CE21 - Alimentation et systèmes alimentaires

Economics of Plant-based Diets and Animal Welfare – EPDAW

Submission summary

There is a growing scientific consensus around the need to significantly reduce the consumption of animal-based products. Springmann et al. (2016) estimate that food production could account for 52% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 if nothing is done, but could decrease to only 15% if humanity adopts plant-based diets. Regarding health, Tilman and Clark (2014) conclude the cessation of meat consumption would reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 41%, cancer risk by 10%, and coronal diseases by 20%.

The last few years have seen the emergence of a real social dynamic aimed at reducing meat consumption and engaging in animal welfare. A recent report by the CREDOC estimated that the consumption of meat products per capita fell by 12% between 2007 and 2016. This reduction in meat consumption has also been accompanied by increased consideration of citizens for animal welfare. The 2016 European Eurobarometer survey noted that 88% of French citizens declared that farm animals should be better protected than they are now. This strong concern for animal welfare has also entered the political game with the creation of an animalist party in 2016, which managed to pass the minimum threshold to obtain public fundings in 86 constituencies at the 2017 legislative elections.

Surprisingly, until very recently, economics has shown little interest in the question of the consumption of animal-based products. This projects aims at developing an economic approach of the consumption of animal-based products. Works in psychology mainly developed a behavioral analysis of meat consumption based on the cognitive dissonance perspective considering the so-called meat paradox (the fact that many individuals care for animal welfare but keep consuming products that induce great damages to animals). They showed that the cognitive dissonance between one’s preferences for animal welfare and one’s dietary choices leads individuals to engage in motivated reasoning.

Economists have also devoted a few works, but in a much more modest number, to the discrepancy between consumption choices and political preferences for meat consumption. Lusk and Nordwood illustrate this vote-buy gap with Proposition 2 passed in 2008 in California by referendum: although most of the eggs sold in this state originated from caged egg-laying hens, a vast majority of citizens voted in favor of the proposition which imposed free-range for egg-laying hens exploitation. The authors explain the discrepancy between collective and private choices as a free-riding problem: the marginal impact of consuming a free-range egg on animal welfare is very limited, but there would be a great gain in collectively improving animal welfare. This public good approach to animal-based products can also be generalized to environmental and health concerns.

This research project contains three work packages mobilizing mostly experimental methods. The first package investigates the consumption of animal-based products as a private choice. Study 1.1 develops economic methods to disentangle cognitive dissonance from naive ignorance. Study 1.2 explores how cognitive dissonance impacts social learning regarding animal-based diets. Study 1.3 proposes a multidisciplinary approach to the vegetarian/vegan epiphanies, i.e., the sudden awareness of the necessity to adopt a plant-based diet. The second package analyzes animal-based diets as a collective choice. Study 2.1 looks at the effectiveness of NGOs' discourses to convince people to adopt plant-based diets. Study 2.2 analyzes how the creation of a French animalist party impacted political competition. The third work package investigates the gap between private and collective choices. Study 3.1 documents the vote-buy gap in the European Union, by combining survey data, consumption data, and experimental data. Study 3.2 explores the efficiency of legal tools to regulate the externalities associated with the consumption of animal-based products.

Project coordinator


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.



Help of the ANR 286,535 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2019 - 48 Months

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