Burning Questions
Fellowship Award Winners

Mariann Molnár

Location: Hungary
Academic field: Animal welfare
Award category: PhD Holder

Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period:

How two key food supply chain actors - animal housing technology suppliers upstream and meat processing companies downstream from farmers - influence animal welfare in large-scale farms in regions in Europe.

  • Examine two industries that influence livestock farmers/producers in two different regions of Europe, particularly regarding animal welfare practices:
    • Companies selling housing technologies to livestock producers in (mostly high-income) countries in Central-Eastern Europe (e.g. Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia).
    • Meat processing companies in (mostly middle-income) countries in the Western Balkans (e.g. North Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania).
  • Collect up-to-date information and secondary data on animal housing technology suppliers and processing companies based in the EU that are representative of industry views or priorities. For example, from company brochures, and by interviewing informed individuals. Analyze and interpret all collected materials.
  • The aim is to explain that:
    • Farmers directly in contact with the animals are faced with a“power imbalance” imposed on them by actors in the food supply chain that severely limits their freedom to improve animal care standards on their farms.
    • The “authority” of housing technology suppliers significantly influences the production methods and animal welfare performance indicators adopted by large-scale intensive farmers.
    • The competitive pressures from the housing suppliers and meat processing companies could drive farmers to invest in industrial farming systems and intensify animal agriculture – both in high-income Central-Eastern Europe and middle-income Western Balkans.

Some of the Things We Really Liked when We Read the Application:

  • The current livestock farming systems in CEE and WB are quite different. And housing technology suppliers and meat processing companies are two different industries. But it is important to understand all of them.
    • First, even though small-scale non-industrial animal farming methods still dominate middle-income European countries, with the rise in income, these countries may transition away from the present small- to medium-scale farming practices and invest in large-scale intensive methods in the not-too-distant-future.
    • Second, some of these countries may soon be classified as high-income. For example, Romania became high-income in 2023.
    • Third, they are applying for EU membership, and may soon face the same situation experienced by high-income Central-Eastern European countries already in the EU and transitioned to industrial systems.
  • The topic is very important but highly neglected. Large-scale, industrial production systems have key actors along supply chains. But hardly any attention is paid to key actors such as animal housing suppliers and processing companies. That is unfortunate because these actors play important roles and wield significant influence on farmers who are in direct contact with the animals every day, shaping the way the farmers treat their animals and the methods used to raise the animals.
    • In trying to implement animal welfare reforms, it is necessary to understand the pressures induced by actors up- and downstream from the farmers.
    • By drawing attention to this issue (which is rarely raised by NGOs, governments, funders of agriculture development, academics, and even the farmers themselves), there will be an opportunity to communicate with farmers (e.g. through national and international farmers organizations) and encourage them to acknowledge that they are experiencing power imbalances and other external sources of pressure that make it very difficult for them to improve conditions and practices, and resist using intensive methods.
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