WASHINGTON, Nov. 17- “The Economics of Farm Animal Happiness” determined that farm animal welfare is an increasingly important topic to agricultural producers and that economists have an important role to play in shaping the debate.

The article appears in the latest issue of Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, a journal of the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association. The writers, Jayson Lusk and Bailey Norwood of Oklahoma State University, discuss the importance of economic research in the animal welfare debate. The writers acknowledged that economists' contributions at this point remain few and far between.

“As this debate gains some steam, it’s crucial that we understand the different economic forces at play, and how they would be impacted by efforts to increase animal welfare,” Lusk said.

The article concludes that people do not know much about how farm animals are raised. The economists’ data revealed that people believe many more animals are raised in free-range type systems than actually are.

“Data suggest that most consumers, when informed about modern production practices such as battery cages or gestation crates, express a willingness-to-pay for the more “humane” alternatives that exceeds the costs of providing them. However, most consumers are not informed and will never become so,” according to the article. 

This public belief makes it difficult to conduct cost-benefit analyses of animal welfare policies, the writers said.

“It also seems difficult to imagine that a cost-of-ignorance or value-of-information sort of analysis would justify policy changes, as animal welfare is – from the perspective of human consumers – a credence good for which they will never know whether they consumed a “lower quality” product,” according to the article. “Attempting to resolve some of these philosophical and economic paradoxes present a significant challenge for future research.”

The authors discussed the value of adding food labels to products that meet a certain standard or creating explicit markets for the level of animal welfare produced on a farm.

The introduction to the article summarized the economists’ findings: “Production economics reveals that producers will not maximize animal welfare, even if animal well-being is highly correlated with output. Welfare economics raises thorny issues about the double-counting of benefits when humans exhibit altruism towards animals, while public economics uncovers potential market failures and possible solutions. Consumer economics provides a means of determining human and animal benefits from animal well-being policies in dollar terms. Overall, economists have much to contribute to the animal welfare debate and the well-being of humans and animals could be improved with more economic analysis on the effects of private and government actions related to animal welfare.”

The full text of this article, “Animal Welfare Economics” is available at www.aepp.oxfordjournals.org.  The article is published in Volume 33, Issue 4 of AEPP.


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