Agroscope, ETH Zurich

Consumers See Animal Welfare as a Key Agricultural Policy Goal

Agroscope researchers conducted an online survey to investigate the attitudes of Swiss consumers to agricultural policy goals in all three language regions. The results should help better shape agricultural policy.

Agricultural policy fulfils a multitude of different goals. For example, it aims to ensure sustainable and market-oriented agricultural production, reliable provision of food, appropriate remuneration for agricultural services, and guaranteed animal welfare. But it is often the case that in pursuing one agricultural policy goal, conflicts arise with others. In these situations, careful consideration must be given to which goal warrants greater weighting. Consumers play a major role in deciding which goals should be prioritised. People are not just consumers; they are eligible voters with a right to choose and express their opinion. In this study we used the example of animal welfare to investigate consumers’ weighting preferences and the drivers for their choices. The findings are important for shaping agricultural policy.

Animal welfare as an agricultural policy goal

In a representative survey (N=1542, conducted in October 2022 in the German-, French-, and Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland), participants were asked to name the three most important agricultural policy goals that came to mind. Figure 1 shows that animal welfare was the most frequently mentioned goal. Sustainability, environmental protection, organic farming, local production/origin and biodiversity, food security and the use of plant protection products were also rated as important. Some participants struggled to name concrete agricultural policy goals and were unable to give a response.

Figure 1: The most important agricultural policy goals most frequently mentioned without prompting

Weighing animal welfare against conflicting agricultural policy goals

In a later part of the survey, participants were asked to rate the importance of animal welfare when it is in direct conflict with another agricultural policy goal. The three conflicts are shown in Figure 2. Around half the participants expressed a strong or slight preference for animal welfare. This is regardless of whether animal welfare conflicts with farmers’ income (47.5%), food prices (50.9%) or domestic production (53.2%). Around 22% preferred the conflicting goal and the rest were undecided.

Figure 2: Weighing of animal welfare against conflicting agricultural policy goals (N = 1542).

Factors determining a preference for animal welfare

We then used regression analysis to identify the factors determining a preference for animal welfare. The findings revealed a similar pattern for all three conflicting goals. Women tended to rate animal welfare more highly than the conflicting goal. Furthermore, this preference is linked to how farmers are perceived. People with a very positive attitude towards farmers gave animal welfare a lower rating – in favour of the respective conflicting goal. These people may assume that farmers take good care of their animals anyway, so there is little need for agricultural policy to intervene when it comes to animal welfare. We also found that committed meat-eaters tended to rate animal welfare as less important than the conflicting goal.


  • In an online survey, animal welfare is cited most often when respondents are asked to name three agricultural policy goals that come to mind.
  • Animal welfare is perceived as important even when it conflicts with other agricultural policy goals (farmers’ income, food prices, domestic production).
  • Committed meat-eaters tend to prefer the goal that conflicts with animal welfare. This is true of all three conflicting goals investigated.
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