The public can influence animal welfare law and regulation. However what constitutes ‘the public’ is not a straightforward matter. A variety of different publics have an interest in animal use and this has implications for the governance of animal welfare. This article presents an ethnographic content analysis of how the concept of a public is mobilized in animal welfare journals from 2003 to 2012. The study was undertaken to explore how experts in the discipline define and regard the role of the public in determining animal welfare standards. Analysis indicates that experts in animal welfare constitute different types of citizen and consumer publics around specific types of animal use, framed by different theories of value. These results suggest a need for greater clarity about the roles and responsibilities of experts and publics in animal welfare reform processes. Clearly citizens and consumers can both contribute to promoting higher welfare standards, but an over-reliance on market mechanisms and consumer behaviour to assign value is beset by moral hazards, foremost being the risk of disarticulating the concept of animal welfare from the public good.