Understandings of Human-Animal Relations and Animal Welfare in ‘Precision Livestock Farming' Research and Development

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 16:10
Location: Hörsaal 10 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Michiel DE KROM, Department of Sociology - Ghent University, Belgium
Due to scale enlargement in animal agriculture, farmers face difficulties to adequately attend to the well-being of each of their individual animals. To address these difficulties, much recent animal science research focusses on developing and assessing so-called ‘smart farming’ or ‘Precision Livestock Farming’ (PLF) technologies. These technologies, which principally involve on-farm sensors and data-processing software, are promised to extend farmers’ eyes and ears, and thereby allow farmers to re-connect with individual animals and to improve their animals’ welfare and productivity. Starting from the recognition that technologies are never simply facilitating but rather remaking and remade in human-animal relations, this paper critically examines how interactions between animals, humans and technology are understood and constituted in PLF research and developments. The paper offers a qualitative content analysis of systematically collected scientific papers on PLF technology and promotional materials of PLF manufacturers. In this analysis, the paper builds on the sociology of science and technology and the sociology of human-animal relations to reveal and criticise different reductionist assumptions that underlie PLF research and developments. The paper concludes by underlining and specifying the need for more social scientific attention to if and how PLF technologies may improve on-farm animal-human relations and animal welfare.