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UW and partners launch project examining sustainability in animal agriculture

Researchers from the University of Washington School of Public Health (UW SPH), together with collaborators from the Washington State University (WSU) Food Systems program, the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment, and the Washington D.C.-based Agriculture & Food Systems Institute, are embarking on a multi-year interdisciplinary effort investigating the intersection of animal agriculture, environmental sustainability, and animal welfare. The cross-institutional team plans to examine alignment and misalignment between consumer demands related to meat production and what meat producers need to best address environmental sustainability and animal welfare.  

Led by project director Dr. Sarah Collier, co-director Dr. Jennifer Otten, and co-investigator Dr. Marie Spiker, the endeavor will span multiple methodological approaches including interviews, surveys, qualitative systems mapping, and the development of a special topics course to be implemented at both UW and WSU. Dr. Collier explains:

The goal is to better understand how the complexity of decision-making related to sustainability in animal agriculture is conceptualized among different groups of producers and consumers, and how that information is or isn’t currently shared. As the sustainability of our food production systems and dietary choices becomes an ever more pressing area of public concern, we hope that insights generated through this project will help to build understanding and trust between producers and consumers, and ultimately enable swifter progress towards enhancing the sustainability of domestic meat production.

The project, titled Complexity and tradeoffs in animal agriculture sustainability: building awareness and trust between producers and consumers, began officially in July of 2022, and is planned to conclude the summer of 2024. Work will draw from the diverse backgrounds of team members, who together represent a wide breadth of expertise, professional connections, and experience with agricultural and food systems, meat production, environmental sustainability, and public health. 

“It is a pleasure to work with such a knowledgeable and wide-ranging team of scholars” says Dr. Otten. “I think the diversity of approaches and skills within our team will really help to elevate the potential impact of this work well beyond what it otherwise may have been were we constrained by disciplinary or institutional boundaries.” The project is the latest in a growing number of inter-institutional food systems initiatives involving program investigators. 

The work is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), via the institute’s Inter Disciplinary Engagement in Animal Systems (IDEAS) program. You may contact the study team at

October 17, 2022