Contemporary and Emerging Issues Symposium I: Public Policy
Animal agriculture is an important component of global food security, with animal products serving as a foundational component of many American diets as well as playing a crucial role the sustainability of food production and environmental well-being. Yet animal welfare is one of the most contentious issues in the United States, producing heated, polarizing public debates. Meanwhile, national trends across all major issues demonstrate an increasing loss of common ground between political parties, with no indication of an imminent turnaround. The contentious nature of animal welfare and animal science public debates, as well as indications of increasing polarization across the nation, presents a worrisome dilemma in the face of a growing need to make meaningful societal progress around food security. Research has long demonstrated that contentious arguments, disdainful debates or reiteration of facts often backfire and cause people to double down on their beliefs, with extensive literature in psychology showing that humans are goal-directed information processors who tend to evaluate information with a directional bias toward reinforcing pre-existing views. In this article, I demonstrate how research on the role of values in risk perception can provide a helpful frame for building understanding between competing groups around contentious animal agriculture issues, inform more effective communication efforts and build potential for progress-oriented collaboration.