Educating the public: information or persuasion?

Research paper by Grahame John GJ Coleman

Indexed on: 10 Apr '10Published on: 10 Apr '10Published in: Journal of veterinary medical education


Beliefs form a major component of public attitudes, and attitudes have a role in determining how people behave as consumers and as citizens. Their behavior in turn affects the commercial viability and even the sustainability of animal industries. Beliefs are subjective facts, that is, matters that individuals consider to be true. The process of informing the community necessarily involves changing beliefs and, to this extent, persuasion. Education strategies relating to welfare issues depend on the target group and the desired outcome. Target groups include farmers, post-farm gatekeepers including transport drivers and abattoir workers, carers of companion animals, legislators and regulators, retailers, and the general community. These target groups may not be homogeneous, but each nevertheless has identifiable needs for knowledge and skills relevant to welfare. The approach that is likely to be most effective is to provide appropriately targeted dispassionate and factual information to the community. In this way, when debates about animal welfare occur, all the stakeholders--including animal-rights groups, retailers, farmers, legislators, and regulators--who are involved in the debate are more likely to produce good outcomes if discussion is based on a shared understanding of what current practices are and what science can reveal about welfare. Given that the mass media are the preferred source of information, the use of science-based media coverage and informed ethical debate is likely to have the best effect, albeit over a fairly long time frame.