Animal-Welfare Economic Research Questions

I hear a lot about how the an­i­mal welfare move­ment could use more eco­nomic anal­y­sis. I was won­der­ing if any­one has spe­cific ideas about what re­search ques­tions are im­por­tant. Is there already an on­go­ing list any­where? Here are some ini­tial thoughts on what might be use­ful:

What does the de­vel­op­ment liter­a­ture sug­gest about strate­gies to im­prove the economies of ru­ral ar­eas with­out rely­ing on agri­cul­ture? I’m guess­ing there are a ton of su­per ca­pa­ble non-an­i­mal-ac­tivists work­ing on this, so I am not sure this is the best use of most an­i­mal-fo­cused peo­ple’s time, but it is so im­por­tant for the move­ment that I will keep it in the list.

What are the cost of pro­duc­tion im­pli­ca­tions of welfare en­hanc­ing laws? This seems like it would only be helpful to have if the es­ti­mate was low.

What are the cost of pro­duc­tion and will­ing­ness to pay com­par­i­sons of farmed vs. wild-caught fish?

What are the im­pacts of var­i­ous in­ter­ven­tions to change in­di­vi­d­ual’s diets? How much does each in­ter­ven­tion cost?

What are the cost-effec­tive­ness of var­i­ous higher-level (leg­is­la­tive/​cor­po­rate/​or­ga­ni­za­tional/​large-scale ad cam­paign) in­ter­ven­tions?

How many an­i­mals get saved with var­i­ous by­catch-pre­ven­tion laws? Is ad­vo­cat­ing for poli­cies like min­i­mum net-hole size cost-effec­tive? Var­i­ous forms of these poli­cies are already in place for lots of U.S. fish­eries, but they vary.

What is the effect of the use of the “USDA Or­ganic” la­bel on the num­ber of an­i­mals pro­duced. In par­tic­u­lar, or­ganic crops use ma­nure as fer­til­izer whereas non-or­ganic crops tend to use syn­thetic fer­til­izer. Does that have any effect on the sup­ply of an­i­mals?

Similarly, or­ganic farm­ing takes up much more land. How does that af­fect the num­ber of an­i­mals kil­led by com­bines? Should we ac­tively take a po­si­tion against or­ganic food as a move­ment? What other an­i­mal welfare im­pli­ca­tions does or­ganic food la­bel­ing have? To be clear, I mean these as true ques­tions—I don’t have a strong opinion.

What does the mar­ket for small fish used in fish-oil look like? What are differ­ences in con­sumer per­cep­tions and will­ing­ness to pay be­tween fish oil and plant-based (e.g. flax/​hemp) omega 3 sources? Are there ar­eas that most con­sumers see an ad­van­tage in plant-based oils that the mar­ket can ex­ploit? Is this a cost-effec­tive path to spend time on?

What are likely pro­jec­tions of the cost of pro­duc­tion of cel­lu­lar ag? GFI has a very good re­port about me­dia costs, and I don’t think peo­ple out­side gfi/​cel­lu­lar ag in­dus­try/​similar or­ga­ni­za­tions are par­tic­u­larly well-po­si­tioned to con­tribute here, but I’d be in­ter­ested to hear if any­one dis­agrees.

What are the de­ter­mi­nants of what is in the farm bill and who votes in fa­vor of it? This has been stud­ied some and my un­der­stand­ing is that votes in fa­vor and against are de­ter­mined pretty me­chan­i­cally by num­ber of farm­ers and snap re­cip­i­ents in the dis­trict. Maybe this can be used to iden­tify swing farm bill dis­tricts and tar­get rele­vant ad cam­paigns there?

What are the sup­ply effects of var­i­ous farm poli­cies? This seems only use­ful if farm sub­sidy policy is a tractable thing to change, which it prob­a­bly isn’t. There is a liter­a­ture on this but it is small and has some prob­lems.

What are the price and in­come elas­tic­i­ties and cross-price elas­tic­i­ties of an­i­mal prod­ucts? This is well stud­ied and read­ily available, but I am not sure whether the im­pli­ca­tions are ac­cessible to ac­tivists.

What are the cross-price elas­tic­i­ties be­tween an­i­mal prod­ucts and their plant based analogs? What are the own-price and in­come elas­tic­i­ties of analogs?

What kinds of peo­ple buy plant-based analogs? What are their de­mo­graph­ics? What other foods do they buy? Does it de­pend on the sea­son ? How much does a store car­ry­ing a new product in­crease con­sump­tion of plant-based al­ter­na­tives for differ­ent types of con­sumers?

Does it change with age for in­di­vi­d­u­als? I know fau­n­a­lyt­ics does a lot of this kind of re­search, but it seems to me more might be war­ranted for tar­geted mes­sag­ing?

How does product place­ment of analogs af­fect pur­chases? It seems like peo­ple have this mostly figured out, but even marginal im­prove­ments are im­por­tant.

How does product pre­sen­ta­tion af­fect ac­cep­tance? Eg the shape of the con­tainer. Again, I’m sure com­pa­nies have already stud­ied this, but more in­sights might be out there.

What are the in­come pro­files of an­i­mal farm­ers? What are their off farm jobs and what per­centage of their in­come comes from there? Th­ese are pub­li­cly available in an ag­gre­gated form but again the im­pli­ca­tions may not be read­ily ac­cessible to ac­tivists.

What are con­sumer at­ti­tudes and will­ing­ness to pay on clean and plant based analogs un­der differ­ent cir­cum­stances? Jayson Lusk does a lot of work on this type as do some oth­ers, but the liter­a­ture is a bit thin.

How does prop 12 and similar leg­is­la­tion af­fect num­ber of an­i­mals? How does it af­fect num­ber in cages/​crates/​etc.?

How do trade wars and other ran­dom non-ag poli­cies af­fect the num­ber of an­i­mals slaugh­tered? This does not strike me as par­tic­u­larly ac­tion­able, but I’d be in­ter­ested in oth­ers’ opinion on that.

How are the clean and plant-based meat In­dus­tries likely to grow over the com­ing years?

How would differ­ent analogs af­fect differ­ent an­i­mal product mar­kets in terms of num­ber of an­i­mals slaugh­tered? What about im­port vs. ex­ports and re­gional differ­ences? This might be helpful to know for poli­ti­cal rea­sons. For ex­am­ple, if an ana­log will af­fect mostly im­ports or mostly farms in a non-swing state/​dis­trict, then maybe that’s less threat­en­ing to reg­u­la­tors that might be swayed by in­fluen­tial reps.

There a many situ­a­tions like rbst (the hor­mone for cows that in­creases milk pro­duc­tion), which make life worse for the cows that have it, but also re­sult in fewer cows born (be­cause it in­creases milk pro­duc­tion). What do these trade-offs look like? For ex­am­ple, con­sid­er­ing the ad­di­tional effects of a lower pro­duc­tion price per unit, how does rbst (and other analo­gous hor­mones for other an­i­mals) change the num­ber of an­i­mals slaugh­tered? An­swers to this ques­tion of course leave us with sub­stan­tial philo­soph­i­cal and strate­gic challenges.

Con­versely, there are other tech­nolo­gies that might be both profit-in­creas­ing (and there­fore # of an­i­mals-in­creas­ing) and welfare in­creas­ing. I am think­ing of in­ter­ven­tions like Tem­ple Grandin’s slaugh­ter houses, or more re­cently robotic milk­ing tech­nolo­gies that in­crease cow mo­bil­ity and re­duce mas­titis, among oth­ers. How much might these tech­nolo­gies change profit pro­files and sup­ply trends?

What an­i­mal product mar­kets have weak­nesses (e.g. de­clin­ing de­mand, in­creas­ing in­put price, food safety is­sues that might get worse, un­cer­tain trade part­ners etc)that might be par­tic­u­larly vuln­er­a­ble to sub­sti­tu­tion?

Are there any ways that the fsa method­ol­ogy sys­tem­at­i­cally over­es­ti­mates pay­ments to farm­ers? I sus­pect that if the an­swer is yes then it is still not ac­tion­able.

I’m sure there are oth­ers to add and some of these are not su­per ac­tion­able. Others might be good to know but not the best use of economists’ time. Thoughts?

On an­other note, I am in­ter­ested in Lewis Bol­lard’s open philan­thropy newslet­ter which seems to have some ideas about this sort of stuff but I can’t find back is­sues. Does any­one have a link to where I might find those?