Societal views and animal welfare science: Understanding why the modified cage may fail and other stories

D. M. Weary, B. A. Ventura, M. A.G. Von Keyserlingk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


The innovations developed by scientists working on animal welfare are often not adopted in practice. In this paper, we argue that one important reason for this failure is that the solutions proposed do not adequately address the societal concerns that motivated the original research. Some solutions also fail because they do not adequately address perceived constraints within the industry. Using examples from our own recent work, we show how research methods from the social sciences can address both of these limitations. For example, those who persist in tail-docking cattle (despite an abundance of evidence showing that the practice has no benefits) often justify their position by citing concern for cow cleanliness. This result informs the nature of new extension efforts directed at farmers that continue to tail dock, suggesting that these efforts will be more effective if they focus on providing producers with methods (of proven efficacy) for keeping cows clean. Work on pain mitigation for dehorning shows that some participants reluctant to provide pain relief believe that the pain from this procedure is short lasting and has little impact on the calf. This result informs the direction of new biological research efforts to understand both the magnitude and duration of any suffering that result from this type of procedure. These, and other examples, illustrate how social science methodologies can document the shared and divergent values of different stakeholders (to ensure that proposed solutions align with mainstream values), beliefs regarding the available evidence (to help target new scientific research that meets the perceived gaps), and barriers in implementing changes (to ease adoption of ideas by addressing these barriers).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-317
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 11 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Animal Consortium 2015.


  • animal well-being
  • producer engagement
  • public attitudes
  • science policy


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