Public Engagement with Animal Health and Welfare

Format of work:

Conference Presentation

Event presented at / Journal Name:

Seventh Annual Meeting of AWRN

Speaker / Contact Author's Name:

Beth Clark

Speaker / Contact Author's E-mail Address:

  • Research aim:

    To run a series of events that encourage reflection, promote inclusive conversations and foster mutual understanding between the farming sector and members of the public.

  • Background:

    Farm animal health and welfare (FAHW) are particularly challenging and emotive topic for conversations with the public, whose criticisms frequently rest on simplistic understandings and memories of a ‘golden age’, while farmers can struggle to articulate the contemporary challenges they face. Exploring how the public perceive FAHW is vital to understand where perspectives diverge or overlap with those of farmers or other industry stakeholders.

  • Approach:

    Examine lives and experiences of farmers through interviews with farmers and advisors, archival material from Museum of English Rural Life and outputs of a photographer, filmmaker and an artist. The project targetted four groups: Northern farming communities, young adults (little experience of farming), retired adults (long memories of food production) and families with interest in rural affairs (keen to learn and share).

  • Key finding:

    The public have a strong interest in farming and livestock health and welfare, a long memory of previous livestock disease events and an empathy for farmers. Attendees were able to think about complex and potentially ethically difficult issues, including FAHW, sustainability, and trade-offs in farmer and consumer decision making. The public valued opportunities to discuss and learn more about food production noting limited opportunities to do so.

  • Industry or policy relevance:

    More opportunities for engagement around FAHW and more creative ways of involving the public in these discussions could help to address the current disconnect between the public, farming and the food they consume, especially at a time when decisions surrounding the future of food and farming are under discussion and contested.

  • Route for practical application:

    Whilst we report positive findings from our engagement activities there are no one best way to do this. The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement offer advice and resources on engagement with research: Participants appreciated events in non-traditional academic spaces. Events should look to run in places and spaces where communities/publics of interest come together.

  • Confidence in findings and next steps towards realising impact:

    Existing literature supports the need for more engagement on food and farming, especially from the perspective of food democracy. The importance of engagement has been recognised in a recent Defra report. More funding would support researchers engaging with different stakeholders.


Wellcome Trust

Links to Open Access Publications or DOI:


Clark, B. 2023. “Using creative engagement methods to explore public understandings of animal health and welfareSeventh Annual Meeting of AWRN, Great North Museum, Newcastle. 18-19th January 2023.