Stock Handling & Animal Welfare

Animal welfare increasing as trust in farming driver

Sheep Central, March 25, 2024


ENVIRONMENTAL management was again the strongest driver of social license for rural industries in 2023, a new report has found.

The latest Community Trust in Rural Industries program also found animal welfare was the second-strongest trust driver, with its importance among community members increasing by five percent compared to 2021.

However, 47pc of survey participants agreed with the statement “animal welfare in rural industries needs to improve, even though it means meat and dairy prices will increase.”

An AgriFutures Australia release today said the report indicated that more Australians than ever support the crucial work undertaken by rural industries and their significant contributions to Australian society.

The latest results from the CTRI surveys reveal that community support for Australia’s rural industries and the value they bring to our society is at its highest level since the program began in 2019.

In 2023, 52pc of Australians surveyed agreed that rural industries are prepared to change their practices in response to community concerns. Gradual increases in this score since Year One (44pc) indicates a strong foundation for responsiveness in rural industries for building community trust, and highlights the need for rural industries to engage with their communities, the report said.

In 2023, 91.4pc of respondents agreed that rural industries are important to our way of life in Australia, marking a notable increase from 88.2pc in 2022. Additionally, community acceptance of rural industries rose by 12pc, matching the highest level recorded since the program started.

The findings highlight there is an increasing awareness amongst Australians surveyed of the essential role played by the agricultural sector and its pivotal contribution to supplying food, essential products and employment to Australia as well as its significant role in the nation’s economy, AgriFutures said.

The Community Trust in Rural Industries program has run from 2019 to 2023, aiming to provide rural industries with timely and effective insights to help the sector create a deeper relationship with the Australian community based on trust. It is overseen by the independent data science firm Voconiq and leveraging research methodologies developed by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO. The program has surveyed more than 22,000 Australians nationwide through an annual survey.

AgriFutures Australia senior manager, collaboration, Georgie Toose said producers across Australia should know they have the backing of the people they provide food and fibre for.

“There is strong, demonstrable support within the community for Australian farmers – whether they’re producing red meat, fruit and vegetables, grains, milk, cotton, seafood or a multitude of other products,” she said.

Voconiq Research lead, Dr Kieran Moffat said the year four data indicated there is robust trust and acceptance of Australian rural industries within the community and that the key drivers of this trust and acceptance have remained consistent throughout the duration of the program.

“Environmental management has again emerged as the strongest driver of social license for rural industries in 2023.

“Notably, community concerns regarding responsible water use by rural industries have eased significantly, alongside reduced concerns about drought future water availability due to climate change,” he said.

The report also highlights other factors influencing trust of Australian producers, such as industry responsiveness, regulatory confidence and animal welfare practices. In 2023, Australians felt more strongly that farmers treat animals with dignity and respect than they did in 2020 or 2021 and an increased number of Australians — 71pc of those surveyed — acknowledged animal welfare is a complex issue.

Community connection with land a challenge

The degree of community connection to, or identification with, the land emerged as a new trust driver in 2023, albeit with a concurrent decline in the proportion of Australians surveyed who consider rural industries as being part of their heritage for the third consecutive year, presenting a challenge for the sector to address.

“A novel aspect of this year’s work delves into information sources about rural industries and how individuals connected to these industries engage with information,” Dr Moffat said.

“We found people who have strong connection to rural industries pay much more attention to negative information about rural industries than those with low levels of connection.

“This may help to explain the findings of separate sentiment research showing farmers feel undervalued by Australians in ways that may negatively impact their wellbeing – we need to help farmers see the high regard they have within the broader population,” he said.

Cost of living continues to pressure our rural industries

The repercussions of cost-of-living pressures and prevailing economic challenges are palpable in the Year Four findings, manifesting in growing consensus about the equal importance of safeguarding jobs alongside environmental protection. This sentiment was echoed by 91.4pc of respondents (up from 88.2pc last year), underscoring the vital role rural industries play in both looking after the environment and providing jobs for people in communities.

Ms Toose affirmed the commitment to leveraging the program’s insights for targeted initiatives aimed at not only reinforcing positive perceptions of rural industries, but also confronting emerging challenges head-on.

“The nature of this program means we’re able to see changes across time and make visible the perspectives and expectations of the Australian community as they evolve in response to changes in the environment, industry engagement and social context,” she said.

The Community Trust in Rural Industries program is a collaboration between AgriFutures Australia, Hort Innovation, Australian Eggs, Meat & Livestock Australia, Cotton Research and Development Corporation, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, and Grains Research and Development Corporation.

For further information and to access the report, visit


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