Paperwork and the decoupling of audit and animal welfare: The challenges of materiality for better regulation

Maria Paula Escobar-Tello, David Burgess Demeritt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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This article uses the case of animal welfare to contribute to academic debates about audit and
better regulation reforms designed to reduce administrative burdens and increase regulatory
effectiveness. Combining desk-based policy document analysis, on-farm field visits, and 31
interviews with livestock farmers and animal health and welfare inspectors in England, it
explores farmers’ record-keeping practices and the contrasting role regulatory records are
understood to play in assurance and good animal husbandry by farmers, regulatory inspectors,
and veterinary experts. Farmers experience record-keeping as something they must do to satisfy
external regulatory demands rather than anything that good farmers might themselves use in
caring for their livestock. As a result they regard paperwork as burdensome and often fail to
comply with record-keeping requirements. By contrast, inspectors and animal welfare experts
frame record-keeping and analysis as central to good animal husbandry and to a properly
anticipatory approach to managing animal health and welfare. Those veterinary-medical
presumptions about farm practice inform both the design of specific animal welfare recordkeeping
requirements and their self-effacing conceit as being about peering over the farmer’s
shoulder to audit already existing records. Our findings highlight the dual tendency for the
practice of regulatory record-keeping to become decoupled from both the formal
requirements and from the quality of care that paperwork is meant to assure. Our analysis
extends the critical literature on audit and regulation by drawing on the materialist tradition of
science and technology studies to elucidate how this decoupling is shaped by the physical form
and materiality of records themselves.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169–190
Number of pages21
JournalEnvironment and Planning C: Government and Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2016


  • paperwork
  • Audit,
  • animal welfare
  • better regulation
  • inspection
  • farm assurance
  • governance
  • materiality


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