The meat-eater problem (sometimes called the poor meat-eater problem) is the concern that some interventions aimed at helping humans might increase animal product consumption and as a result increase farmed animal suffering, e.g. by increasing real income or human population.
Saving human lives, and making humans more prosperous, seem to be obviously good in terms of direct effects. However, humans consume animal products, and these animal products may cause considerable animal suffering. Therefore, improving human lives may lead to negative effects that outweigh the direct positive effects. This “meat eater problem” suggests that working on global poverty may be less effective than is commonly assumed.
Although it is very difficult to quantify these effects, one estimate suggests that each additional $1,000 per year for a relatively poor individual may cause between 1 and 190 days of animal suffering, though the estimate should not be taken literally (Bogossian 2015). Some have argued that the problem is less significant by claiming that animals have net positive lives, or by arguing that the effect on consumption is relatively small (Weathers 2016).
Bogosian, Kyle (2015) Quantifying the impact of economic growth on meat consumption, Effective Altruism Forum, December 22.
Is an attempt to quantify the effects of increasing income on consumption of animal products.
Holness-Tofts, Alex (2020) Poor meat eater problem, Effective Altruism Forum, July 10.
Östman, Jesper (2009) The poor meat eater problem, Felicifia, October 26.
Shulman, Carl (2015) Comment on “What is the expected effect of poverty alleviation efforts on existential risk?”, Effective Altruism Forum, October 2.
Weathers, Scott (2016) The meat eater problem: developing an EA response, Effective Altruism Forum, February 29.
Argues that the meat eater problem may be less significant than it seems.