The Economics of Animal Welfare

Tue, Jul 12 2022, 8:30am - 4:00pm PDT
Margaret Jacks Hall, Building 460, Room 426
450 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford
[Hybrid session]

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Organized by


  • Marc Fleurbaey, Paris School of Economics
  • Caroline Hoxby, Stanford University
  • Lisa Kramer, University of Toronto
  • Nicolas Treich, Toulouse School of Economics
  • With the assistance of Zach Freitas-Groff, Stanford University

On July 12 2022, SITE will be hosting its first-ever session on The Economics of Animal Welfare. The session will bring together theoretical work on animal wellbeing and empirical work on supply and demand forces on animal welfare. For instance, we welcome submissions on how to bring animal wellbeing into welfare economics and on the effects of policies intended to improve humane treatment of animals. We encourage submissions of abstracts and papers taking a range of approaches to the topic.

The meeting will be hybrid (in-person and via Zoom). In-person attendees will meet in a beautiful conference room at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) and enjoy some travel support as well as meals during the day and a group dinner.

In This Session

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Jul 12

8:00 am - 8:30 am PDT

Check-In and Breakfast

Jul 12

8:30 am - 8:40 am PDT

Welcome Introduction

Jul 12

8:40 am - 9:30 am PDT

Separable Social Welfare Evaluation for Multi-Species Populations

Presented by: Dean Spears (University of Texas at Austin)
Co-author(s): Stephane Zuber (Paris School of Economics) and Mark B. Budolfsonc (Rutgers University)

If non-human animals experience wellbeing and suffering, such welfare consequences arguably should be included in a social welfare evaluation. Yet economic evaluations almost universally ignore non-human animals, in part because axiomatic social choice theory has failed to propose and characterize multi-species social welfare functions. Here we propose axioms and functional forms to fill this gap. We provide a range of alternative representations, characterizing a broad range of possibilities for multi-species social welfare. Among these, we identify a new characterization of additively-separable generalized (multi-species) total utilitarianism. The multi-species setting permits a novel, weak species-level separability axiom with important consequences. We provide examples to illustrate that non-separability across species is implausible in a multi-species setting, in part because good lives for different species are at very different welfare levels. Finally, we explore the consequences for evaluating climate policy and understanding speciesism and non-climate environmental goals, such as biodiversity.

Jul 12

9:30 am - 10:20 am PDT

Animals and Social Welfare

Presented by: Romain Espinosa (CNRS)

Cost-benefit analysis lacks the appropriate tools to economically value animal well-being. I propose an easily-implementable framework to evaluate the social gains from policies regarding animals. The model considers both the welfare of animals and the utility that humans derive from animal well-being. The gains in animal welfare are estimated by considering the violations of the animals’ fundamental freedoms weighted for each species. I apply this framework to twenty policy proposals targeting wild, domestic, farmed, and laboratory animals. Although the policies benefit from widespread popular support in France (the annual willingnesses-to-pay range between 15 and 39 Euros per person per year), I show that they have very heterogeneous impacts on animal welfare (valued at between 0.013 and 3,618 Euros per person per year). I further show that humans’ altruistic concerns for animals are a poor predictor of the effective impact of policies on animal welfare. I conclude that it is essential to value animal welfare per se in cost-benefit analyses in order to determine the set of welfare-increasing policies.

Jul 12

10:20 am - 10:50 am PDT

Coffee Break

Jul 12

10:50 am - 11:40 am PDT

The Inelasticity of Meat Consumption

Presented by: Zach Freitas-Groff (Stanford University)
Co-author(s): Carl Meyer (Stanford University)

We study whether new plant-based meat and dairy alternatives and changing policies toward animal welfare affect or can be explained by changing consumer attitudes. We document trends in grocery purchases for different segments of the U.S. population and investigate potential drivers of changing interest in meat, eggs, dairy, and plant-based substitutes in the National Consumer Panel. We initially find little substitution for most consumers. Instead it seems as though the increase in consumption of plant-based alternatives is mainly driven by a small fraction of the population. There is some evidence, however, that this subset of the population is slowly but steadily growing. We plan to complement these descriptive trends with an analysis of how consumption responds to the arrival of novel plant-based substitutes in the grocery store and moving between regions with different consumption patterns. Furthermore, we intend to estimate a learning model to understand how consumers’ beliefs respond to initial purchases of plant-based alternatives.

Jul 12

11:40 am - 12:30 pm PDT

Diet Change for Good: The Long-Term Effects of a Climate-Change Educational Intervention

Presented by: Andrew Jalil (Occidental College) and Joshua Tasoff (Claremont Graduate University)
Co-author(s): Arturo Vargas-Bustamante (University of California, Los Angeles)

Can dietary interventions have lasting effects? This study examines the long-term effects of an educational intervention designed to increase awareness about the role of meat consumption in climate change. In a previous paper (Jalil, Tasoff and Vargas Bustamante, 2020), we studied the effects of such an intervention at a residential U.S. college over one full academic year. We found statistically significant dietary shifts: participants reduced their meat consumption in favor of plant-based alternatives. In this study, we extend our analysis up to three years to identify whether dietary shifts persisted in the long term. Our dataset of individual-level food purchases from the college dining facilities, amounting to more than 100,000 meals, allows us to track the behavior of participants over a prolonged period. We find that dietary changes persisted, with no signs of reversal, through all three years. The declines in meat consumption were 4.5, 6.2 and 9.6 percentage points in years 1, 2, and 3, and the increases in veg consumption were 4.1, 4.7, and 6.7 percentage points, respectively, with p-values < 0.01. We link our food purchase and survey data to examine heterogenous treatment effects. Using our dataset, we are also able to estimate the cumulative effects of our educational intervention, in terms of both reducing the carbon footprint of participants’ meals and the number of animals spared from modern industrial factory farming. We present high-quality evidence that a dietary intervention can have long-lasting effects.

Jul 12

12:30 pm - 1:45 pm PDT


Jul 12

1:45 pm - 2:35 pm PDT

Monetizing the Externalities of Animal Agriculture: Insights from an Inclusive Welfare Function

Presented by: Kevin Kuruc (The University of Oklahoma)
Co-author(s): Jonathan McFadden (USDA)

Animal agriculture encompasses global markets with large externalities from animal welfare and greenhouse gas emissions. We formally study these social costs by embedding an animal inclusive social welfare function into a climate-economy model that includes an agricultural sector. The total external costs are found to be large under the baseline parameterization. These results are driven by animal welfare costs, which themselves are due to an assumption that animal lives are worse than nonexistence. Though untestable—and perhaps controversial—we find support for this qualitative assumption and demonstrate that our results are robust to a wide range of its quantitative interpretations. Surprisingly, the environmental costs play a comparatively small role, even in sensitivity analyses that depart substantially from our baseline case. For the model to find that beef, a climate-intensive product, has a larger total externality than poultry, an animal-intensive product, we must simultaneously reduce the animal welfare externality to 1% of its baseline level and increase climate damages roughly 35-fold. Correspondingly, the model implies both that the animal agriculture sector is much larger than its optimal level and that considerations across products ought to be dominated by animal welfare, rather than climate, effects.

Jul 12

2:35 pm - 3:25 pm PDT

Self-Signaling in Voting

Presented by: Stephanie Wang (University of Pittsburgh)
Co-author(s): Lydia Mechtenberg (University of Hamburg), Grischa Perino (University of Hamburg), Nicolas Treich (University Toulouse Capitole), Jean-Robert Tyran (University of Vienna)

This paper presents a two-wave survey experiment on self-image concerns in
voting. We elicit votes on a ballot initiative in Switzerland that spurred
campaigns involving widely shared normative values. We investigate how
messages that change the self-signaling value of a Yes vote affect selection and
processing of information, and reported voting behavior. We find that a message
enhancing the self-signaling value of a Yes vote is effective: voters agree more
with arguments in favor of the initiative, anticipate more frequently voting in
favor, and report more frequently having voted in favor of the initiative.

Jul 12

3:25 pm - 3:40 pm PDT

Voter-Approved Proposition to Raise California Pork Prices

Presented by: Daniel Sumner (UC Davis) and Hanbin Lee (UC Davis)
Co-author(s): Richard Sexton (UC Davis)

California voters passed Proposition 12 in November 2018 to require more housing space for certain farm animals. We estimate that Prop 12 will cost California pork consumers about $320 million annually due to higher pork prices. 

Jul 12

3:40 pm - 4:00 pm PDT

Open Discussion