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10.6. Peoples' Views on Farm Animal Welfare in Japan

- Sakae Kishida and Darryl Macer
Master's Program in Environmental Sciences,
University of Tsukuba, Japan
E-mail: sakaek@hotmail.com, asianbioethics@yahoo.co.nz

1. Introduction

In Japan, industrial animal farming started in the late 19th century after the Meiji Revolution (1868), by directly importing the know-how and techniques from Western countries such as U.S. and Germany (1). After World War‡U, the number of animal farms showed a dramatic increase under the auspices of the national agricultural policy. Adoption of mass production system usually followed the decrease in welfare standard, and more and more farm animals came to be kept indoors for most of their life, having little space to move around and little chance to go outside.

Nevertheless, little attention has been paid to the welfare of farm animals. Although there is a widespread practice of Ireisai, praying and thanking ceremony for dead animals in front of a memorial monument (usually conducted by the producers' unions), the inhumanity and animal abuse in the process of rearing, shipment, slaughtering, have been ignored (1).

In Japan, there is a formal guideline named "SangyouDoubutsu no Shiiku oyobi Kanri ni kansuru Kijun (Guideline for rearing industrial animals)", stipulating how to treat farm animals; which was made by the Prime Ministers' Office in 1987. The guideline gives recommendation about hygiene at farms, avoiding animal abuse, shipment of the animals, etc. However, it does not give any concrete instruction or penalty for abusers. Furthermore, there is actually no formal system to check whether the guideline is respected in animal farms (2).

The guideline does not stand independently, and it is one of the lower structures of the law called "DoubutsuAigoHou (Animal Loving and Protection Law)". The law covers animals in general, excluding wild animals. It was revised in 2001, the revision made the definition of animal abuse wider, giving stricter punishments for animal abusers (3). It is logically possible to read that farm animals are also within the view of the law, but in practice, the law has not prohibited or regulated the various styles of ongoing animal farming in any sense so far.

Human beings have a wonderful gift to love and to feel sympathy to other beings including other species. The characteristic has been making our society more and more humane through history. Thus, the call for improving the living condition of animals in view of animal welfare, which is a call for enlarging our ethical circle further than human rights, is a reasonable enough argument for any civilized society to pay serious attention.

Our society consists of various people each has different views and interests. Although a group of people may regard enhancing farm animal welfare as a pressing task to overcome, another group may regard such claim as animal maniacs' trifle sentiment. By exploring peoples' views deeply, we are able to have a set of basic information of the tendency in peoples' mentality on the issue, which can be called a "mental map" (4). Such information makes a foundation of rational and constructive dialogue between a group of people and another, each differs in views and interests. Such dialogues would go on and on, ultimately making an ethical progress of the society.

Based on this standpoint, face to face interviews were conducted by S.K. with members of the general public and also with animal farmers. A set of qualitative analysis and discussions were given over the results. The objective was to understand how people in the society see the situation that we have been robbing farm animals of their freedom, and ultimately, killing them. The results gave several implications:

) Greater public interest in their own health than animal welfare.
2) There are positive voices for enhancing farm animal welfare, both among consumers and producers.
3) Distance of animal farming from everyday life makes people indifferent to farm animals' pain.
4) Widely-infiltrated prejudices are playing a role of discouraging people from enlarging their focus of ethical consideration to farm animals.

Over these discussions, I conclude that individuals and citizen groups working for enhancing farm animal welfare should think flexibly and act practically to make improvements in enhancing the level of welfare if little, cooperating both with animal farmers and citizen groups pursuing safer food.

2. Interviews with animal farmers

The research area was in a rural area in Ibaraki Prefecture, in the Kanto region of Eastern Japan. Staying in a small town for two days, 8-9 February, I conducted the interviews.

Preceding the interviews, the full list of animal farms located in the town was obtained from the agriculture branch of the town office. From the list, farms that were to be telephoned were randomly selected, covering several types of animal farm. A phone call was made to the farms chosen to ask their cooperation. Among the six farms telephoned, five agreed to. The composition of the five was; two dairy cow farms, two pig farms, and one chicken farm. They were all family farms.

Seven questions were prepared:
1) Do you like the animals you rear?
2) Have you done something to improve the condition of the animals so far? If you have, what is that?
3) Are there any aspects or points, which you think, should be improved concerning the condition of the animals from this time on?
4) Some people think that some kinds of farm animals have feelings or emotions. How do you see the fact that we kill and confine such animals as every day's practice?
5) Do you think the animals in your farm are happy?
6) Have you heard of the "Guideline for rearing industrial animals" prescribed by the Prime Minister's Office?
7) Any comments over the entire interview?

Further questions were asked in response to the replies, to make the speakers' point clearer and to try to draw out more stories. Notes were taken during the interviews that were also tape-recorded. The time taken for each interview was in a range from about 30 minutes, 40 minutes, 45 minutes, 120 minutes, to 140 minutes. After the interviews, the notes were summarized and sorted out for each farm, supplemented by the tape-recorded dialogues. Their comments have been summarized and dialogue shortened, and the order adjusted to make the points raised easier to follow.

Four farmers answered that they like the animals they rear. Two emphasized the economic function of farm animals, saying they like the animals because the animals bring them money. This tendency was also observed by a previous survey (5). Two pig farmers showed simple affection to animals, saying they like pigs because pigs are living creature just like us. Three mentioned that they like their animals because the animals never betray them.

Three farmers showed an interest or understanding towards alternative animal farming styles that give the animals much freedom, such as keeping animals in a large open field. They thought whether it will pay well or not is the essential hurdle to overcome before adopting such alternative rearing methods. Two farmers gave the lack of farmland as a reason that they can not shift to an alternative rearing method.

Three farmers answered that they feel sorry or sense of guilty about the fact that the animals are killed. However, including the three, four farmers thought they can't do anything to change the situation, saying that "farm animals are originally destined to it" or "we have been doing this way for ages."

Three farmers thought that the animals in their farm are not happy. They thought so because the animals can not move around freely in the roomy open field, nor can sun-bathe as long as they want.

Among the five farmers, four answered that they have not heard of the "Guideline for rearing industrial animals," which is actually the only formal guideline in Japan that stipulates how farmers should rear animals. One answered that he thought he had, but he did not know what the guideline writes, either.

3. Interviews with the general public

The target of the interviews was the public aged above 20, both male and female, chosen randomly. The research area was in urban districts in three prefectures: Ibaraki, Kanagawa, and Kyoto. Ibaraki and Kanagawa are located in the Kanto region in the East of Japan; a part of the two prefectures are included in the megalopolis surrounding the Tokyo, the largest urban district of Japan. Kyoto is located in the Kinki region in the Middle West of Japan; and a part of the prefecture is included in the megalopolis surrounding Osaka, which is the second largest urban district of Japan. The total valid sample number of interviews was 51, including 10 males and 41 females, with an age range from persons in their 20s to those in their 80s. The response rate was about 33%. Of the 51 samples, 31 were gathered in Ibaraki and Kanagawa, and 20 in Kyoto.

The interviews started on 8 January 2002 and ended on 12 June 2002, over a total of 13 discontinuous interview days. All the interviews were carried out by one interviewer, myself. Houses in the research area were chosen randomly. I knocked on the door or rang the door bell without any pre-announcement, asked people to answer the question printed in the leaflet that had a cover letter explaining the purpose of the research. Those who said that they were willing to answer, were interviewed. Along the course of the dialogue with an interviewee, further questions were made to make the views of the interviewee clearer. I wrote down what the interviewee spoke on the answering sheets. To supplement the notes, I asked the interviewee to allow tape-recoding. Of the 51 respondents, 48 interviews were tape recorded; two rejected to be tape-recoded, one sent his answer by letter afterward. An interview lasted about 10 minutes in the shortest case, about 150 minutes at the longest: for most of the cases the duration was between 15 to 30 minutes. After the interviews of one day were over, the notes made during the interview were filled in to complete the answers by listening to the dialogue recorded in the tapes.

For open ended questions, the answers were transcribed cutting off repetition or duplication of the contents, and the answers were written down after some reformation of the content according to the logical flow of the ideas. The 51 answers were categorized into groups according to the meaning expressed by the subject following the method of Macer (6). When more than one meaning was found in an answer, the answer was cross-categorized into more than one category. Particularly long answers were separated into more than one shorter answers, as long as the separation would not break the logical flow of the ideas. The categories were set aiming to make a clear map of ideas that enables us to easily grasp the tendency of peoples' views for each question.

First, people were asked whether they find anything problematic about the condition surrounding farm animals, and if they do, what their concerns were about. The results are shown in Table 1, illustrating the process of categorization according to meaning expressed.

Of the 51 respondents, 24 answered it was "No problem" or "I don't know", and six of them commented that they don't know anything about the condition of farm animals because there are no farm animals seen anywhere close to their everyday life.

Over half, 27, mentioned that they do have some concerns. The most popular concern was about food safety risk, "Use of feed and chemicals which cause negative effects on human body" (N=12), "Unclearness of the background of animal farm products / mistrust to food labeling system"(7), "Food safety risk of eggs and chickens" (3), "Every food has safety risk, not limiting to farm products"(3).

10.6 Table 1

Eight people commented on their concerns directly related to animal welfare. Of the eight, six gave a concern that farm animals were reared in an "unnatural" manner: "Cows are fed with beef-bone-powder, ignoring the fact that cows are herbivorous"(N=3), "Hens and chickens were kept under miserable condition"(3), "Animals are kept indoors and live in a very small space "(2), "Animals are treated as if they were things"(1), and "Producers are forcing animals to grow up under unnatural conditions"(1).

Second, people were asked how they see the fact that we confine and kill farm animals as an everyday social practice. The results are shown in Table 2, under the categorization according to meaning expressed. The most popular response was "It is a necessity for human beings to live", given by 25 people. The second most popular response was "Farm animals are originally destined to it"; thirteen people gave a response of this category.

There were some more categories of responses that were not very concerned about ongoing animal farming: "We can't be a vegetarian anyway"(N=10), "It is the rule of the natural world"(7), "It is the food culture/ eating practice"(7), "No problem, farm animals are not likely to have emotion/ feel pain"(2), "We can't totally deny animal farming because some people are living thanks to the business"(1).

There were two categories of responses that were rather sympathetic to farm animals: "I feel sorry for farm animals that live only to be killed"(N=3), "We should rear farm animals under as good environment as possible"(2). There were also two people who showed great concern and opposition to killing and confining animals, one of them commented that she avoids eating meat motivated by the concern.

Although most of the respondents were not basically against ongoing animal farming, ten people commented "I can hardly kill the animals myself" or "I would hardly be able to kill animals if I bring them up myself".

Eight thought that "We shouldn't kill more animals than we really need"(N=8), and four thought, "It is important to thank animals sacrificed for us"(4).

10.6 Table 2

4. Discussion

Peoples' concern was much stronger over the aspects of food safety of animal farm products rather than in one directly related to animal welfare itself, and the concern was mostly motivated by self love and love for family members. The same tendency is also observed by the International Bioethics Survey (6). Accordingly, it would be easier to get public support to improve the conditions surrounding farm animals by advocating it from a view of enhancing the food quality and safety of animal farm products, rather than calling for only enhanced animal welfare.

There are positive voices for enhancing farm animal welfare, both among consumers and producers. Among the 51 people interviewed in the survey targeting the general public, eight people gave their concerns directly related to the animal welfare. Their concerns were mainly about the fact that farm animals are usually given little freedom of moving around at their will, kept indoors most of their life, sometimes fed with unnatural feed. A part of farmers also showed their interest or understanding to alternative animal farming styles that enable the animals much more freedom, keeping the animals in an open field, for instance. Interestingly enough, three farmers among the five thought the animals at their farms are not happy, referring the situation that the animals are kept indoors most of the time and can not move around at their will.

Distance of animal farming from everyday life makes people indifferent to farm animals' pain. Six people commented that they found no problem about the condition of farm animals, for there are no farm animals seen anywhere close to their everyday life and don't know anything about the condition of farm animals. Furthermore, noticeably enough, quite a few people commented "I can hardly kill the animals myself," or "I can hardly kill animals if I bring them up myself." Such comments imply that many people are able to buy and eat meat without any discomfort or sense of guilt just because they do not need to directly watch some unpleasant scenes that always follow as a process of animal farming.

Many people believed that farm animals have feelings and emotions, and killing such animals is of course not a pleasant act. Still, most people believed that animal farming is a necessity for human being to live and thus it is to some degree unavoidable to kill animals. People believed it was impossible to give up or drastically change the ongoing practice of animal farming because "it is the rule of the natural world", or "we can't be a vegetarian", or "It is the eating habit / food culture."

Such views are not always based on the fact, however. First of all, if asked whether it is unavoidable for all human being to eat animal farm products, such as meat, to survive, the answer is "No". Secondly, there is a counter-argument against a belief that we can not avoid confining and killing animals because "it is the rule of the natural world". People who mentioned this presumed that the "stronger eats weaker" is the only rule of the natural world. The fact does not support the presumption, however. Even an observation of a species Homo sapiens reveals that there are acts of helping each other motivated by sympathy and love, transcending the narrow interests of one individual. These acts cannot be fully explained by the simple logic of "stronger eats weaker." As long as human beings are a member of the natural world, whatever the member thinks or does is a part of natural process. Thus, our choice to enlarge the focus of ethical consideration does not override rules of the natural world in any sense. Finally, there is a counterargument against a belief that we can not avoid confining and killing animals because "it is the eating practice / food culture." Practice and culture are what we make by ourselves, and ongoing practice and culture are not something like the dogma that we can not even touch. In fact, we find a great difference in peoples' diet in Japan between the time of the Meiji Revolution (1868) and the one of the year 2003. We do not need to trace back to the year 1868 to find a difference in diet. Just looking back at the diet of 1950's or 1970's makes us realize how quickly eating practices change. It is each one of us who decide what we eat and drink. The sum of selections makes a trend of liking particular food and drinks, which is called eating practice; and from the practice a new set food culture rises. There is no such obligation to define a general tendency of food selection lasting for some decades as the fixed eating practice, and to keep it unchanged hereafter.

As it is clear through discussions so far, a widely infiltrated belief that animal farming is a necessary activity for human beings' survival, and it is to some degree unavoidable to keep killing animals, was bred by a couple of prejudices. Such prejudices play a role of discouraging people from enlarging their focus of ethical consideration to farm animals.

5. Conclusion

There are positive voices for enhancing farm animal welfare, both in consumers and producers, though these voices may not be very loud now. It is time for individuals and citizen groups working for farm animal welfare to think flexibly and act practically, closely cooperating with consumer organizations striving to propagate alternative farm animal rearing methods with a view of producing safer food, and with producers, too. What is urgently required is to make a practical progress, no matter how little the scale is. A small step forward will be followed by another step, and finally will result in a great jump in the future.

6. References

1) Satou, S. Nihon ni okeru NouyouKachikuHogoshisou oyobi Kenkyuu no Tenkai. Nihon Kachiku Kanri KennkyuuShi 3, 91-96 (In Japanese), 1992.
2) Ohshima, T. DoubutsuAigoKanriHou no Youshi. Chikusan Gijutsu 2, 18-23 (In Japanese), 2001.
3) Doubutsu Aigo Hourei Kenkyu Kai. Kaisei Doubutsu Aigo Kanri Hou (in Japanese), Tokyo: Seirin Shoin, 2001.
4) Macer, DRJ. The next challenge is to map the human mind. Nature 420, 121, 2002.
5) Kudo, R. & Macer, D. Relationships towards animals in Japan", EJAIB 9, 135-138, 1999.
6) Macer, Darryl R.J. Bioethics for the People by the People. Christchurch: Eubios Ethics Institute, 1994.

This paper was not presented at ABC4.

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