Practice what you preach – the discrepancy in knowing and doing based on moral values to farm animals

Elske De Haas, T. Bas Rodenburg, Frank Tuyttens

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingC3: Conference Abstractpeer-review


Most of us agree that animals should have a life that is worth living. Most of us agree that animals should be treated good, and consider animals as sentient beings. This is formulated under the EU treaty of Amsterdam and Lisbon; in which we should pay full regard to their welfare requirements. For our moral consideration, an animals capacity to feel (experience) appears more important than its capacity to think (agency). Sentience is therefore a crucial element which forms our moral attitude. The conditions under which farm animals are kept
and treated are often far from perfect. As applied ethologists we know this, we are aware of animal mistreatment and animal suffering, yet this knowledge and our concern is often not reflected in our behaviour or consumption choices. Why is it so difficult to stick to believes, and why do humans sometimes fail to act on their moral values? There are different psychological processes whereby people undermine their own moral values. One of these is cognitive dissonance. Caring for animals and consumption of animal based products are in moral conflict, as the treatment of animals does not reason with moral concerns about sentient
beings. As a result, studies showed that people who eat meat judge the sentience of farm animals less than of our pet animals. Hereby, people can be viewed as irrational or moral hypocrites under certain circumstances/food choices. This phenomenon can be explained, partly, by our emotions. Our moral attitude is based on our own emotions, and thereby provides the values we have about animals. But people appear to be very bad at monitoring their emotions, and
thus we act contrary to what we think we ought to do. However, will power and self-control under cognitive dissonant dilemmas can be trained. Strong will helps us in being better in self-control. We highlight the difficulty in thinking right and doing right based on moral psychology. The information we provide is based on scientific literature on human psychology of meat eating, consumption of animal products and human attitudes to animals. As animal welfare researchers, we critically evaluate whether we practice what we preach, and whether we should have a more opinionated viewpoint in relation to care for farm animals. Our goal is to encourage animal welfare researchers in introspection of their own moral values regarding how animals are treated, and in which way they could influence others.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 53rd Congress of the ISAE: Animal Lives Worth living
EditorsRuth Newberry, Bjarne Braastad
Number of pages1
Place of PublicationWageningen, The Netherlands
PublisherWageningen Academic Publishers
Publication date2019
ISBN (Print)978-90-8686-338-9
ISBN (Electronic)978-90-8686-889-6
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventInternational Society for Applied Ethology: Animal Lives Worth Living - Bergen, Norway
Duration: 5-Aug-20199-Aug-2019
Conference number: 53


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