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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Integration of Social and Ethical Awareness in Precision Livestock Farming Research

Guzhva, Oleksiy; Siegford, Janice M.; Kolstrup, Christina Lunner


While fully automated livestock production may be considered the ultimate goal for optimising productivity at the farm level, the benefits and costs of such a development at the scale at which it needs to be implemented must also be considered from social and ethical perspectives. Automation resulting from Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) could alter fundamental views of human-animal interactions on farm and, even further, potentially compromise human and animal welfare and health if PLF development does not include a flexible, holistic strategy for integration. To investigate topic segregation, inclusion of socio-ethical aspects, and consideration of human-animal interactions within the PLF research field, the abstracts from 644 peer-reviewed publications were analysed using the recent advances in the Natural Language Processing (NLP). Two Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) probabilistic models with varying number of topics (13 and 3 for Model 1 and Model 2, respectively) were implemented to create a generalised research topic overview. The visual representation of topics produced by LDA Model 1 and Model 2 revealed prominent similarities in the terms contributing to each topic, with only weight for each term being different. The majority of terms for both models were process-oriented, obscuring the inclusion of social and ethical angles in PLF publications. A subset of articles (5%, n = 32) was randomly selected for manual examination of the full text to evaluate whether abstract text and focus reflected that of the article as a whole. Few of these articles (12.5%, n = 4) focused specifically on broader ethical or societal considerations of PLF or (9.4%, n = 3) discussed PLF with respect to human-animal interactions. While there was consideration of the impact of PLF on animal welfare and farmers in nearly half of the full texts examined (46.9%, n = 15), this was often limited to a few statements in passing. Further, these statements were typically general rather than specific and presented PLF as beneficial to human users and animal recipients. To develop PLF that is in keeping with the ethical values and societal concerns of the public and consumers, projects, and publications that deliberately combine social context with technological processes and results are needed.


human-animal interactions; natural language processing; ethics; social impact; responsible innovation

Published in

Frontiers in animal science
2021, Volume: 2, article number: 725710