Reducing Meat Consumption?

A couple weeks ago, The Economist ran this story about people’s stated efforts to reduce meat consumption. Here is their key graph, which shows demographic breakdowns in how people responded to this question.


These demographic results are largely consistent with many of the survey results I’ve generated over the past few years. For example, here are demographic breakdowns of people who self declare as vegetarian/vegan vs. meat eater. Like the study mentioned in The Economist, we find politically liberal individuals are much more likely to be vegetarians/vegans as compared to politically conservative individuals.

Also, see this study where I estimated beef demand. Again, demand for steak and ground beef increases the more conservative the respondent.

More broadly, the study mentioned by The Economist suggests:

Twenty-seven per cent of respondents in our survey say they have made an effort to reduce their consumption of meat in the past year.

That’s a bit of a strange framing because if you look at USDA data on consumption (or “disappearance”), over the past four to five years it has been increasing. As for measures of meat demand, such as these complied by Glynn Tonsor at K-State, demand today for beef and pork is quite a bit higher than in 2010 or 2011.

Maybe, this is a way of saying that I’m skeptical of questions like that in The Economist that ask, in a somewhat leading way, how much are one trying to reduce consumption of X. A more balanced question shows much different results.

For example, see the results of this study on pork I conducted with Glynn Tonsor, Ted Schroeder, and Dermot Hayes for the Pork Board. We report:

One of the initial questions asked respondents, “Over the past five years, has your consumption of pork chops increased or decreased?” 32.9% indicated consumption had increased, 57.5% responded “stayed the same,” and the remaining 9.6% indicated consumption had decreased.

For the 9.6% who said “decrease”, we asked why, and the most common response was, “Other meat options have become more attractive.” So, in this case, even among people who said they were eating less pork, it’s because they’re eating more of other types of meat.

Or, here are the results of a survey I conducted last year, where I asked the same question but this time about chicken consumption. The result?

One of the initial questions asked respondents, “Over the past five years, has your consumption of chicken increased or decreased?” 47.4% indicated consumption had increased, 48.5% responded “stayed the same,” and the remaining 4.1% indicated consumption had decreased.

The most commonly stated reason among the 4.1% who said “decrease” was “Chicken has become less tasty.”

It’s interesting that when given the option of “increase or decrease”, I only find 9.6% of pork consumers and 4.1% of chicken consumers say they’re decreasing consumption, both of which are far lower than the 27% suggested by The Economist.