Previously Harley and others  suggested that ante- and post-mortem MI results could be developed into a health and welfare diagnostic tool and used by producers to inform herd health and welfare plans. Understanding pig producer perspectives in the pig sector is a key component to developing new systems of data capture and utilisation in pig meat production. In order to achieve this objective, telephone interviews were conducted with pig producers as part of a larger social science study that also involved interviews and focus groups with a range of stakeholders involved in the pig production industry across ROI and NI.
This study identified two global themes attributable to the attitudes of pig producers towards the development of MI as a health and welfare diagnostic tool. The first theme related to producer aspirations, with general agreement among all producers on the potential usefulness and benefit of such a tool. Highlighting some of the benefits of consistent feedback to producers, the advantages of participation in the CIA development programme in NI allowed for a greater producer understanding of the frequency and related seriousness of particular health-related issues. However, dissatisfaction for a number of producers, with the current system of information provision from the processor, and related distrust over the reasons currently provided for carcase condemnation undermine the potential usefulness of MI as a health and welfare diagnostic tool, particularly among those not already participating in programmes such as the CIA. Producer dissatisfaction also extended to include concerns that MI data could be used by the regulatory authority as a mechanism to impose penalties if their pigs had high levels of welfare lesions. This reflects fears that MI data would be used as a surveillance, rather than diagnostic, tool. The former infers monitoring while a ‘diagnostic tool’ is one which can be used to identify trends in patterns and prevalence of health and welfare lesions. Clearly the latter could be a useful management tool for producers and/or their PVP to support continuous improvement in pig welfare and reduce financial losses at slaughter due to carcass condemnation. The lack of importance, and a poor understanding of certain welfare issues such as tail biting among some producers was a third important constraint to the development of MI as a pig welfare and health diagnostic tool. The remainder of this section of the paper discusses the implications for realising the value of MI data as an animal health and welfare diagnostic tool.
Challenges in realising the value of MI data at farm level
A number of the potential challenges to realising the value of MI data at the farm level outlined in the results are worthy of further attention, in particular producer dissatisfaction, trust issues and fairness concerns. These issues are noted elsewhere [11, 13, 14]. Although they present challenges to realising the value of MI data at farm level, these challenges are not unique to the particular topic under review. Several authors identified mistrust between various stakeholder groups as presenting a challenging obstacle for the improvement of bio-security at farm level , promoting producer participation in welfare schemes , and in realising the effectiveness of agri-food chains . Clearly, trust between the various sections of the supply chain is essential for the effective exchange and utilization of information , presumed credibility of information content, and subsequent willingness to cooperate and comply with information recommendations .
If a source of distrust exists, it will prove difficult to form and improve more favourable relations between relevant stakeholders . This relational component can be influenced by the extent to which power is distributed along the production chain as well as by the prevailing economic situation . For example, the economic conditions at a particular point in time may see various participants along the production chain competing with each other for a diminishing profit margin; thus leading to concerns over fairness between producers and processors [12, 27]. Notably, the study in hand was conducted at a time of economic difficulty in Ireland, the conditions of which may have influenced concerns over perceived fairness, as noted by producers, the reported willingness to pay for receipt of MI data, and whether or not such would yield any financial benefits for the producer. Indeed, concerns over fairness cannot be detached from the wider trust framework – this is because, as earlier reported; in general, trust between the public and communicators/regulators is founded upon (in addition to other features), perceived fairness and objectivity [15, 16].
In this study, welfare problems such as tail biting are presented as acceptable when within a tolerable, manageable level; though some producers express a desire to determine the causes. The opinions of some producers regarding the causes of tail biting were somewhat misguided. Similar to Bracke , producers believed the weather was a dominant cause of tail biting, despite scientific studies showing otherwise . Indeed producers perceived locus of control (that is, the extent to which they believe they are in control of an event of incident occurring) helps explain their attitude towards certain health and welfare problems, such as tail biting. Hence, as producers believe that the weather is an important risk factor for tail biting and they cannot control the weather, they believe that they cannot control tail biting. Similarly, Kauppinen  found that the degree to which farmers believed they had behavioural control over animal welfare improvement practices was linked with farm productivity. Though writing on disease risk management, similar results are reported by Garforth . Decisions to implement a specific control measure are influenced by farmer attitudes to risk, the practicality of implementing the control measure, and the credibility they ascribe to information and advice received . This latter feature is important to this study because it supports earlier points made, by showing the necessity of a favourable perception of the various roles involved in pig meat production and information dissemination, in order for the information received to be seen as credible, legitimate, and worthy of acting on.
Clearly, producer willingness to engage in animal welfare related schemes is influenced by how they define and attach importance to animal welfare issues , their beliefs reported in our study around certain animal welfare issues may limit their perceived usefulness of MI data in informing herd health and welfare plans. In the absence of regular data highlighting the frequency of tail-biting and docking related injuries, it may be difficult for pig producers to develop a fuller understanding of its impacts. For example, Harley  demonstrated the financial losses for pig producers (and processors) recorded at slaughter, arising from tail-biting. Market or processing-led incentives could be used to incentivise producers to deliver pigs with intact tails . However, trusted, credible and consistent information is also crucial in positively informing producer attitudes and behaviour. Drawing on the risk communication literature; if levels of trust are high, the public are more willing to refer on expert judgement when making certain decisions [35, 36]; with higher degrees of trust across the industry, producers may be more receptive to receiving advice on certain health and welfare issues.
Limitations of the study
Careful consideration was applied to the recruitment of producers as based on the requirements established during the ethical consent process (Fig. 1), however this resulted in an inbuilt bias as recruiters selected producers that they believed had an active interest in pig production matters and were likely to consent to participation. The authors acknowledge the small sample size; while on one level, the views expressed cannot be representative of the producer population as a whole, a high degree of consensus and reiteration of perceptions was expressed within the group, especially among those in ROI. Indeed, one can assume that as the producers involved in this study were keen to express and discuss their opinions, the results presented can therefore be said to reflect the opinions of producers most motivated to engage and improve animal health and welfare on their farms. Furthermore, the herd sizes of the producers interviewed in this study mirrored the average herd size for producers in ROI and NI. However, the following recommendations for realising the potential of MI data at farm level may prove less effective for less interested producers – for example, less interested producers may be less willing to partner with their PVP in herd planning. Different perspectives on trust may also exist.
Recommendations for realising the potential of MI data in herd health planning
The development of positive relationships based on trust, commitment and satisfaction between the supplier and processor may help provide a more favourable environment in which MI data can be received positively at the farm level. This can, in part, be achieved by developing personal bonds based on active engagement and partnership between all stakeholders, while building the wider level of credibility in which information is perceived by producers [9, 29]. Furthermore, given the centrality of presumed objectivity, accuracy and consistency in forming trust relations; improved standardisation of terminology used in the feedback and information provided to producers, and better training of meat inspection roles, may be required. This need for consistency is made clear in the comments of those participating in the CIA programme - these producers emphasised the value of consistent information and the ability to review and chart progress over time.
Realising the full potential of MI data in herd health and welfare planning at the farm level may also require emphasising the centrality of the PVP in communicating information and working with producers. Using MI data as a diagnostic tool to identify trends in welfare lesions could be a useful management tool for producers and/or their PVP to support continuous improvement in pig welfare and reduce financial losses at slaughter due to carcass condemnation. Across a number of agricultural sectors, positive relationships between farmers and their veterinarian form a key component in information dissemination and capacity building [6, 10, 33]. In this study, producers reported that the PVP had a central role on their farms. With respect to the potential use of MI data, the PVP was also identified as being potentially important in working with producers to address health and welfare issues identified through MI data. This finding mirrors research elsewhere. For example, veterinarians are often relied on exclusively for communicating disease-related information at farm level  and are seen as a trusted source of information for helping producers improve on-farm management [10, 26].
Considering the challenges identified in this paper, the further development and utilisation of MI data as a health and welfare diagnostic tool may require the implementation of an effective communication strategy. Such an approach could have at its core, the objective of building trust and a culture of partnership between all stakeholders, while informing producers on the implications of certain pig-related health and welfare problems, and enabling and empowering them to see the producer-centred benefits of MI data. In line with general recommendations put forward by Garforth , the information communicated may need to be targeted, and involve some component of PVP participation. Indeed, this study looks only at perceptions around the usefulness of information but does not consider factors which may impact on the actual behavioural implementation of health and welfare measures informed by MI data. In order to achieve full effectiveness, any communication around the use of MI data in informing herd health plans should also consider the factors that exist at farm-level, such as producer attitudes and perceptions around risk, behavioural motivations, sense of self-efficacy, and competence in carrying out animal health and welfare actions [33, 37–39].