Competitive advantage, preferences and context impact decisions on animal health and welfare

Decisions regarding animal health and welfare are made by producers and other stakeholders. It is important to understand conditions where decisions are made and how economic, cultural and other factors contribute to the choices.

Last October Nordic association of agricultural scientists (NJF), NEAT and MTT Agrifood Research Finland* organized a two-day seminar on economics of animal health and welfare in Hämeenlinna, Finland. The seminar gathered almost 50 experts from 11 countries to discuss economics applied to animal health and welfare. The presentations provided a wide range of examples on how consumers’ preferences, competitiveness of livestock production, legislation and other factors impact animal production.

There are various factors which drive decisions related to animal health, but the most important drivers vary by context, as was highlighted by a keynote. Consumer views, idealism related to production and consumption, norms and regulations related to animal health and welfare are emphasized in the developed countries. By contrast, factors such as population growth, urbanization and improvements in living standards have an important role as drivers which shape livestock production in developing countries.

The first day of the seminar focused on animal welfare issues. It was highlighted that there is a discrepancy between consumers and producers in their views regarding animal welfare. Although new products and concepts which emphasize environment-friendly and animal-friendly production practices have been introduced, the discrepancy may further increase in the future. The marketing of animal products pay attention to highlight aspects which can add value and to strengthen visions about animal welfare attributes. However, product price is also important and consumers are not always willing to pay extra costs associated with animal-friendly production.

The second day of the seminar focused on animal health issues. Presentations highlighted that it is important to understand the diversity of livestock production systems across Europe and the World when deciding how to best control animal diseases because one size doesn’t fit all. Livestock producers have different preferences and conditions where they operate may vary and thus affect the optimal pattern to control animal diseases.

Competition on livestock markets is also very intensive. Policies in the European Union tend to emphasize the role of markets, particularly livestock producers’ responsibility about animal health and welfare. While regulation is needed to promote animal health and welfare, it is important to aim at international standards. Regulations applied in a single country only may put companies in an advantageous or disadvantageous competitive position, depending on their location, and thus may not have desired effect on animal health and welfare globally.

Jarkko Niemi
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)

Seminar presentations and abstracts are available at:

*Since 1 January 2015, MTT is part of Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)

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