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

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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
JournalEnvironment and Planning C: Government and Policy
Issue number1
Early online date2 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


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


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