A couple months ago, I was asked to give a talk at a TEDx event put on at Purdue University. The video is finally available online. I talked about the evolution of animal agriculture and the impacts on food prices and animal welfare, and I ended with my proposal for an animal welfare market, which I've previously written about here and here.
Remember the long running campaign by the Pork Board?
The campaign pitching pork as the other white meat made sense at a time when there was rising concern about fat content and red meat consumption and increased competition from chicken. But, times have changed.
One of the changes has come about from scientific developments. As it turns out, pork color is a good indicator of eating quality, and in blind taste tests, consumers prefer redder pork to whiter pork. Do consumers know this? Could a quality labeling system help coordinate the pork supply chain and better align production with consumers' eating expectations?
These were the questions that led to this paper just released by the journal Food Policy that I co-authored with Glynn Tonsor, Ted Schroeder, and Dermot Hayes with funding by the National Pork Board (a longer report of the results is here).
We surveyed about 2,000 consumers for the analysis reported in the Food Policy paper. We were mainly interested in how consumers' choices between pork (and other meat) products varied with the color of the pork and whether and which kinds of labels were present. Consumers were randomly assigned to a control (with no labels) or one of several treatment groups that utilized different labeling systems. Below shows a particular choice question used in the various treatments.
We use the choices consumers made in these treatments to back out consumers' willingness-to-pay, but even more importantly, the probability a consumer buys any type of pork and the expected revenue from pork. For the economists out there, I'll note that we also have some methodological innovation. Rather than just looking at the probability of buying a type of pork at a given set of prices, we also invert the equations to look at the equilibrium price of pork at a given quantity of different types of pork (this is important because in the short run, pork producers can't easily produce a larger amount of higher quality pork).
So, what did we find?
We go on to show there is significant heterogeneity in consumer preferences. We find that 28% to 40%, depending on the labeling condition, of consumers prefer white pork to red pork.
From the conclusions:
As this piece in the Federal Register indicates, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service is seeking public comment on the usefulness of such a labeling system. Maybe one day in the future you will see new pork quality grade labels in the grocery store.
A few years ago when the federal dietary guidelines were being discussed, there seemed to be a growing consensus that nutritional goals and sustainable goals could be jointly achieved with a single diet. I pushed back some on that at the time (e.g., see here or here).
I ran across this paper by Zach Conrad and colleagues that was just published in PLoS ONE. The paper shows that there is unlikely to be a silver bullet diet free of trade-offs when multiple dimensions of comparison are involved. Here's from the abstract:
That's the title of a new report put out by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. Nicole Widmar and I helped contribute to the section on economics.
A lot is covered in a mere 40 pages. The main section heads include:
- Roles of Science and Ethics in Evaluating, Understanding, and Improving Animal Welfare
- Economics and Markets for Animal Welfare
- Regulation of Animal Welfare
- Assessment of Welfare
- Advances in Animal Welfare and Outstanding Challenges
- Emerging Topics
- Future Neets
It’s an honor to join such a prestigious group of scientists in pulling together this multidisciplinary report.
I recently ran across a claim I've heard many times in the past about animal protein production and animal welfare. It goes something like the following: happier animals put on weight more efficiently because they aren't stressed by disease and discomfort. So, a producer can't make money unless they takes care of their animals, meaning the profit motive and improving animal welfare are aligned.
There is an element of truth to this line of reasoning. But, it's not the whole story. I discussed this issue in a paper entitled Animal Welfare Economics published back in 2011 with Bailey Norwood.
Here is a key paragraph describing the problem:
We then walk through a numerical example showing that even when animal welfare and animal output are very highly correlated, a producer will tend to stock hens more hens than would be given by the stocking density that would maximize animal welfare. The main insight is that the producer aims to maximize the profit from the BARN not the ANIMAL.
The figure below shows the particular example we walk through. The rest of the details are in the paper.