Science Weighs In: Animal Welfare Reform Is Useless
An Animal Rights Article from


Gary Francione, Abolitionist Approach
March 2011

[Read more at Abolition - The Only Path to Animal Liberation and Animal Welfare Or Animal Rights? Dismantling a False Opposition]

Those who support welfare reform are all excited. They are pointing to an article in the Journal of Agricultural Economics entitled Impacts of Animal Well-Being and Welfare Media on Meat Demand and welfarists claim “Science Weighs in At Last: Campaigns for Welfarist Reforms Cause People to Buy Significantly Less Meat.”

I am presently talking with colleagues trained in economics and statistics/study design to present a full reply to this study, which I think suffers from multiple methodological problems and is poorly designed. But I would suggest that even a casual review of the article indicates that the claims by welfarists are, to say the least, hyperbolic.

First off, meat consumption is increasing and not decreasing. This study does not say that welfare campaigns have resulted in any actual decrease in consumption. Rather, it says that demand, measured over an approximately ten-year period, did not increase as much as the authors would have thought if media attention on welfare issues had not increased. The authors acknowledge that this reduction in demand increase is “small, but statistically significant.”

There are many, many problems with the study. For example, the authors were not able to find the same “small” result in the case of cows. Moreover, the authors claim that “this lost demand is found to exit the meat complex rather than spillover and enhance demand of competing meats.” But they define the “meat complex” as involving cows, pigs, and poultry. The lower rate of demand increase, small as the authors acknowledge it is, may have shifted to many of the other animal products that are not part of the “meat complex” as defined. The authors also make clear that there are problems linking the results they found to animal welfare concerns.

In short: animal consumption is increasing but it did not increase as much with respect to pigs and chickens and that might have been due to animal welfare concerns but it might not have had anything to do with animal welfare concerns, and any failure of demand increase may very well reflect a shift to fish, eggs, dairy products, and prepared meat foods.

And welfarists are excited about this?

In the past ten years, welfare organizations have spent billions of dollars in promoting welfare campaigns. Putting aside the methodological problems with this study, if this is the best that welfarists can show, then I would agree that science has, indeed, weighed in: animal welfare reform is useless and completely cost-ineffective.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It’s easy; it’s better for your health and for the planet. But, most important, it’s the morally right thing to do. You will never do anything else in your life as easy and satisfying. 

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