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Consumers care more about price than animals, Belfast summit told

By Chris McCullough

An international expert has warned dairy farmers that consumers care more about themselves - and prices - than animal welfare.

Delegates at the World Dairy Summit in Belfast were told that the majority couldn't care less about the condition of the cow that produces their fresh milk, or the conditions in which the animals are kept.

Dr Jennifer Walker, a vet from the United States, told delegates that "consumers only cared for themselves and how cheap they could buy food".

Even though it is becoming more widely recognised that animal welfare issues are of huge relevance to some consumers, and to the dairy industry's reputation, the vet said the issue was becoming serious that consumers don't care.

Dr Walker, who oversees an animal welfare programme for dairy farmers supplying Dean Foods in Dallas, Texas, said: "We all place great importance on animal welfare, both farmers and vets.

"Farmers strive to create the best conditions for animals to live in and vets observe the animal's health, which is an indicator of welfare standards.

"However, it is becoming increasingly more apparent that today's consumers are more interested in themselves with an 'it's all about me' attitude," she said.

The top vet also believed consumers are being confused with so many food assurance schemes such as the Red Tractor assurance scheme in the UK.

"All these food quality assurance schemes and their relative symbols are causing chaos and confusion among consumers.

"Nowadays, I think the trend is shifting and people are more concerned about themselves rather than animals.

"They simply just want cheaper food and not too worried about the conditions in which the animals are kept which produced that food."

During the summit dairy industry leaders also highlighted the importance of communicating effectively with consumers who are looking for reassurance on the integrity and quality of dairy foods at a time anti-dairy activism is on the rise.

Paul Vernon, chairman of Dairy UK and chief executive of Glanbia Cheese, said the dairy industry needed to ensure consumers were getting the right message.

"Dairy is a superfood and we need to ensure that message is heard loud and clear by consumers who are under a constant barrage of misleading and ill-informed messages about dairy."

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