“The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human Life on Earth have value in themselves”. –Arne Naess and George Sessions, 1984.
My recently completed research took a multimodal approach to the investigation of the way animal welfare is represented on Sainsbury’s website.
At first, I wanted to compare four leading UK supermarkets: ASDA, Tesco, Morrison’s and Sainsbury’s as each has a different target market as well as a different background. For example, ASDA is a subsidiary of the US Walmart, which may affect the conglomerate’s stance on Animal Welfare.
Due to the limited scope of the project, I was only able to focus on four interrelated webpages: the focus text titled ‘Animal Welfare’ and three anchor texts. The anchor texts are three pages linked from the focus text as ‘related articles’. Specifically, I set out to research what information is given on animal welfare and the affordance of hyperlinks in meaning making.
The premise for the research lies in the notion that supermarkets position themselves as more than food retailers. Supermarkets have aggregated political and financial power, and public trust that enables them, as institutions, to disseminate their ideologies and propagate a certain version of reality (Jaworska and Krishnamurthy, 2012). Supermarkets “own and manage farms and logistic centres, produce food items, manage food laboratories and serve as quality assurance agencies” (Delforce et al. 2005 in Dixon, 2007:29).
With the rise in criticism of factory farming, Alison Moore (2014:60) signals that debates become more mainstream, which in turn raise questions about the “extent to which the practices involve cruelty to animals”.
Using a combination of tools for linguistic analysis such as Critical Discourse Analysis with a specific ecolinguistic approach (Stibbe, 2014) provide a helpful point of departure for situating the issue at hand in the social and political context. A methodical and deeper analysis of the various linguistic features such as types of clauses, participants and nouns, processes and verbs, using Systemic Functional Linguistics as developed by Halliday is complemented by an analysis of images using Visual Grammar (Kress and van Leeuwen, 1996) to give more comprehensive results.
- Animal welfare as a concept shared by the agri-food industry accepts that animals have interests i.e. to be free (from harm), to live out their lives in safety with their families and friends. However, it chooses to disregard these interests to satisfy human desires supported by anthropocentricity.
The social view of animals set forth by the agri-food industry advises that animals be treated with care and respect, while simultaneously conveying the notion that it is possible to care and respect animals while farming and killing them. Sainsbury’s prescribe to this view when the weak deontic modality is expressed in Sainsbury’s Animal Welfare page:
(1) Animals should be treated with care and respect
2. With the consumer’s growing criticism of agri-food practices Sainsbury’s representation of animal welfare attempts to reinforce current perceptions and
ideologies. Sainsbury’s recognises the need to reassure consumers by providing them with agency to influence animal welfare and contribute to conservation by buying certain products for example:
(3) so you can have peace of mind knowing (4) where your food comes from.
(8) Every time you buy a dozen (9) we donate 1p to the Woodland Trust in support of Britain’s
3. Representation of living conditions
Decontextualized images (see a link to my original paper below) allow the images to act as an exemplification of animal welfare and present a false, fragmented and
incomplete reality that, as said above, consumers can reject albeit for most, it is the conscience-quieting they require.
3.1 Representation of animal products and production
The animal welfare multimodal page employs 9 out of 11 realistic images solely depicting animals, suggesting that animals’ interests are represented. However, none of these images are associated with the production and end-products. It could be argued that the images do not represent the true reality of animal production. For
example, Sainsbury’s displays images of “happy hens”, for example, devoid of any visible information of the loci where animal welfare is upheld and where processes take place, i.e. slaughterhouses. Following Stibbe’s (2017) term ‘erasure’, the unique nature
and complexity of the beings represented is erased from the reader’s mind.
Please allow me to demonstrate one particularly pertinent example here (although there are many more in my paper).
This images speaks for itself in its absurdity. The reader is situated in front of the sow at the same height. She kisses one of her babies and does not seem nervous that one of her piglets is looking at the farmer who is onlooking with a pleased, happy smile. The farm worker does not seem to be representing Sainsbury’s: his work clothes do not bear the Sainsbury’s orange brand colour and the logo on his shirt is not legible. It could be said that Sainsbury’s is distancing itself from animal welfare and meat production. The stance taken by the farm worker could be interpreted, perhaps cynically, as though the industry helps pigs to thrive and enjoy their families. The human involvement in meat production, according to the visual presentation, is non-invasive, kind and benefacting.
To conclude this short summary of my research, my aim was to exemplify the way in which Sainsbury’s accrues power and wealth and is able to set their commercial agenda and propagate an ideology that supports their economic goals. Using ecolinguistic approaches is important if we are to raise awareness of the harsh reality of meat, dairy and egg production in the hopes that multinational companies and stakeholders in the agri-business work towards change and transparency.
If you are interested in reading my paper, you can find it here Sainsbury’s Animal Welfare.
This paper is particularly important to me as thanks to this, I was awarded scholarship to work towards a PhD titled: ‘Exploring the implementation of an accounting and engagement framework for extinction prevention’ under the supervision of the brilliant Prof. Jill Atkins and Dr Robert McKay, at the University of Sheffield and work as a Grantham Scholar at the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures. Stay tuned for a new category relating my PhD experience as it unfolds – coming soon!