Examination of Beliefs Around Different Animal Products and Animal Welfare among Vegans, Vegetarians, and Omnivores

In this post I will be examining the results of an informal (non-academic) survey I carried out in mid-December. The aim of the survey was to better understand perceptions of suffering associated with different animal products and animal production systems among people with different diets.

In total, I received responses from 30 omnivores, 56 ovo-lacto vegetarians, and 265 vegans.

Please note that this survey was not rigorous and thus the results and interpretations should be taken with that in mind. One interesting aspect of the survey which might further hinder it is that many of the vegan respondents consistently rated on the high end of suffering. Future surveys might want to stress that the ratings should be relative to the other animal products.

In the first series of questions, respondents were asked to rate the direct animal suffering caused by different animal products on a scale of 1-10. Shown below is the average number for each of the three diets. 

1 being "minimal suffering" and 10 being "lots of suffering"

1 being "minimal suffering" and 10 being "lots of suffering"

As can be seen, omnivores have lower associations of suffering compared to vegetarians and vegans. What is noteworthy, though, is that eggs are perceived similarly to dairy, despite evidence that eggs likely cause more suffering than dairy or even some types of meat like beef (Norwood & Lusk, 2011).

The next series of questions mirrors the previous set in some ways, except that it asks for direct perceptions of welfare for various farmed animals.

10 being "very unpleasant" and 1 being "very pleasant"

10 being "very unpleasant" and 1 being "very pleasant"

Omnivores again assign better welfare scores to farmed animals. All groups assigned better welfare scores for farmed fish. 

One important aspect that this survey or examination will not attempt to do in full is to examine the actual accuracy of these beliefs. Norwood and Lusk in their book Compassion, By The Pound do assign welfare scores to farmed animals based on limited welfare evidence. If you believe those scores to be accurate, then it seems that the omnivore respondents in this survey are actually closer to those opinions than vegans or vegetarians, particularly in regards to dairy cow or beef cattle welfare.

That result isn't too surprising, as it's likely that vegans have distorted views on suffering associated with different animal products and production systems. The fact that many vegans rated consistently on the high end of the scale is either a result of poor survey phrasing, or simply a distorted (or more accurate, depending on your perspective) view of farmed animal suffering.

Of course, regular exposure to abusive farming practices is going to skew perceptions of animal agriculture to some degree, either in a more accurate or more innacurate direction. Likewise, cultural ideas of farming are going to be more of a touchstone for omnivores who do not see as much farmed animal cruelty.

Possible implications of this survey is that in instances of veg recidivism, many vegetarians or vegans might not have accurate or honest perceptions of the suffering associated with various animal products.

Vegetarians or vegans might not have accurate perceptions of the suffering associated with various animal products.

This could mean that if a vegan decides to stop being vegetarian or vegan for whatever reason, they might not have the knowledge to eat in an omnivorous, yet harm reducing, way.

This might prompt the "all or nothing" approach to omnivorous eating which might be bad for farmed animals.

I'd be interested in hearing about your thoughts on this survey or possible implications of the results. I'm open into constructive criticism of methodology or how I interpreted the data.