The 2017 Robert Dixon Memorial Symposium 31 May 2017

July 31, 2017

 

Topic: How does raising awareness lead to better animal outcomes?

 

Summary of key points

 

A panel, convened by Dr Chris Degeling, responded to questions from the audience in Q&A format after each giving a brief overview of why animal welfare can be improved through greater awareness. On the panel were Dr Bidda Jones, Chief Scientist RSPCA, Ms Amelia Cornish, PhD student University of Sydney, Dr Nick Hover, Animal Welfare Manager, Woolworths, A/Prof Daniel Ramp, Conservation Biologist UTS and Ms Nicola Beynon, Head Campaigns Humane Society International.

 

Why raise awareness?

It is a faulty premise that people behave as they do because of lack of awareness. There is a disparity between what people think what is right and how they behave, so the challenge is to raise awareness, but in a way that can change people’s behaviour. How much and what type of information do we need to disseminate that will engage people without putting them off, and why. For some, too much graphic detailed information disengages people, for others, they need to see it in order to effectively respond. Information needs to be sufficiently nuanced to allow for different audiences and contexts.

 

Wildlife has a particularly hard time, and is the biggest animal welfare issue after farm animals, yet few people want to know. Normative responses acc

 

ept that mass exterminations are necessary, yet there has little understanding of the justification. The challenge is to raise awareness and knowing how best to communicate with the public.

 

The key challenge is converting awareness into behavioural change.

Regulatory change is the obvious source of change but there are problems in achieving it. When standards are coming from the big industries and political decision-making being heavily influenced by industry, change is generally made for commercial interests. Campaigns therefore need to be aware of economic and political interests in their pitch for change. Our federated model also means that there may be federal agreements but states are not compelled to implement them. So there is a lot of disparity between the states, and egg labeling is a key example, with the argument focused around definitions. We have also seen how industry can override recommended changes and public sentiment (eg greyhound racing) through pressure on politicians. Vested interests can overwhelm public opinion.

 

The solution lies in offering alternatives, and planning for a transition. The greyhound ban may have been successful, given the majority of people supported it, if the government had consulted with the industry and animal welfare groups in advance, and had been willing to phase in a transition to take account of what would happen to the animals, and what would happen to those whose livelihood was tied up in the industry.

 

Influencing consumer buying behaviour becomes another force for change because it rests on affecting commercial interests. But regulation is ultimately the only way to get rid of systems that are currently allowed.

 

Awareness-raising is most effective in encouraging people to engage in more welfare-friendly behaviours when we disseminate information effectively:

 

  • By identifying the benefits of change for the group of people you are trying to influence. Industry will change if there is commercial benefit: eg because there is competition for pork for overseas trade, the industry can use “being sow-stall free” as a marketing incentive for buyers, combined with the campaign to develop a compassionate concern for mother pigs.

  • Act before something happens, such as campaigning now to stop the proposed live expert of horses and donkeys.

  • Informing people to change misconceptions: that kangaroo harvesting is not done in farms, and codes of practice are not enforced.

  • Using social media to connect people and create communities of people with common interests.

  • Unlocking legal impediments: encouraging pastoralists to try different approaches such as predator-friendly farms is impeded by legal requirement to kill dingoes as pests in NSW.

  • Making it easier for people to change their behaviour: provide resources, alternatives. Example is plastic bag campaign, encouraging folk not to use by providing other bags in stores; ensuring free range eggs are the shelves.

  • Finding mechanisms that people can relate to. For retailers, listening to what is important to customers.

  • For immediate issues, big exposes do work.

  • Getting the facts right. Making mistakes can undermine a campaign in an instant.

  • Emotions and the message. Decision-making is influenced by emotions and is related to our value systems. It is not possible to divorce oneself from one’s emotions, and it is important to acknowledge that there are differing emotions: the compassionate for cruelly-treated animals to the pure hatred of a farmer when finding sheep mauled by a dingo. Emotions will help in winning an argument, so being responsive to people’s emotions is important.

 

The overarching sentiment was about building awareness away from commercial interests and to connect to human benefit, reconnect people with animals so people understand where their food comes from, that animals have intelligence, and hopefully develop greater empathy towards them. There is a strong disconnect between people and nature, and as a global issue we need to work towards greater co-existence, to see ourselves as part of nature, valuing all living things. 

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