizens’ expectations and their priorities are missing. Society’s picture of modern agriculture has been analysed by consumer researchers of the Thünen-Institut of Market Analysis on the example of pig production, structural change in agriculture and biogas production. On the one hand, a wide variety of existing criticisms and expectations is captured, and on the other hand, population subgroups with largely identical opinions are identified. The overall objective of the study is to compile information to enabling the development of strategies for involved agents including farmers and politicians to shape agriculture production better towards society’s expectation.
For this purpose, we combined two methods within a so-called “mixed methods” approach. First, we conducted six focus groups in three different German cities to capture perceptions and expectations circulating in society for each topic. In a second step, we used extracted results to setup an online survey comprising ca. 1500 citizens to receive a picture of current opinions in society.
Focus groups were documented in audio and video format. Afterwards, records were typed (transcribed) and analysed using open coding. Within this step, we generated categories (e.g. perception pig stable, criticism biogas production, perception traditional farms) and assigned answers from the discussions to the different categories. The approach allowed identifying consumers’ state of knowledge and discovering the diversity of present opinions. Further, we used the data for developing the online-survey in which the outcome was quantified representatively for the German population. We analysed the data from the survey using multivariate data analysis. For each topic, population subgroups with largely identical opinions were identified and opinions and expectations were linked with socio-economics such as gender and income.
The results of the study indicate an overall refusing and critical attitude regarding pig production and structural change in agriculture. However, biogas production was not seen that problematically.
In focus group discussions on pig production, for example, participants considered space available per pig as insufficient and not species-appropriate, frequency of medications as too high, and in particular the prophylactic use of antibiotics as problematic. Also interaction among the lack of space, the higher use of medication and the behavioural disorders (e. g., pigs bite each other’s tails) were also discussed. Participants often criticized that animals are only seen as a technical production factor and there is no “real caring” due to fact that pigs are means of generating profit.
The results of the online-survey in the second step confirmed many of the critical views gained in the focus groups. For example, over 90 percent of participants demanded that compliance with regulations must be controlled more strictly. Furthermore, over 80 percent considered that there is a lack of room for pigs to move. In spite of the overall criticism, differences in societal perceptions have been recognized. Besides a very engaged group which is characterised by a strong criticism in general and a strong critical perception of current production systems, also a considerable group accepting modern animal husbandry was identified. Due to a better knowledge about agriculture among the subgroup of opponents, the study indicates that a better state of knowledge in society will not automatically lead to a more favourable assessment of modern agriculture in society. In contrast, results suggest that “informed” citizens are particularly critical towards modern agriculture.
2.2012 - 11.2013