How to Feed the World

That's the title of a new book edited by Jessica Eise and Ken Foster that was just released last week.  The book is a collection of essays primarily from my colleagues in the Department of Agricultural Economics here at Purdue, but it includes contributions from Purdue faculty in other academic disciplines as well.  I had the privilege of writing the afterward.  

Here is the table of contents:

Chapter 1. Inhabitants of Earth- Brigitte S Walforf
Chapter 2. The Green, Blue, and Gray Water Rainbow- Laura C Bowling and Keith A Cherkauer
Chapter 3. The Land that Shapes and Sustains Us- Otto Doering and Ann Sorensen
Chapter 4. Our Changing Climate- Jeff Dukes and Thomas W Hertel
Chapter 5. The Technology Ticket- Uris Baldos
Chapter 6. Systems- Michael Gunderson, Ariana Torres, Michael Boehlje, and Rhonda Phillips
Chapter 7. Tangled Trade- Thomas W Hertel
Chapter 8. Spoiled, Rotten, and Left Behind- Ken Foster
Chapter 9. Tipping the Scales on Health- Steven Y Wu
Chapter 10. Social License to Operate- Nicole J Olynk Widmar
Chapter 11. The Information Hinge- Jessica Eise
Chapter 12. Achieving Equal Access- Gerald Shively


I Will Give You My Vote but Not My Money: Preferences for Public versus Private Action in Addressing Social Issues

That's the title of a paper by Bailey Norwood, Glynn Tonsor, and myself that was just released by the journal, Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy.

We start the paper as follows:

Social issues in agriculture such as animal welfare and food insecurity pose two primary concerns: whether any action is going to be taken and, if it is, the extent to which action is taken in the private or public realm. Those who are concerned about animal welfare in conventional egg production can take private action by purchasing cage-free eggs, or they can encourage public action by voting for bans on the use of cages in egg production. Private action to mitigate food insecurity includes donating to food banks, while its public counterpart is government programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

A summary of the study and findings:

This study explores the extent to which individuals will support public action but, in its absence, will not commit their own voluntary efforts. An internet survey was administered to over 3,500 individuals with hypothetical scenarios in which they could donate their own money toward a cause and/or support government action. When asked to choose between public or private action, most chose a combination of the two, suggesting that public and private partnerships are the preferred vehicle for solutions to social problems. Close to 20% indicated they would vote for laws to confront an issue but not contribute their own private donations.

Understanding the Impacts of Food Consumer Choice and Food Policy Outcomes

The journal Applied Economics Perspectives and Policy just published a special issue in which  agricultural and applied economists provide their thoughts on how we might help tackle some of society’s most difficult problems and challenges.  I co-authored one of the articles with Jill McCluskey.  Here's the abstract:

The food consumer plays an increasingly prominent role in shaping the food and farming system. A better understanding of how public policies affect consumer choice and how those choices impact health, environment, and food security outcomes is needed. This paper addresses several key challenges we see for the future, including issues related to dietary-related diseases and the efficacy of policies designed to improve dietary choices, trust in the food system, acceptance of new food and farm technologies, environmental impacts of food consumption, preferences for increased food quality, and issues related to food safety. We also identify some research challenges and barriers that exist when studying these issues, including data quality and availability, uncertainty in the underlying biological and physical sciences, and the challenges to welfare economics that are presented by behavioral economics. We also identify the unique role that economists can play in helping address these key societal challenges.

Other contributions in the special issue include:

  • "Agricultural and Applied Economics Priorities for Solving Societal Challenges" by Jill McCluskey, Gene Nelson, and Caron Gala
  • "Economics of Sustainable Development and the Bioeconomy" by David Zilberman, Ben Gordon, Gal Hochman, Justus Wesseler
  • "Sustaining our Natural Resources in the Face of Increasing Societal Demands on Agriculture: Directions for Future Research" by Madhu Khanna, Scott Swinton, Kent D Messer
  • "Climate Change as an Agricultural Economics Research Topic" by Bruce McCarl and Tom Hertel
  • "Big Data in Agriculture: A Challenge for the Future" by Keith Coble, Ashok Mishra, Shannon Ferrell, and Terry Griffin
  • "The Economic Status of Rural America in the President Trump Era and beyond" by Stephan Goetz, Mark Partridge, Heather Stephens
  • "Food Insecurity Research in the United States: Where We Have Been and Where We Need to Go" by Craig Gundersen and James Ziliak
  • "The Farm Economy: Future Research and Education Priorities" by Allen Featherstone
  • "A Research Agenda for International Agricultural Trade" by Will Martin
  • "Energy Economics" by Wally Tyner, and Nisal Herath

Do consumers care how a genetically engineered food was created or who created it?

That's the tile of a new paper I co-authored with Brandon McFadden at University of Florida and Norbert Wilson at Tufts that was just released in a special issue of Food Policy, which is focused on genetically engineered food (aka GMOs).

In some ways, our paper is like three papers smushed into one: we tie several analyses together under one theme.  Here's part of the motivation:

heterogeneity [in preference] across products or breeding technologies rather than people is important because a “GMO” is not a single thing, but rather represents a class of many possible foods and technologies that could have been created for many different reasons by different innovators. The ever-changing capability to modify genomes in new ways requires asking new questions. Understanding consumer reactions to different GE foods, technologies, and innovators is increasingly important as new technologies such as CRISPR or gene editing have
emerged which avoid transgenic manipulations. Additionally, new start-ups and non-profits have entered the space with new products that differ from those commercialized by large agribusinesses

In addition to documenting whether concern for GMOs has increased over time (answer: they haven't), we study whether:

(1) certain kinds of GE foods or plant breeding technologies are more acceptable to consumers, (2) consumers prefer that all biotech applications applied to food be regulated identically, and (3) preferences for GE food depend on the innovator.

We find that people are most supportive of regulations that focus on the outcomes from plant breeding rather than focusing on the particulars of which breeding method was used.  We also find that support or opposition to a GMO depends on who created the GMO.  Finally, concerns about the safety of GMOs are related to consumers' perceptions of who benefits from the GMO.  Here's one of the key figures.  


Who Says They Waste Food (and when)?

Applied Economics Perspectives and Policy just published a paper I co-authored with Brenna Ellison entitled "Examining Household Food Waste Decisions: A Vignette Approach."  Here is a summary of the paper:

The purpose of this research is to examine household (consumer) food waste decisions. Because measuring food waste is fraught with difficulty, our first contribution is the application of vignette methodology to the issue of food waste. Our second contribution is to systematically determine how decisions to waste food vary with factors such as price, location, cost of replacement, and freshness, among other factors. The empirical analysis is concentrated on specific food waste decisions: one focused on leftovers from a fully prepared meal and a second related to a single product (milk). The empirical results show that decisions to discard food are a function of consumers’ demographic characteristics and some of the factors experimentally varied in the vignette design.

In particular, each subject saw a description like the following (where they saw one of the values in each of the brackets): 

Imagine this evening you go to the refrigerator to pour a glass of milk. While taking out the carton of milk, which is [one quarter; three quarters] full, you notice that it is one day past the expiration date. You open the carton and the milk smells [fine; slightly sour]. [There is another unopened carton of milk in your refrigerator that has not expired; no statement about replacement]. Assuming the price of a half-gallon carton of milk at stores in your area is [$2.50; $5.00], what would you do? “Pour the expired milk down the drain” or “Go ahead and drink the expired milk”

I suspect you won't be too surprised to hear that "smell" had a significant effect on consumers' decisions to waste or not waste.  Apparently food safety considerations are one key driver of household food waste decisions.  

We also had another vignette surrounding the decision of whether to keep a leftover meal.  The findings?

In the case of meal leftovers, respondents were generally less likely to waste the leftovers when the meal cost was high, when there were leftovers for a whole meal, when there were no future meal plans, and when the meal was prepared at home. Many of these relationships have a very obvious time component. Leftovers can save individuals time when there is enough for a whole meal and there are no future meal plans; further, when a meal is prepared at home, there is already a time cost for that meal (albeit a sunk cost) that people do not want to discount by throwing the leftovers out.