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People’s knowledge is here understood to consist of data and information which reflect the actual state of matters. While beliefs might be right or wrong, this is not possible for knowledge. It therefore prevents people from having prejudices that lead to behaviour with unintended results.
Another reason to look at knowledge is that it possibly reflects involvement towards a problem and also towards products which address these problems. This is so since one definition of involvement is that it is activation and motivation for searching, receiving, processing and saving information (TROMMSDORFF, 1993, p. 49). People’s involvement is of interest since it determines the way consumers behave. This in turn determines the kind of models to be used for explaining and predicting consumer behaviour.
One way to assess how knowledgeable people are about feeding, husbandry practices, transport, (pre-)slaughter treatment and their effect on animal welfare, is to see whether the believes which have already been presented in this paper are right or wrong. Two examples follow.
For instance, people in a sample drawn in 1988 overestimated the number of pigs kept in large flocks, when flocks were defined as large beyond a size of 600 pigs: a large majority thought pigs to be kept in these large flocks, whereas only about 20% really were (ALVENSLEBEN / STEFFENS, 1988, p. 375). But the results could be biased since a different definition of “large flock” might have revealed different beliefs.
Knowledge generally prevents from oversimplification. An example of a simplifying statement is “Animals cannot be kept appropriately in large flocks”. More people disagreed (44%) than agreed (30%) with this statement in 1997 (EMNID, 1997). It looks like people are knowledgeable in this case.
In 1982/83 HARIS directly tried to assess knowledge about battery and deep-litter systems for poultry (HARIS, 1986, p. 156). He reports on two methodological difficulties: First, a situation had to be avoided, which put pressurised questions on consumers and had reduced their willingness to participate. Second, only a short time was available with each person due to circumstances.
A very general question about the difference between battery and deep-litter systems revealed that most consumers had no or wrong perceptions: About a quarter of people admitted, not to know the difference. About half the people equated deep-litter-keeping and free-range-keeping. Only 16% and 12% respectively answered rightly, that deep-litter hens have more space to move than battery hens. In 1983 Haris asked retail customers to compare the two systems with regard to productivity, health and hygiene. A relative majority thought productivity and hygiene to be better guaranteed in battery-keeping, whereas an absolute majority believed deep-litter-keeping to be better for animal health. Haris concluded, that people were more knowledgeable on these specific matters than in the general case.
EMNID (1998) looked at how well known were the following terms used to describe poultry-keeping systems: “battery/cage farming”, “barn/perchery farming”, “deep litter farming” and “free-range farming”. 90% of the interviewees in Germany had heard about free-range-keeping, 78% about battery farming and 75% about deep litter farming. Perchery farming was less well known (30%). 28% of interviewees knew all four systems.
Whereas knowledge about the official terms is high, legally not reglemented, but often used terms are not properly identified by most people: “Eier frisch vom Bauernhof” is a label used for battery eggs, yet only 4% of people knew it, whereas 63% believed it to be a label for free-range eggs. Only 4% knew that “Bauerneier” were battery eggs. Balser (1994, p. 50) notes, that this lack of knowledge poses the problem that consumers actually buy battery eggs but believe to buy eggs from systems respecting high standards of animal welfare. This is a political problem. It also is a problem for practical research. Consumers will tend to overestimate the amount of products bought from appropriate keeping as stated in consumer surveys.
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