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Compassion, by the Pound: The Economics of Farm Animal Welfare

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For much of human history, most of the population lived and worked on farms but today, information about livestock is more likely to come from children's books than hands-on experience. When romanticized notions of an agrarian lifestyle meet with the realities of the modern industrial farm, the result is often a plea for a return to antiquated production methods. The resul For much of human history, most of the population lived and worked on farms but today, information about livestock is more likely to come from children's books than hands-on experience. When romanticized notions of an agrarian lifestyle meet with the realities of the modern industrial farm, the result is often a plea for a return to antiquated production methods. The result is a brewing controversy between animal activist groups, farmers, and consumers that is currently being played out in ballot boxes, courtrooms, and in the grocery store. Where is one to turn for advice when deciding whether to pay double the price for cage-free eggs, or in determining how to vote on ballot initiates seeking to ban practices such as the use of gestation crates in pork production or battery cage egg production? At present, there is no clear answer. What is missing from the animal welfare debate is an objective approach that can integrate the writings of biologists and philosophers, while providing a sound and logical basis for determining the consequences of farm animal welfare policies. What is missing in the debate? Economics. This book journeys from the earliest days of animal domestication to modern industrial farms. Delving into questions of ethics and animal sentience, the authors use data from ingenious consumers' experiments conducted with real food, real money, and real animals to compare the costs and benefits of improving animal care. They show how the economic approach to animal welfare raises new questions and ethical conundrums, as well as providing unique and counter-intuitive results.


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For much of human history, most of the population lived and worked on farms but today, information about livestock is more likely to come from children's books than hands-on experience. When romanticized notions of an agrarian lifestyle meet with the realities of the modern industrial farm, the result is often a plea for a return to antiquated production methods. The resul For much of human history, most of the population lived and worked on farms but today, information about livestock is more likely to come from children's books than hands-on experience. When romanticized notions of an agrarian lifestyle meet with the realities of the modern industrial farm, the result is often a plea for a return to antiquated production methods. The result is a brewing controversy between animal activist groups, farmers, and consumers that is currently being played out in ballot boxes, courtrooms, and in the grocery store. Where is one to turn for advice when deciding whether to pay double the price for cage-free eggs, or in determining how to vote on ballot initiates seeking to ban practices such as the use of gestation crates in pork production or battery cage egg production? At present, there is no clear answer. What is missing from the animal welfare debate is an objective approach that can integrate the writings of biologists and philosophers, while providing a sound and logical basis for determining the consequences of farm animal welfare policies. What is missing in the debate? Economics. This book journeys from the earliest days of animal domestication to modern industrial farms. Delving into questions of ethics and animal sentience, the authors use data from ingenious consumers' experiments conducted with real food, real money, and real animals to compare the costs and benefits of improving animal care. They show how the economic approach to animal welfare raises new questions and ethical conundrums, as well as providing unique and counter-intuitive results.

47 review for Compassion, by the Pound: The Economics of Farm Animal Welfare

  1. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Hageman

    The book takes one of the most seemingly impartial and objective looks at the issue of farm animal welfare I've yet to come across, particularly as an issue in practice rather than mere principle. While the justifications for the relevant market-elasticity calculations did seem limited in for a given individual diet, the authors also went on to state within the same 'Chapter 8: Your Eating Ethics', on p. 224, that "When it comes to the well-being of animals, it is the total consumption of the fo The book takes one of the most seemingly impartial and objective looks at the issue of farm animal welfare I've yet to come across, particularly as an issue in practice rather than mere principle. While the justifications for the relevant market-elasticity calculations did seem limited in for a given individual diet, the authors also went on to state within the same 'Chapter 8: Your Eating Ethics', on p. 224, that "When it comes to the well-being of animals, it is the total consumption of the food products that matters, not any one person's particular choices." This was claimed just after outlining the extent to which total production of a product falls given an individual's willingness to forgo 1lb of said product, and just prior to p. 233, where the number of animals associated with production of said food was outlined. Hence, it was not clear to me where the authors stood on this matter. They need to clarify whether or not, with respect to animal well-being, an individual's purchase of a given product does indeed percolate down to have tractable effects on an animal that may/may not be brought into existence. Or, are the numbers calculated here based off the assumption that each individual's consumption has an effect proportional the total consumption, which as a whole has an obviously tractable effect? An apt analogy might be a situation where it's said that the voter of a winning candidate is 0.00X responsible for the victory, as proportional to the number of votes said candidate won by, even though their vote, had it not been cast, would have still left the same candidate as the resultant victor. This sort of consideration is more serious for the issue at hand, rather than issues like recycling and climate change, since the latter is based on scaled effects, and the former two scenarios are based on binary outcomes, i.e. animal brought into existence/candidate winning an election. I'm hoping to reach out to the authors about this inquiry, as their textbook titled 'Agricultural Marketing and Price Analysis' also does not seem to address the issue clearly..and will update this review if/when I hear back from then. Aside from this, their history of animal agriculture, studies to evaluate human value of farm animals, and even their touching on the philosophy of it all, was very thorough. I think the 'happy cow' argument gets taken a bit too far, and presupposes the non-agent centered view of morality/well-being, but I certainly can't fault them for avoid a discussion of antinatalism, if that's what they were doing. All in all, great coverage of a multitude of issues, for anyone who wants to seriously get into the weeds on this topic.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    This is a strange book. I used to be a vegetarian, but in 2015 started eating ethically raised meat. My thinking was that if the world became vegetarian (either through moral choice or maybe if it becomes cheap enough to grow artificial meat in vats), then most farm animals will cease to exist. While that isn't necessarily a bad thing, neither do I think it's morally laudable; it's just kind of a gray area. So I came around to thinking that if an animal lives a life worth living, it's not wrong t This is a strange book. I used to be a vegetarian, but in 2015 started eating ethically raised meat. My thinking was that if the world became vegetarian (either through moral choice or maybe if it becomes cheap enough to grow artificial meat in vats), then most farm animals will cease to exist. While that isn't necessarily a bad thing, neither do I think it's morally laudable; it's just kind of a gray area. So I came around to thinking that if an animal lives a life worth living, it's not wrong to eat it (although it's not a moral duty either). My demand for its meat brings it into an existence it wouldn't otherwise have, and if that existence is good, then it's not wrong to eat meat. This book takes this view very seriously. Indeed, it presents arguments that are even stronger. For example, if life in the wild is miserable, "it is possible that the only way animals can enter this world and to experience more happiness than suffering is for them to be under the stewardship of humans." Whoa. It's also a great wealth of information on nearly everything under the sun on this issue: How do we raise animals? Why? What does is mean for non-humans to be happy? Are animals sentient? What alternative ways of raising animals is best for their welfare? What do philosophers think about all this? What do consumers think? What about consumers who have been educated on the topic? What should the government do? What has it done? But in other ways, it's a self-parody of how you expect economists to approach this issue. They quantify everything! Are animals sentient? Here's a 5-question checklist to help solve that issue. (Answer: probably a bit) Which production method is best for animal welfare? Here is one of the author's scoring, ranging from -10 to 10 (anything negative is a life not worth living!). Should I stop eating cage eggs? Here is an algorithm to calculate the moral value of that decision! How much do consumers care about animal welfare? The average American would pay $341.53 to move all chickens in the US from a cage to cage-free system. Because I'm an economist, I found this kind of charming. Hey, you can sit around and debate all day, but at some point you have to make a decision and these guys are just being explicit about how they weigh competing claims. But I wonder if non-economists would find this whole approach batty.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Adom

    I was pretty unimpressed with this book. There was a lot of what came across as sloppy thinking, and overall the content was surprisingly basic for what looked to be a book by and for specialists. Much of the early chapters consisted of a catalogue of the relevant philosophical and economic questions of the sort that anyone interested in the topic could generate, with vague stabs at answers that were similarly weak. In the end I skimmed some chapters that didn't look interesting to me. I did appre I was pretty unimpressed with this book. There was a lot of what came across as sloppy thinking, and overall the content was surprisingly basic for what looked to be a book by and for specialists. Much of the early chapters consisted of a catalogue of the relevant philosophical and economic questions of the sort that anyone interested in the topic could generate, with vague stabs at answers that were similarly weak. In the end I skimmed some chapters that didn't look interesting to me. I did appreciate the exploration of how individual consumers affect demand, which was what originally drew me to the book, though I notice now that I still don't have a very clear sense of how they came up with their numbers. Anyway, I did come away with a few thoughts. Like how, even though it is cheaper in land/etc. to eat vegetables than to feed them to animals and eat the animals, that doesn't mean this is true of realistic veg diets vs meat diets, which may include certain crops that are especially resource intensive. This doesn't seem like a crux, but it was silly not to think of it. Also, I ended up annoyed when they assumed with little evidence that, for example, crate free pork creates happy positive sum pigs, which I think is unlikely, (and then chastised animal rights activists for illogically coming to different conclusion). However, this conclusion on their part did cause me to take more seriously the value (this should be high priority) of figuring out whether they are positive value or not). Hmm, I realize while writing this that I'm not actually confident in my disagreement with them. I'll have to look into that.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cullyn

    Good, balanced look at the farmed animal welfare debate. I think anyone on any side of this issue can gain from reading this. While I disagree with some of the authors' assessments about overall happiness of farmed animals, I have no doubt they are better informed than me and are also sincere in their attempt to be objective. The book also implicitly shows the shortcomings of economic analysis of this issue.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ike Sharpless

    So I haven't read most of this yet, but I can already tell it's going to be frustrating. It does a good job of clearing up a lot of the misconceptions about 'factory farming' bred from an incompletely theorized world-view favoring primitivism against the new or the merely technological. And there's a lot of useful data on actual treatment of animals, and on consumers willingness to pay (WTP) for various material and nonmaterial goods. But at root this ag econ view is just too uninterested in tak So I haven't read most of this yet, but I can already tell it's going to be frustrating. It does a good job of clearing up a lot of the misconceptions about 'factory farming' bred from an incompletely theorized world-view favoring primitivism against the new or the merely technological. And there's a lot of useful data on actual treatment of animals, and on consumers willingness to pay (WTP) for various material and nonmaterial goods. But at root this ag econ view is just too uninterested in taking the deeply problematic implications of nonhuman animal sentience seriously. This is closely related to my academic research, so I'll come back to this one (yay for year-long library checkouts!), but it makes for frustrating reading. For me, at least. If you're a speciesist or strict cognitivist who's interested in restricting this debate to human preferences and to assuming a largely neoliberal conception about the role of markets and the state, this might just be your cup of tea.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Louis Bouchard

    This book covers two topics Modern techniques of animal farming The moral philosophy of animal welfare The techniques part is quite good. It explains the methods, the reason for the method, the effects on the animals, and the economics of it. The moral philosophy part isn't bad, but it's long winded and doesn't make much of a stand one way or the other. The book's very informative, but not a particularly pleasant read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Trey Malone

    If I were to teach a book on farm animal welfare, this would be the on the required reading list. Granted, thinking like an economist can offend some, but this book makes a compelling case for thinking about tradeoffs in the context of farm animals.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Tamse

  9. 4 out of 5

    Pablo Stafforini

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mooncalf

  11. 5 out of 5

    Punnata

  12. 4 out of 5

    Beth

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dima Tsvetkov

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

  15. 4 out of 5

    Luislc

  16. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bruno

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jan

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Siegel

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michele Davis

  21. 4 out of 5

    James Rainbird

  22. 5 out of 5

    Parke Wilde

  23. 5 out of 5

    Cecilia Dunbar Hernandez

  24. 5 out of 5

    Flat

  25. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

  26. 5 out of 5

    Len

  27. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sam

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kim Stallwood

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jose

  31. 5 out of 5

    Grisha

  32. 5 out of 5

    Jason Kirschner

  33. 5 out of 5

    Becky Whitlow

  34. 4 out of 5

    Mel Bush

  35. 4 out of 5

    Jayson Lusk

  36. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  37. 4 out of 5

    Megan Piotrowski

  38. 4 out of 5

    Raúl

  39. 5 out of 5

    Jonas Emanuel

  40. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Rawling

  41. 5 out of 5

    Brenda Koester

  42. 4 out of 5

    T.J. Kasperbauer

  43. 4 out of 5

    April

  44. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

  45. 5 out of 5

    Mark Powell

  46. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Schofield

  47. 5 out of 5

    David

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